10 things to do in Kathmandu. What amazing memories this sentence brings us back to. We remember sitting in the Mumbai airport waiting to board our flight to Nepal. How excited we were for we were about to see THE FREAKING HIMALAYAS! We board the plane and soared over the Himalayan foot hills with those snowcapped peaks in the distance. We will never forget that moment. The moment we were flying over the tallest mountain range in the world.
A man sitting next to us struck up a conversation and he told us he had been living in Nepal for almost 20 years. He’s been around the world and in Nepal, one city in particular, is the only city he’s ever visited where time has stood still, like it hasn’t changed in decades.
Well friends, he was right. That city is indeed like stepping back in time.
It’s inviting. In the old quarter, you walk along dirt roads, past brick houses that are stacked on top of and toppled next to each other with doors so small you wonder how a grown person fits through it. Peddlers make their way up and down the cramped, uneven alleyways trying to sell you goods and services.
It’s unforgettable. The smells of spices are in the air. Fragrances that tickle the back of your throat and make your mouth water. Lassi is being sold on the street corner next to an assortment of boiling Momos. You sip tea from rooftops and take in the valley which Kathmandu sits, all while the mountains surround you.
Its chaotic. Never in our lives have we seen so many people not understanding what a personal bubble is. Nor have we ever seen such a beautiful mix of Buddhism and Hinduism being celebrated harmoniously amongst one another. You can get a fresh haircut and shave on the street while at the same time, being blessed by a Sadhus (holy man). You pray and light incense in hopes of future blessings. You say Namaste and truly mean those words.
It is beautiful. It is poetic. It is indescribable. Welcome to Kathmandu.
1) Take In The View From Swayambhunath Temple (Monkey Temple)
Located at the tippy top of a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, Swayambhunath Temple is a Buddhist Temple and among the oldest in Nepal. At the center sits a Stupa with windblown prayer flags and Buddha’s ever watching eyes on each of the golden spires four sides. The large white Stupa is surrounded by many smaller shrines and temples where monkeys play and wait for a treat. A few hours here, to truly appreciate the temples vast beauty, is a must.
To get here, you have to climb 365 stone steps to reach the top and pass hordes of monkeys on your way up. (TRAVEL TIP: Bring a bag of crackers for some up close and personal money feeding). But believe us, it’s beyond worth it. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the valley and city below. Make your way around the temple, three times, with the locals and be sure to spin the prayer wheels on your way. Be respectful of the devotees and please dress respectfully.
This temple was one of our favorite in all of Nepal. There is something insanely beautiful about it and the location. If you wander throughout the area, you’ll find a café that has a rooftop bar. Order some tea and watch the sun set on the Stupa and valley below.
You know those moments when you feel like you’re really in a place? Like really, really in it? Well, that sunset, over this stupa, with the Himalayas in the background while we sipped tea was the moment we truly thought “Shit, we are really here. We are really in Kathmandu.”
2) Eat your heart out on some Momos, Chatpate and Dal Bhat
We don’t think you can really say you’ve experienced Nepal without eating these three food staples.
- Momos are the classic Tibetan style dumplings. Think of them as a doughier steamed potsticker. You have options with the fillings. Your choices are vegetables or various forms of meat like chicken, yak or goat. Whatever you do, don’t ask for beef! Nepal is predominantly Hindu and Hindus don’t eat cows.
- Chatpate is the undeclared national snack of Nepal. It’s a puff rice mixture of amazing different vegetables, spices and packs a punch of heat! It comes wrapped like a snow cone is newspaper or kids homework (not kidding) and eaten with a square piece of cardboard (make shift spoon) or your fingers.
- Dal Bhat is without a doubt the national food of Nepal. Locals eat this every day, all day. It’s a power food with a whole lotta flavor and the best part, endless portions! That’s right, ENDLESS PORTIONS! Dal which translate to “lentils” and bhat which translate to “rice” is basically the dish. Lentil soup with rice but it’s so much more! The flavors of the lentil soup are dynamite and you usually get a side of seasoned potatoes and a crisp chip to go with it. It’s the “24 hours Dal Bhat Power” or the “Dal Bod” your needing. And no, we aren’t that witty, those are lines we stole from souvenir shirts in Nepal 🙂
3) Wander The Streets of Thamel
Thamel is a district in Kathmandu and the area you should stay when looking for accommodations. Touristy, yes. But it’s amazing. Souvenir shops are abundant. Cute and classic cafes line the streets. Various bars that are sure to tickle anyone’s fancy. And last but most certainly not least, endless tour and adventure companies for those thrill seekers or outdoor junkies looking to book a trek or other adrenaline pumping excursion.
Not to mention, you can buy or rent all your trekking gear in Thamel too. Jesse and I bought majority of our gear for the Annapurna Circuit (APC) right in the busy streets of Thamel.
4) See Live Music at Purple Haze
Located in Thamel, you’ll find this amazing live music venue that boosts the best local acts in town. Purple Haze has a big space with a proper stage that brings on bands, keeps the booze flowing and allows its patrons, on certain nights, to karaoke. It’s a guaranteed good time to share drinks and off-key pitches with the Nepalese youth and fellow travelers alike!
5) Be One With Tibetan Monks At Boudhanath Stupa
Located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, you’ll find one of the largest and most spectacular Stupas in Nepal and the world. This Stupa commands the skylines attention with its prayer flags waving ever so effortlessly in the wind all while the ever-watching eye of Buddha keeps you in check.
Boudhanath is the heart of Nepal’s Tibetan community. Starting in the 1950’s, Tibetan refugees came to this place when they had to flee their own country from invading China. During your visit, take a lap or two around this stunning structure. Spin some prayers wheels as you go and watch the devotees pay their respects. You will notice many Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and just everyday practicing Buddhists walking around the stupa (circumambulation) in a clock-wise direction. They will do this three times while repeating the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum”.
This place is truly spiritual and of significant importance so please come dressed in a respectful manner and be considerate to the devotees. Don’t forget to light some incense on your way out to ask for Buddha’s blessing.
6) Eat, Drink and Hookah On A Roof Top
What’s not to like, right? Nepal has plenty of roof tops for you to choose from. Some for the budget conscious others for the folks wanting to spend a bit more. Whatever route you choose, it’s a fantastic way to take in the city. There’s plenty to choose from in Durbar square. Just be sure to look up when trying to find your perfect perch.
*Our favorite place was the rooftop café at Swayambhunath Temple.
7) Meander Your Way Through Durbar Square
Crippled by the April 2015 earthquake, some of the buildings are in ruin (as of March 2017) but still, the square is beautiful nonetheless and should be a stopping point when your wandering your way through Thamel.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has spectacular architecture that vividly displays the craftsmanship from centuries of work. If you’re lucky you’ll get a blessing or get to watch a ceremony take place. It’s a beautiful place to sit, people watch and allow your senses to take in Kathmandu.
8) Eat At A Traditional Nepalese/Newar Style Restaurant
While in Thamel, make sure you make a meal stop at the Thamel House Restaurant. A classic Nepalese/Newar style setting and meal is sure to please. The staff is friendly and helpful and are beyond willing to help you order or answer any of your menu questions. Ask to be seated upstairs to enjoy a chair-free dining experience.
9) Experience Cremations at Pashupatinath Temple
We’ve never been to Varanasi in India but we imagine Pashupatinath is comparable in nature. This Hindu temple is indescribable and unlike anything we’ve seen or experienced before. Used as a hospice, Hindus come here waiting to die and be cremated. Cremation ceremonies are actively taking place 24-hours a day on the Bagmati River.
As you approach the temple, you are surrounded by odd sights and smells. Sadhus are everywhere. People of all walks of life are here too. Rotting offerings are sprawled on the grounds along with a few goats tied to posts in the grass. As you enter the temple, you see dying people laying wherever they please in make shift shelters. They take up home here until they die. Their bodies are picked up, placed on large rock blocks where they are burned. Their remains are pushed into the river and so on continues the process.
Odd feelings come over you as you walk the temple. You’re seeing things you don’t normally see. Suddenly, ash begins to hit you, at one point or another, during your time here. You are very conscious this ash is human remains. Morbid, eerie and unsettling are all words we use to describe this place. However, eye opening, curious and intriguing are words that follow.
10) Buy a Mandala
Handcrafted by monks, mandalas come in various colors, geometric patterns and meanings. The mandala in its simplest form is a symbolic or imaginary picture of the universe that is crafted by monks based on what came to them during meditation. However, the actual purpose and importance of the mandalas is to help guide the non-enlightened minds to enlightenment.
Specifically, a Buddhist mandala, is made of geometric shapes, like circles and squares. The circles represent levels of the universe, and the squares represent earthly levels. Still with us?
Each level has gates and each gate is to guide the non-enlightened mind a step closer to “enlightenment” or to the inner circle of the mandala. Think of the mandala as a 3D image you are viewing from the top or have pushed flat. The center of the mandala is the very top and the circles (the outer most part) is the bottom. You have to work your way from the bottom to the top to achieve enlightenment.
The whole purpose of a Mandala is for it to be a reminder to help each of us find enlightenment within ourselves. The details and intricacy of each mandala is something to truly appreciate. There are a handful of shops in Thamel that sell mandalas of all shapes as sizes with different colors and patterns. Each shop owner can talk to you about the meaning and what each mandala represents. It truly is a one-of-a-kind keep sake that is worth the money.
Questions? Let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer! Or just leave us a positive note ????
– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)