Most visitors to Nepal fly to Kathmandu, the kingdom’s capital and its only international airport. Nestled in a large valley that according to legend was once a huge lake, Kathmandu offers an amazing variety of restaurants and accommodation as well as an array of exquisite monuments, temples and statues. Even if you plan to head directly to the hills, you’ll probably need to spend a day or so in Kathmandu organising a flight or road transport to the start of your trek. Either before or after the trek you should set aside a few days for exploring the bazaars and temples of Kathmandu and the nearby cities of Patan and Bhaktapur.
Dangers & Annoyances Traffic & Pollution
Traffic on the streets of Kathmandu is a rumpus of pollution-belching two-, three- and four-wheel vehicles wending their way around a mass of people and animals. Doomsayers compare Kathmandu’s air pollution to that of Mexico City, although one Mexican trek leader assures everyone that it’s nowhere near that bad. The combination of ancient vehicles, low-quality fuel and lack of emission controls makes the streets of Kathmandu particularly dirty, noisy and unpleasant. Traffic rules do exist, but are rarely enforced; be especially careful when crossing streets or riding a bicycle. Traffic is supposed to travel on the left side of the road, but many drivers simply choose the most convenient side. Left turns are allowed without stopping, even at controlled intersections with red lights, so beware of vehicles racing around a comer when you cross a road. Consider bringing a face mask to filter out dust and emission particles if you plan to ride a bike or motorcycle.
The worst of the pollution and traffic problems are confined to central Kathmandu. On a trek there are a few smoky houses, but otherwise the air is crystal clear and yaks and buffaloes cause the only traffic jams.
Strikes & Demonstrations
Nepal’s political process involves frequent demonstrations and strikes. They are mostly peaceful, but any large gathering of people can cause problems. Often there are processions in the street and meetings in Tundikhel, the parade ground in the city centre. If you come across a large group of slogan-chanting youths, it’s best to avoid them in case you end up on the downstream side of a police lathi charge (a team of police wielding bamboo staves) or worse.
A normal procession or demonstration is a julus. If things escalate there may be a chakka jam (‘jam the wheels’), in which all vehicles stay off the street, or a bandh, in which case shops, schools and offices also close. If you’ve booked a flight during one of these events you may end up walking to the airport or travelling in a bicycle rickshaw at an outrageous price. When roads are closed the government runs blue public buses with armed policemen from the airport to major hotels.
PLACES TO STAY
Hotels in Kathmandu range from the luxurious to the downright depressing. The Hotel Association of Nepal has a reservation desk at the airport, and touts from small hotels and lodges meet every arriving flight, often offering free transportation to their hotel. Except at the budget end, rates are expensive for what you get, and are subject to a 10% VAT plus a 2% fee to support the promotional activities of the Nepal Tourism Board If you arranged your trek with an adventure travel company, the cost probably includes accommodation at one of Kathmandu’s more expensive hotels.
The well-known hotels in all price ranges are booked solid during the trekking season, so you may have to do a bit of shopping around, or take advantage of the airport touts, if you arrive without a reservation. There is an oversupply of hotel rooms in both the budget and luxury categories, so you can always find a room somewhere. The prices in this chapter are published rates and are usually negotiable, except during the high seasons (October, November and April). Kathmandu’s budget accommodation is centred around the Thamel area. Hotels inelude the famous Kathmandu Guest House and the lesser-known but adequate Tibet Guest House. Star, Garuda, Utse, Mustang holiday Inn and Shakti hotels. Mountaineers father at the Potala Guest House and the Mining. When you choose a hotel, check the room for street noise. Nepali drivers use their horn more than their brakes, so streetside rooms tend to be intolerable.
PLACES TO EAT
Trekkers attach great importance to their stomachs. Kathmandu’s restaurants have responded by offering some of the most varied menus in Asia. In Thamel, try KC’s, the original budget-travellers’ restaurant; La Dolce Vita for Italian food; North field Cafe or Botega for Mexican food; Yin Yang or Krua Thai for Thai food; Over the Rainbow for American sandwiches; Koto for Japanese; Kilroyys of Kathmandu for continental dishes; and K-Too Beer & Steakhouse for steaks. There are many other restaurants and bakeries, particularly in Thamel, that serve meals.
Regular stand-bys in Thamel include the Pumpernickel Bakery, Le Bistro, G’s Terrace, Everest Steak House and Narayan’s. On Durbar Marg try Hot Breads for cakes and snacks, Wimpys and Nirula’s for fast food and Tansen for Indian food. On the way back to Thamel, stop at Fire & Ice for pizza and soft ice cream or wait and have ice cream at Baskin Robbins or pizza at New York Pizza. Local expats and mountaineers gather at Mike’s Breakfast, a short taxi or bicycle ride from Thamel.
You can find dal bhat and momos at street-comer restaurants, but health-wise you’re better sticking to Kathmandu Kitchen, Bhanchha Ghar, Thamel House or the Nanglo Pub for Nepali food and Utse or Dechenling for a Tibetan meal. Further afield, in the Rana-style atmosphere of Babar Mahal Revisited, you’ll find excellent food at Simply Shutters, Baitak and Chez Caroline.
Head to the top-end hotels for a splurge on good Indian, Chinese and Continental food. Indian food at Ghar E Kabab in Hotel de f Annapurna and Far Pavilion in the Everest Hotel is expensive. The Kabab Corner in Hotel Gautam is cheaper. Soaltee Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza is a bit out of town, but has two excellent restaurants, Bukhara and Al Fresco. The Olive Garden in the Radisson is a pleasant place for an after-trek meal, or you can gorge yourself at the Radisson’s buffet. Imperial Pavilion in the Malla Hotel has Sichuan food and the Chimney Room in the Yak & Yeti is the last incarnation of Boris Lissannivich’s legendary restaurant.