We spent about a week in Nepal, part in Kathmandu
and part in Pokhara, with our trip to Tibet
splitting the time. The renowned Kathmandu was cool, but
we found it to be bigger, busier, and dirtier than we had
expected. After the Tibet trip we chose to spend some time in a
Pokhara resort at the base of the Himalayas, expecting days of lounging
by the pool with a couple of day treks mixed in. But the weather in
Pokhara provided no views, and we were a bit burnt out after
missed the treks and the views, but we did relax.
Currency: Nepalese Rupee (NR$76:US$1)
Language: Nepali, Hindi, English and many others
Population: 800K Kathmamdu, 12M Nepal
Internet connection speed: free 14.4bps in
Katm, inconsistent best of 2bps in Pokhara!
English speaking TV channels (in hotel): 10
in Kathmandu, 5 in Pokhara (10% of the time when cable was working)
Most prevalent American food: Pringles
Portion of population under 15:
Religion: 90% Hindu, 9% Buddhist
GMT +5:45 (9:45
hours ahead of Atlanta after DST)
Driving lane: left side
Temperature: Kathmandu 60-75°F
The political issues in Nepal have caused the US State Department to
strongly suggest that no Americans travel there over the last several
months. However, we met several travelers who had been there
recently and they saw no signs of trouble. Except for the
newspaper articles of the many police officers being attacked and 50+
police being killed in the outlying areas of Nepal, we saw no sign of
any troubles. We scheduled our trip to Tibet during the full
strike called by the Maoists (communist party) so we even missed
that. It was clear from the vacancies in the hotels and slow
business in the shops that the political issues have had great impact on
Our time in Nepal was somewhat uneventful, so we will just give some
brief commentary on our stay. Some of the most interesting points
are in the Getting Out of There section.
When we got into the Soaltee Crowne Plaza van on arrival in the Kathmandu
airport, there was a person in the passenger seat, someone other than the hotel representative
who put us in the van. He
explained some about Kathmandu and Nepal, and we later found out that he
was an entrepreneurial independent agent who was working for additional
business. He was quite nice, and since he offered a half-day tour
for US$25 we decided to arrange a tour for the next morning.
The hotel was quite nice (one of just a few five star hotels on
Kathmandu), and we had a very nice room. Within the first
3 hours of being there, however, the electricity went out 4 times. The last
time we lost power only in our room as Dan tried to plug in the surge
protector and sparks shot everywhere. We were happy with the free
internal internet connection, even though it was only 14.4kps.
Krishna, our passenger-turned-guide, drove us around Kathmandu, showing
us the main
streets, many temples, and other attractions. He feels that
Kathmandu has really changed (for the worse) over the last 10 years,
getting more crowded and dirty. Given the heavy Hindu population we
expected the huge number of Hindu temples in Kathmandu, but we were
surprised by the large number of Buddhist temples. The religions
are quire tolerant of each other in Nepal, even sharing some temples as both Buddhist
In the middle of Durbar Square is the 'Hippie' Temple, which
became famous in the 1960s and 70's as the playground for
drug-taking hippies. We understand that drugs are now illegal in
Nepal, but still available (we often heard 'dope, dope' offered on some
A very interesting site in the Durbar
Square area is the Living Goddess temple. This large residence
with a big internal courtyard is home to the pre-pubescent girl who has
competed for the role of the Living Goddess. The Living Goddess is
a group of 7-10 year old girls who have satisfied many very specific
criteria, including having a particular birth sign. She holds the position
until her first menstruation, then another is chosen from the next group
in waiting. She lives in temple with her family and cannot set foot on
the ground outside the temple for her entire reign. Even on the
one day a year during a festival when she does leave the temple, she is
carried in a large chariot. When crowds gather in the courtyard
(including tourists like us), she sometimes comes to the balcony and
waves -- of course, no pictures of the Living Goddess are allowed! For
the honor (and troubles) of being the Living Goddess she receives
$1,000,000 Nepalese Rupees. Given this large sum of money, the living
goddesses are considered 'great catches' for the men of their
future. But there is some superstition that men who marry them
are jinxed (no evidence of this, though).
When it came time to pay
Krishna, we went to someone else's tour office so that we could pay with
a credit card (we had no Nepalese currency). Because no one there
was experienced with credit cards, Dan had to fill out the form and run
it through the machine! Of course, they still charged us the 5%
penalty for using a credit card.
We spent lots of time just walking
the streets of Kahthmandu on our own. In the Thamel area, there
are endless shops selling the typical cheap clothing and tourist knick
knacks. But they also had tons of very high quality trekking gear
at great prices. We highly recommend that anyone starting a trek
in Nepal should buy all their gear once they arrive. We bought
fleece gloves and paid US$1.50 for them. Although there were some
crowds there on the weekend, the week days showed that most the shops
were empty -- it was pretty depressing to see so many redundant shops
with no customers, in yet another country.
We walked through many
travel agencies in search of the custom trip we wanted to take to
Tibet. Only with Krishna's help did we find one that would put
together what we wanted (see Tibet - Detail).
We had entered Nepal with lots of Indian currency because we were
told that they accept Indian Rupees as hard currency there. But we
did not know that no one would accept IR 500 bills (~US$11) because of
easy counterfeiting. So we had lots of useless Indian currency
with us and no way to pay for anything. We had tried a few ATM's
but found out that none of them worked with our cards, but rather were
only for local cards. We were left with no way to get local
currency except to exchange our US currency which we were trying to save
for emergencies. Fortunately, the Crowne Plaza had a casino, and
casinos always find a way to get you access to your money. We were
able to get a cash advance on our Visa card in Indian Rupees (no local
currency allowed for gambling), do some token gambling with the Indian
Rupees, then change them at the cashier into local Nepalese
Rupees. The place was empty, so we were quite the hit -- got cash,
gambled for 90 minutes with a crowd watching, drank free drinks, ate
full dinner at the table, and only spent around $70.
On the way to Kathmandu we happened to look at our
British Airways tickets and realized that our next flight was scheduled
for April 2 from Bombay, and it was already April 1, a Saturday, and we
were on our way to Nepal. We found a British Airways office in the
Delhi airport, but it and all the BA counters were closed. We
found a BA office on the streets of Kathmandu but it was closed.
We ended up calling long distance to London to cancel our flight so that
we would not mess up our round the world ticket! We had no problem
rescheduling everything on a subsequent weekday.
After our Tibet trip, we happily returned to the Crowne Plaza for one
night then headed to Pokhara.
Krishna put together our flights and accommodations for Pokhara and
delivered them to us the Sunday morning of our flight. We could
have done it all on our own for about the same price (or cheaper without
the 5% credit card charge), but we wanted to give Krishna the business
and he was very appreciative of that.
We were prepared to stay in Pokhara from 3 to 10 days depending on
how much we liked it. Based on what we read, it was supposed to be
like a much smaller Kathmandu (less crowd/noise/pollution) but with lots
of activities like trekking, fishing, boating, ballooning, etc.
After Tibet we were ready for a week at a resort and the luxurious
Fulbari Resort at the foot of the Himalayas and the Seti River gorge
seemed like just the place.
Although during some seasons Pokhara might be all it was described
as, it was not what we expected. There was a continuous haze
that hid any views of the mountains, the downtown area was a little too
much like Kathmandu with crowds, the Fulbari had no reliable modem
access, and cable TV that worked only 10% of the time (and we were ready
to watch some TV). The Fulbari has 165 rooms and only 9-10 rooms
were occupied while we were there -- it felt like a ghost town.
Locals felt that tourism was greatly reduced because of the
international press about their political issues.
Lake Fewa, the
second largest lake in Nepal, is in Pokhara. The one main street
in the 'Lake Area' of Pokhara is pretty relaxed but still has all the
shops, internet cafes and restaurants/bars to fill time. We walked
up and down that half mile long street many times. We were in
search of a specific book for Kristen, and we stopped in seven
bookstores on that street (and their were even more!) We found the
book in many of them, but the prices varied greatly, We ended
finding it for NR175 (US$2.50) although it was as high as NR475 in some
We noticed that many of the bars on the street showed free
first run American movies including Proof of Life and Mexican.
We were surprised that they could get access to those movies that had
just come out in the theatres -- we later learned that they got them
from 'somewhere in China'. We decided to take advantage of this
and went to enjoy happy hour and see the Mexican (Julia Roberts,
Brad Pitt) at one of the bars. When we sat down at the table in
front of the 30" TV on which the movie would play, the place was
empty. When the movie started the place was packed. Much to
our disappointment, the video quality was low, and the audio was worse,
and many people carried on conversations during the movie. So, like many
of the other patrons, we left mid way through the movie after
eating/drinking and paying our bill. The ploy worked : the draw of
the movie filled the place with eating/drinking customers.
We decided to leave Pokhara after just three days since it was not
what we expected.