Dan & Kristen's Web
Home Photo Album World Trip Email Us!

Home
Santiago
Rapa Nui
Quito
Amazon Basin
Andes Trek
Sao Paulo
London
Nairobi
Tanzania-Safari
Mt. Kilimanjaro
Cape Town
Ngala Safari
Sun City
Johannesburg
Victoria Falls
Cairo
India
Nepal
Tibet
Thailand
Cambodia
Vietnam
Hong Kong
Japan
New Zealand
Australia
United States
Trip Preparation
Best and Worst
Trip In Review
The Numbers
Language
Website Status

Nepal (Kathmandu, Pokhara)

Total Pictures Taken: 89

Summary

Detail

Getting There

Getting Out of There

Contacts


Summary

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 Tibet.  We missed the treks and the views, but we did relax.

 

Facts

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:

~50%

Religion: 90% Hindu, 9% Buddhist

Time difference:

GMT +5:45 (9:45 hours ahead of Atlanta after DST)

Driving lane: left side

Temperature: Kathmandu 60-75F

 

Detail

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 tourism.

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.

Kathmandu

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 and Hindu.

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 side streets).  

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 chosen from 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. 

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 shops.

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.

ne-kat-karma-sutra-temple-kristen-dan-600.jpg (92305 bytes) We are standing in front of the Buddhist Karma Sutra temple in Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
View from the plane as we fly into Kathmandu from Delhi.  ne-kat-arrival-flight-view-city-1-600.jpg (106882 bytes)
ne-kat-arrival-flight-view-city-3-600.jpg (62331 bytes) View of Kathmandu valley from the plane. 
We visited several Buddhist temples on our tour of the city.  This is called 'Monkey Temple' -- guess why!? ne-kat-monkey-temple-monkey-1-600.jpg (113411 bytes)
Dan standing next the to dorje, or lightning bolt, a symbol of manliness at the monkey temple. ne-kat-monkey-temple-dorje-thunderbolt-dan-600.jpg (108371 bytes)
Panoramic view of Kathmandu Valley from the monkey temple.  ne-kat-monkey-temple-view-kat-pano-2200.jpg (330697 bytes)
Unfortunately, from that same view from the Monkey Temple, you look down and see the trash thrown over the wall! ne-kat-monkey-temple-view-kat-trash-600.jpg (156188 bytes)
ne-kat-hippy-temple-square-pano-1200.jpg (78843 bytes) Durbar square, in Kathmandu, was a big hit in the hippie days -- the right-center temple is the 'hippie temple'.
ne-kat-buddhist-hindu-temple-charity-kristen-600.jpg (84116 bytes) At one temple, Kristen gives some rupees to a terribly crippled man.
Another section of Durbar Square. ne-kat-durbar-square-pano-2200.jpg (339846 bytes)
ne-kat-justice-god-kristen-600.jpg (123971 bytes) Kristen standing in front of the Hindu god of justice.
The 'Living Goddess' spends her pre-pubescent period in this temple, and occasionally shows her face to the crowd. ne-kat-living-goddess-home-pano-1200.jpg (124401 bytes)
ne-kat-patan-square-buddhist-temples-pano-1200.jpg (132379 bytes) Rooftop view of Patan Durbar Square -- a bunch of Buddhist Temples.
Dan was 'taken' by these tourist-trapping 'holy-men'.  They 'blessed' his forehead before he could say no, so we figured we might as well get a picture since we already had to tip them.   ne-kat-wooden-house-priest-men-dan-600.jpg (81754 bytes)
ne-kat-street-view-5-600.jpg (79665 bytes) Street view of Kathmandu.  Men carried extremely large packages on their backs. 
ne-kat-street-view-2-600.jpg (71262 bytes) Street view of one of the many small Kathmandu storefronts.
ne-kat-street-view-butcher-600.jpg (86015 bytes) Street view of the local butcher shop.
ne-kat-street-view-trash-1-600.jpg (79454 bytes) Street view of the typical trash on the streets and alleys and rivers of Kathmandu. 
View of one of the many over-crowded buses swerving up the hairpin mountain roads, on our drive through the Nepal countryside to Tibet. ne-road-to-tibet-bus-600.jpg (117528 bytes)
View of the Nepal countryside on our drive to Tibet.  Notice the terraced farming technique. ne-road-to-tibet-view-countryside-3-600.jpg (133036 bytes)
View of the Nepal countryside on our drive to Tibet. ne-road-from-tibet-view-4-600.jpg (113621 bytes)
ne-pok-fulbari-resort-pool-kristen-600.jpg (44588 bytes) Kristen standing by the pool at the Fulbari Resort in Pokhara.
ne-pok-fulbari-resort-pool-to-ravine-pano-2-2200.jpg (181605 bytes) View from the pool to the huge gorge on which the Fulbari Resort  is built in Pokhara.
Street view of Pokhara.  ne-pok-street-view-1-pano-1200.jpg (204387 bytes)
ne-pok-street-view-4-cow-2-600.jpg (87463 bytes) The cows are also ever-present in Pokhara streets.
Many of the restaurants/bars in Pokhara showed  first-run 'free' movies to attract customers. When asked, they said they got the movie from somewhere in China! ne-pok-street-view-movie-sign-600.jpg (83567 bytes)
ne-pok-street-view-wood-hotel-600.jpg (71996 bytes) Pigeon Wood hotel.
Sunset view over Fewa Lake from the streets of Pokhara. ne-pok-street-view-sunset-2-600.jpg (56882 bytes)
    

 

Getting There

The day before we left for Nepal, we bought out tickets from New Delhi to Kathmandu.  The travel books suggest sitting on the left side of the plane on this flight to get great views of the Himalayas. We chose to fly business class because it was only US$28 more per ticket and because there were no right side views available in economy class.  Unfortunately, it was completely overcast the entire flight, so the views were non-existent.

Once we got to customs, we were part of a huge crowd, but were some of the first to fill out the forms and get in line.  We knew that we would have to pay for a visa, but we were low on US funds and so we asked if we could use Indian Rupees (no chance to buy Nepalese Rupees, yet) -- we had been told that Indian Rupees are like hard currency in Nepal.  The passport control agent said IRs3600, so we paid him while he worked on Kristen's visa.  Then is came to Dan's and he said IRs3600 more.  It felt like it was too much but there was a long line of people behind us.  In addition, we did not know the real cost in US$ anyway, and the double currency conversions (US-Nepal-Indian) required to see if the calculation was right, we paid him.  When we noticed that he put the money in his breast pocket we got suspicious.  I said 'how much was that?', he said '3600 each, don't worry about it, a bit more for Indian', I said 'wait a minute, how much in US$', he said '$55 - but don't worry about it'.  I did quick math and realized he had charged us about US$75 per visa, but he was not up for discussing it, and we had our visas. So we didn't worry about it.

Of course, as we left the terminal there were dense crowds we had to fight through to get to the hotel representative holding up the plaque with our names on it.  Several people tried to grab our bags to carry them the 5-10 feet required to the hotel person or from him into the van.  Very annoying -- Dan was successful in telling them that we did not need the help. 

During the second part of our time in Nepal, we flew the short 20 minute flight between Kathmandu and Pokhara.  It also provided no views in the hazy skies.

 

Getting Out of There

Getting out of Nepal to Delhi was a whole lot more effort than we imagined.

We flew from Pokhara to Kathmandu and landed at the domestic terminal of the airport.  We asked and found out that the international terminal was about 1/4 mile away, though we could see it just past the fenced in parking lot.  The taxi drivers were requesting Rs50 for the 3 minute ride, so we said we would walk, especially since we had a rolling bag and it was not too hot out.  Every 5 steps we were almost hit by a taxi driver saying 'taxi, want a ride, want a ride'.  Dan firmly offered Rs20 and many pulled away, only to be replaced by another.  Finally, after walking for about 45 seconds and being harassed by 10 taxis, one accepted the Rs20 fare, and we happily escaped the melee.

Once at the tiny, one room, international terminal, we had to wait in a 50 person line to get into the entrance door.  Then we waited in a 200 person line to pass our checked bags through Xray to be wrapped by a 'security-check' ribbon.  Then we waited in a 200 person line to pay our airport tax.  Note that all these lines are in an area too small to hold the thousands of people milling about.  Then we checked in (no line at business class counter), and proceeded to the passport/departure area and waited in one of ten 50 person emigration lines.  Then Kristen waited in a 80-woman security line and Dan waited in a 300-man security line.  Once up to the front, we passed our carry-on bags through the Xray, stepped through the Xray scan, then we submitted ourselves to a full body search (yes, full body!).  Then we carried our already Xray'd carry-on bags to the counter (no line) to be manually searched by one of 4 guards.  Then we had to go outside and personally identify our checked bags before they would be placed in the luggage bins.  Then we waited in line to move towards the plane on the tarmac.  Once on the tarmac, Kristen had to wait in the 50-woman-security line and Dan in the 50-man-security-line at the base of the two sets of stairs to the plane.  We each were body and bag searched again!  The number and degree of redundant security checks was crazy.  We heard from someone that there had been a hijacking of a Kathmandu originating flight in the past couple months and this was their reaction to it.

In all this line waiting and rushing hassle, we forgot to exchange at the airport the mass of Nepalese Rupees we held, but figured we could do it in India once we got to Delhi.  Little did we know that no one considers Nepalese Rupees a 'marketable currency' so unless we figure something out we will have lots more monopoly money than we intended.

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Kathmandu

Bass hotel official site

Local Soaltee site

Luxury hotel on the outskirts of town.  Very service oriented.
Fulbari Resort, Pokhara

Fulbari website

Luxury resort, fairly far from town, off the beaten path.  Be sure to go during right season.  Very empty while we were there.

 

Comments/Questions about this page?  Please email us!