Kyle and I spent 3 nights in Kathmandu prior to starting our trek on the Annapurna Circuit. It was a hectic two days of sightseeing and shopping for the last few items we would need for the trek. We stayed in Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu. Everything in Thamel is walking distance and offers plenty to see and do, however it can be quite challenging to access the other parts of the city. Our hotel set us up with a driver so we wouldn't have to navigate the taxis and transit system on our first day in the country. It was expensive but well worth the cash as we were able to visit some of the major tourist attractions all in one day, and our driver would wait for as long as we needed.
|Thamel: The Tourist District of Kathmandu. The place to go for souvenirs, international food and trekking equipment|
|Abi, our driver for the day|
Our first stop was Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple. It is a large collection of small stupas (structures containing relics or remains of Buddhist monks or nuns that are a place of meditation) and shrines with the main attraction being a massive stupa that overlooks Kathmandu from the top of a large hill.
|Monkey at the Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath)|
|The large stupa at Swayambhunath|
|Hundreds of prayer flags|
|Jenny receiving a tikka, a Hindu blessing|
|Stupas and prayer flags|
|The view of Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley from Swayambhunath. The Himalayas are up in the clouds|
Next, we drove to the ancient town of Patan, south of Kathmandu. We were dropped of at the Patan Durbar Square to explore. A Durbar Square is a plaza or palace area, which is why many towns have their own Durbar Square. We avoided the ticket booth and managed to wander in through one of the many other entrances before accidentally coming across the Golden Temple. A man toured us around and told us all about the celebrities that he has met when they came to visit Kathmandu. At this point we didn't have a good gauge on what people were like in Nepal. They all seemed friendly but we were wary that they were trying to rip us off or scam us in some way. We were hesitant to accept anyone's help or chat with them too long in case they were just trying to make a sale, as this is what we saw from people trying to sell us things when we were in Thailand. Nepali people are very friendly and curious about foreigners. It was difficult to tell whether they were genuinely interested in chatting with you and showing off their country or if they had financial motives. We got a bit more savvy as our trip went on, but it was definitely exhausting at the beginning.
|Elephants guard the Golden Temple (a Buddhist Temple and Monastery in Patan, build in 1409)|
By the time we reached Pashupatinath, a sacred Hindu Temple, we were starving. We could only find one restaurant so sat down to a large Nepali-style meal of daal bhat (lentils and rice), not really realizing that this would be our staple meal in the day of trekking to come. Feeling much better with full bellies, we set out to explore the temple area. Untouchables (low-caste and non-Hindus) are not allowed in the actual temple, however we were able to walk through the many gardens and smaller temple areas. Pashupatinath is the site of many cremations and the ashes of the dead are placed in the holy Bagmati River that runs through the temple grounds. The river looked very polluted and dirty.
|Cremations on the edge of the Holy Bagmati River at Pashupatinath|
|Holy Bagmati River|
|Temples and structures of Pashupatinath|
|Evidence of earthquake destruction from April 2015|
|Boys playing cricket in the park above Pashupathinath|
By this time, we were exhausted, but we had one more stop to make at the Boudhanath Stupa on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It had been amazing having someone who knew the city to drive us around. I think it would have taken a few days to have visited all these sites otherwise. The Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and we joined the masses to circle the stupa in a clockwise direction, spinning prayer wheels and listening to the Tibetan music playing from small shops lining the outside of the massive square.
|Boudhanath Stupa - very clean compared to the rest of the city|
After all that sightseeing, it was time to chill out in Thamel. Using the Lonely Planet recommendation, we found Sam's Bar, which was reported to be a local hangout for mountaineers and guides. The first person we met was a mountaineer who had just summited Lhotse! I guess Lonely Planet knows what they are talking about.
|Enjoying an Everest Beer at Sam's Bar where we met some mountaineers who had just summited Lhotse|
Since we had now seen many of the major sites outside of the Thamel area, the rest of our time in Kathmandu was spent exploring on foot. We had one day before we left for our trek and went to check out the Kathmandu Durbar Square. This area had been significantly impacted by the 2015 earthquake and the damage was very visible. It was unbelievable how certain neighbourhoods were so much more damaged than others. It is going to take a lot of work to return Durbar Square to its former beauty and glory.
|Lots of construction in Durbar Square after the 2015 earthquake|
|Significant damage to Durbar Square remains after the earthquake of 2015|
|Concerned about the lean of the buildings in narrow alleyways|
We also spent a few days in Kathmandu at the the tail end of our trip. By this point, we were feeling much more comfortable travelling in Nepal and we explored markets and small squares with confidence. Kathmandu is busy, noisy, dirty and dusty. You can only spend a day or two there before you start developing a sore throat from all the pollution and dust. There are people, vehicles and cows everywhere and it gets tiring fast when you are used to the quiet open spaces in Canada.
|Busy intersections and crazy powerlines|
The one place that you can find some quiet time is the Garden of Dreams at the edge of Thamel. We had visited it right at the beginning of our trip and didn't realize how unique the garden truly is. As you step into the courtyard, it is peaceful and quiet, unlike the noisy street you just left. There were lots of Nepali teen couples taking selfies and giggling to themselves, which was also different as it was rare to see men and women together in public in Nepal.
|Some peace and tranquility in the Garden of Dreams|
|This garden was a major juxtaposition from the busy streets of Thamel on the other side of the garden walls|
Kathmandu is a crazy place. There is so much to see, hear, smell and taste. My favourite part was wandering the crooked streets and dipping into a tiny doorway that lead to a beautiful square or stupa tucked out of sight from the main road. Oh ya, and the masala chai. That was pretty amazing too.
|The first of many plates of momos|
|Busy streets of Thamel|
|Beans and lentils for sale|
|The cookware section of the market|
|Narrow streets of the local markets, not sure what the guy with the apples was doing...|
|Kyle is too tall for this country|
|Surprise stupa in a courtyard between Thamel and Durbar Square|