Insider Tips : Kathmandu

Insider Tips Article

Get magnificent views of Mount Everest without trekking. Then take in the temples or shop for local arts and crafts.


By Tan Yi Hui
ST Life! Travel 1 Dec 09

When it comes to Kathmandu, Nepal, Mr Narayan Bahadur Shrestha knows it like the back of his weather-beaten Sherpa hand.

Not only does the 36-year-old Nepalese run a trekking agency based in Kathmandu and Singapore, he is also an Honorary Public Relations Representative from the Nepal Tourism Board.

“Kathmandu is much more than just a transit point for trekkers. You could shop there for exotic spices, authentic Nepalese tea and carpets,” says the Singapore permanent resident who is married to a Singaporean.

Kathmandu, situated about 1,400m above sea level, is the capital and largest metropolitan area of Nepal. The country’s history dates as far back as the 12th century and the cradle is the Kathmandu Valley, with the rich heritage of the Newari indigenous people from the region.

Here are his tips on touring the spiritual city.

Pashupatinath Temple is the biggest Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva on the banks of the Bagmati river in the eastern part of Kathmandu. A taxi ride from the city centre to the temple takes half an hour and costs about $4. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is renowned as one of the sacred places to observe cremations. Only Hindus, however, are allowed to enter its premises. Non-Hindu visitors can view the temple only from the other bank of the Bagmati river.

About 15km south of Kathmandu is Bungamati Village. It is a pleasant traditional Newari village dating back to the 16th century. Manay master wood carvers and sculptors live there.

Mr Shrestha says:“I would recommend this village to visitors who are interested in photography or painting.”

Thamel, the city centre of Kathmandu, has excellent variety of shops offering items from traditional Nepalese arts and crafts, handmade clothes and pottery to jewellery and antiques. A pashmina shawl, made of fine cashmere wool, costs between $6 and $20. Carpets are a big business in Nepal and carpet weaving is a beautiful traditional art. For carpet shopping, head to Jawlakhel, located in the neighbouring Patan city, south of Kathmandu, a 45-minute drive away. Mr Shrestha says: “Nepal presents an exciting shopping opportunity for all those who love non-conventional stuff.”

Swayambhunath, or Monkey Temple, is a 20-minute drive from the city centre. It offers a glorious sunset view of the whole Kathmandu Valley and Langtang mountain range on a clear day. The complex consists of shrines and temples and is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal. For an even more majestic view without having to trek, check out Nagarkot, a popular area with hill resorts boasting magnificent scenery of the eastern Himalayan range, including Mount Everest, says Mr Shrestha. It is a two-hour scenic drive from Kathmandu with lots of lovely quaint houses and paddy fields along the way.

Bhanchha Ghar Restaurant is a Nepalese restaurant in a traditional three-storey Newari house in Kamaladi, next to a Garnesh temple. There is an upstairs loft bar where you can stretch out on handmade carpets and cushions for a drink, snacks and a cultural show. He says: “ Try to arrive before 7pm. After the show, go downstairs for an excellent set menu of traditional Nepali dishes and delicacies. When I host dinner for my guests here, we usually go for the set Nepali Thali consisting of curry chicken, bitter vegetable, wild boar meat, dhal, rice, momo, fried potato and dessert. A meal for two, including drinks and alcohol, may cost about $40.” And finally, to unwind, head down to the Himalayan Java Café in Thamel. The place offers about 100 varieties of coffee and other beverages, according to Mr Shrestha. A cup of good coffee costs around $4. He adds: “ Its range of ice-blended coffee is one the best in town.”