Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal as well as the country’s largest city. Along with being the hub of the country it’s also a hub for tourists, to fan out to the different sights all over Nepal. And that’s why we visited Kathmandu a total of three separate times during our travels in Nepal. The first time was to prepare for the nearby Langtang Trek; the second was after our return from that trek and before we headed to our favorite city in Nepal, Pokhara; and the last time was to see all of the sights near Kathmandu, celebrate the Hindu holiday called Holi and to meet the family of a new friend from back home.
During the first two visits we didn’t do much, but our last visit consisted of a few days packed full of sightseeing and fun activities, and the rest waiting around for our flight out of Kathmandu. In total, this last time we spent about 10 days in Kathmandu. Anyone who’s ever visited the city will probably agree with us that ten days is far too much. We didn’t intend to spend so much time there. A combination of events led us to stay so long. First, as mentioned in the previous post, our unsuccessful attempt to visit the city of Daman resulted in us coming to Kathmandu prematurely. Second, we wanted to take part in the Holi holiday celebrations that takes place on a specific day. Lastly, we booked our flight far in advance using frequent flier miles and had limits on which days we could fly using those miles. All of this resulted a very long stay in Kathmandu.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to do in and around Kathmandu, just not ten days worth—in my humble opinion of course. The highlights from our time here include visits to several Buddhist temples, tours of three major Hindu palaces/squares, and probably our favorite experience of all, celebrating Holi. The rest of our time was spent walking around the city, reading and sampling the different restaurants.
I’ll start with our favorite experience, celebrating the Hindu holiday called Holi. Holi is commonly known as the “festival of colors”. Why this holiday hasn’t become popular in the U.S. is a mystery to me. The obvious reason it hasn’t is because it’s a Hindu holiday and there isn’t a huge Hindu presence in the U.S. Regardless of that minor fact, it’s a fun holiday and people of all ages would surely enjoy it. To learn more about the origins of Holi I’d recommend checking it out online. What I do know is that a major part of the celebration involves attacking friends and complete strangers with colored powder and balloons filled with dyed water. Most of these attacks come as a surprise, and from our experience, foreigners are especially targeted—much to our delight of course.
In preparation for the celebration I bought a pair of inexpensive white pants. The logic being, if you’re going to celebrate a holiday of color you want to be able to see the color. In retrospect, I should have also bought a white shirt, because at the last minute I opted not to wear the white shirt I already owned in fear of it being destroyed. It turned out that the colors were sufficiently bright enough to show up on my black shirt. So it worked out anyway. Sarah already had old clothes she didn’t mind getting a little messy. Good thing, because Sarah was especially targeted in these colorful attacks. Most of the assailants are boys, and what boy doesn’t like throwing water balloons at a girl. I completely understand where they’re coming from. Not to mention, it was fun for me to watch.
On this day we were invited to spend part of it celebrating with the family of a friend from back home, Lila. Lila’s brother, Bhuwan, who we’d met the day before, picked us up and brought us to his family’s home. We spent part of the day with his sisters, mother, father and some extended family. A couple of Bhuwan and Lila’s sisters prepared us the best Nepali meal we’ve ever had. It goes by many names, but I’ll refer to it as a Nepali Thali. It consists of rice and a variety of “side” dishes that you can mix with the rice or eat on their own. The most popular mixture is the dhal (lentils) and rice. Sometimes the meal includes meat. In this case we had some amazing baked chicken.
After the meal we went to the roof top to check out the views of the surrounding area. To our surprise, out of nowhere, balloons started flying our way. We quickly spotted their neighbors with big grins on their faces throwing more balloons. This led to about an hour long battle of back and forth balloon throwing. In between our war with them we were tossing balloons down at the other neighbors on street level. I can’t remember the last time I had a water balloon fight. They’re a lot of fun.
Our visit with them ended with good conversation and a great cup of masala chiya (spiced milk tea), the best we had in Nepal. The family was amazing and we are extremely grateful to them for inviting us to celebrate the happy and colorful holiday of Holi with them. A special thanks to Bhuwan for taking time out of his day on several occasions to meet up with us.
Kathmandu and the surrounding areas have a long and rich history, mixed with Hindu and Buddhist culture. There are many old buildings and temples that are proof of that rich history. We visited a few Durbar Squares in and around the city. The term “durbar” means palace. We also visited a few Buddhist Stupas near the city. Bhuwan and a friend of his spent most of a day taking us around to these different sights. Thanks again Bhuwan.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Swayambunath Buddhist Stupa
Patan Durbar Square
Bodhnath Buddhist Stupa
When we weren’t sightseeing we spent most of our time in the area of Kathmandu known as Thamel. It’s the main tourist area full of restaurants, shops and budget accommodations. The streets are narrow and almost always clogged with people, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles and too many people selling tiger balm.
After Nepal we head home to see family and prepare for Sarah’s sister’s wedding. While we’re sad to leave Nepal we’re very excited to see family and friends before we restart our travels in May. Nepal is an amazing country and arguably our favorite so far.