Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Top 13 Things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal

Most of the people who think or even dream of the mighty Himalayas, think of Nepal. And when you think of Nepal, its bustling heart and its capital, Kathmandu, can hardly be ignored. If your itinerary only includes a brief halt in this city before you head off on your trek, then you need to keep in mind that you will be losing a lot of culture, color, fervor and many attractions that this city has to offer. You would have made a good decision if you plan to experience this city. I have spent a lot of time in this city during my trips to Nepal and have put together the below top 13 things to do in this lush green valley in the mighty Himalayas.

A Daal Bhaat Meal
Traditional Nepali Thali Meal
This is an iconic meal of Nepal and your best bet to have a great Daal Bhaat meal is at Kathmandu. It includes lentil soup, vegetables, crispy papad, salad, greens and yoghurt with either rice or thick wheat pudding or sometimes a local millet bread. This meal is cheap, is always fresh and is insanely delicious. Do ensure that you have this meal on the first day of your Kathmandu trip so that you can enjoy it more if you like it a lot. While you are at it, you can also try the Tibetan food near the Boudanath Stupa area.

Festivals of Kathmandu
Artisans from Newari Community during Gau Jatra, Kathmandu
It is said that the people of Nepal celebrate a festival all 365 days of the year. Some of these are Hindu festivals. Some of them are Buddhist festivals. And the others are uniquely special tribal festivals. The people of Kathmandu celebrate all their festivals with great fervor. At many important ones, there are street processions, dances, costumes, music, food, beverages and much more. The top festivals are Dashain, Tihar, Bhai Tika, Krishna Janmastami, Gai Jatra, Ghode Jatra, Teej, Holi and Maha Shivaratri.

Lose Yourself in the Local Markets
Street Moment from a temple in Patan Heritage Zone, Nepal
The local markets of Kathmandu with its color, frenzy and old world charm is a must visit. The ones in and around Thamel make for a great start and then you can explore the others especially the ones near Boudanath and Pashupatinanth Temples.

Sunset from Swayambhunath Temple
Admiring the Kathmandu valley view from Swayambhunath Temple
The Swayambunath or Monkey temple is one of the top tourist attractions of Kathmandu. But, if you visit it around sunset, you will see a glorious view of Kathmandu city with the setting sun and once the sun has set, you can enjoy the view of the temple that is lit beautifully with butter lamps.

Taste the Street Food
Tibetan Food at a restaurant near Boudanath Stupa, Kathmandu
Golgappas, Lassi, Jhaal Muri, Samosa Chat and much more can be had on the streets of Kathmandu. Hygiene might look a bit on the lower side, but if you have even a bit of an adventurous streak in you, I would recommend that you sample the delicious street fare. I am sure you will return with an enriched culinary experience.

Rudraksha, Beads and other Shopping
Souvenir shop at Bhaktapur Heritage Site, Nepal
If you are a spiritual Hindu, you will like the Rudraksha beads of Nepal. They are the best place on the planet to get authentic Rudraksha beads.  And the markets of Kathmandu are the hub from where they are distributed. You can also shop for other beads, bead jewellery, clothes and many other souvenirs and artifacts from these markets.

Aarti ceremony at Pashupatinath Temple
Sadhu who lives near Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal
Whether you are a Hindu or belong to any religion, you  will appreciate the rich Aarti ceremony that takes place by the river Baramati just outside the Pashupatinath Temple every evening at 7 pm. This vibrant ceremony is to offer the prayers to Lord Shiva and the Goddess Baramati who is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, Shiva’s consort. While you are watching the Aarti ceremony, you can also interest yourself in the Hindu cremation ceremony that takes place at the nearby ghats.

Interesting culture at its temples
Akash Bhairav statue at a temple in Kathmandu
Be it its Hindu temples or its Buddhist temples and monasteries, the people of Nepal follow an interesting set of beliefs and practices.  There are rituals. There are offerings. There are flowers. There is incense burning. There are butter lamps. There is so much more to see and experience at the many temples of Kathmandu, especially at Pashupatinath, Boudanath, Swayambhunath and at the many temples in the Thamel area.

Kathmandu old city view from Kathmandu Palace
View from the 9th storey of Kathmandu Palace
The Thamel area is a pulsating heart of old Kathmandu. And amidst this heart is located the very beautiful and intricately carved Kathmandu Palace and its nine storey tower. The view of Kathmandu city and the entire Thamel area from this ninth storey is a sight to behold. On a clear day, you can even see the Swayambhunath Temple clearly.

Short Treks around the Kathmandu Valley
A lot of us go to Nepal to trek either the Annapurna, Everest or Langtang ranges. It is advisable to do some short mild treks before you embark on the big ones. The ones at Dhulikhel, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and Boudanilakantha offer fantastic trekking trails while offering a great cultural experience with minimal tourism. Hence, offering an authentic off-beat trekking experience.

Day Trip to Bhaktapur and Patan
At a roadside souvenir shop in Patan, Nepal
Bhaktapur was the erstwhile capital of Nepal and along with Patan forms two of the most cultural and successful historical hubs of Nepal. At between 30 and 60 minutes from Kathmandu, these offer great day trip opportunities where you can experience the rich culture, see the countryside and connect with the local people.

Volunteer at any of the many NGOs
Nepali lady offering her prayers at a Hindu Buddhist temple in Kathmandu
A poor country like Nepal needs a lot of help. Be it agriculture or building houses, teaching kids or helping in women empowerment, cleaning the trekking paths or studying the impact of Kathmandu’s increasing pollution levels, helping the struggling tribes or helping promote eco tourism in its forests, the opportunities to volunteer are immense. All you have to do is find a good NGO that offers services in an area of your interest. 

A lot of people love the Vipasana experience in Nepal. They believe that it helps them connect with their inner self and it also helps them detox their body. It is definitely worth a try for those interested.

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