I was surprised at myself when I booked tickets to Katmandu. Nepal is not a usual travel destination for Indians.
Indians think that Nepal is like India so why go there? Thailand is I guess the most preferred Indian tourist destination internationally, if you ask me.
What Nepal is to India is a little bit like what Mexico is to USA. Hardworking but less educated people migrate from Nepal to India in search of work. (similarity ends, crime in Nepal is less.) The Nepali watchman has been a stereotype in India for ages now and Gorkha is almost a synonym for anyone of Mongolian descent and features, or the guy at the Chinese food stall serving you momos. LOL.
So, this trip was not going to be a culture shock experience for me, like it is for most westerners who come to Nepal or India or Asia. It was more like walking into a neighbor’s house with a little formality of immigration forms and passport stamps added to it.
Why Nepal? A lot of my friends were curious. I was not even trekking this time. So I guess it was just wanderlust taking over common-sense. It was a trip I planned with no checklist of to do things. Just booked tickets and waited for it to unfold.
Now, there weren’t going to be fancy, world famous monuments to see. (Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake two years back, so a lot of beautiful monuments are now in restoration phase). Or elaborate history and civilization of a different culture. No glitz and glamour of rich countries. Not very exotic food. Not really exotic people. But still it was one of my most memorable trips and first international trip on my own ever. Here’s a jot down of what I loved the most in my 10-day backpacking in Nepal, split between Kathmandu and Pokhara.
I loved them. There is an air of unconditional happiness that only a poor country can have. They are not in a rat race. Yes, they are deprived of modern day things we take for granted like flashy cars and high speed roadways. They don’t have designer labels decorating their streets. Not many shopping malls and multiplexes. No articulate parks and public spaces.
On the other hand, I spoke to a lot of people from western countries Asian countries and they thought that they have overkilled it back home. It’s a race to get the fanciest penthouse, the next season of designer wear, the fastest car in the market.
So here, they are happy with simple pleasures of life. A lot of Nepali youth travel abroad for education and work and are doing well. Some even came back to create a change in their own country.
As a tourist, you are bound to pay a higher price for almost everything. But I didn’t see the ‘greed to swindle as much as possible’ in people, here. No street scams I came across. No heavy haggling required. No angry touts pulling and pushing for customers.
The women in Nepal.
I come from India and the Indian lookout on appreciation of feminine beauty and women in general is a matter of international ridicule. I expected the same here, because Nepal is a neighboring country, so conduct of people should be similar right? Wrong.
To my shock its vastly different. Women don’t mind traveling in public transport. There are no lusty male eyes scanning each lady passing by. Though I am not very good at reading eyes, but till I did notice.
The women here dress well. It’s like a party going on in the middle of the day. Bright colors, elaborate makeup and well matched daily wear. It was such a relief to see them carefree and confident. Epic.
The nightlife in Nepal is restricted to the touristy centers of Thamel in Katmandu and Lake-side strip in Pokhara. The places are designed on western lines like any other bar or a lounge in any country. But I found a strong live-music culture here. There weren’t many discotheques but a lot of places offering live music, which I love.
Now, the band generally plays English, Bollywood and Nepali in rotation. So it is a good way to introduce yourself to local music without getting bored. Nepali music has happy, upbeat tunes which reminded me of Mexican, or, if you’ve heard of Goa in India, then Goan music. The bands make sure that your foot tapping turns into happy dancing as the pace picks up many people hit the dance floor.
Food in Nepal.
Nepalis love eating out and sure they have their own cuisine too. It is very similar to Tibetan food. Nepali food is synonymous with MoMos and Dal Bhat. Dal hat literally means lentils and rice. Practically you’re served a wholesome meal of rice, dal, vegetables, pickle and more. Also Thikpa and noodles are a common local dish easily available. In the touristy restaurants one can easily find food from your own county and at least I wasn’t disappointed by Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes served in Nepal.
Folks in Nepal enjoy their nightlife as much as their food and music. A lot of young people come in groups and dance to the love music playing at many bars and lounges. I had a tough time finding dance floor inn most watering holes. But otherwise there are plenty of options to choose from. In Katmandu, the center of all the action is Thamel, the tourist district. Purple Haze is the equivalent of Hard Rock Café of Katmandu. Wild with live rock music and cheering crowd. My personal favorite is a bar called ‘Reef’, which is in a quieter lane of Thamel and is a rooftop place. T has bands playing popular covers from Hollywood, Bollywood and Nepali numbers.
In Pokhara, OR2K is a great place to chill. Sometimes they have live music performances too. Besides there is no dearth of fancy outlet in Pokhara too. Do visit the lake shore cafes for a brilliant view of the sunset with some ambient music and a drink.
Entry is generally free. A beer is 300-400 Nepali rs. And Food is similarly priced.
Roads in Nepal.
The internal roads are not bad. It’s not they are flawless. The earthquake took a huge toll on Nepali infrastructure. The inter connecting roads between cities like Pokhara and Katmandu are narrow and old fashioned. So be prepared for long traffic jams and slow moving traffic. The tourist buses are comfortable and worth the price of 750 Nepali rs between Pokhara and Katmandu. But you miss meeting the locals. The micro buses are cheaper at 500 rs but you meet interesting people all throughout.
Sightseeing in Nepal.
The most striking aspect is the damage caused by earthquake in 2015. Otherwise, there could have been much more to see. So all major buildings in durbar square are under renovation. Roads are dug up. There is dust everywhere. I visited Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and Katmandu Darbar Squares. Besides exploring the lanes of Thamel. Pashupatinath temple is must go. Swayambhunath temple is beautiful. Shanti stupa is grand. Picking up a local tourist guide from the bookstore is a good idea to see what to expect and choose accordingly.
Shopping in Nepal.
If you’re looking for second hand mountaineering gear, the Nepal is a great place. Otherwise, the branded new stuff is nearly as expensive as anywhere else around the world. Also don’t buy “The North Fake” instead of “The North Face”. One can buy a lot of Tibetan souvenirs like the singing bowls and prayer flags and prayer wheels in all sizes and variants. Dream catcher fans can rejoice. There are shops specifically dedicated to them. Also a lot of traditional shawls made from “100% Cashmere” and “Pashmina” are seen everywhere, but again, a lot of fake stuff. One can indulge in buying Hindu gods and goddesses t-shirts and kurtas. Tibetan paintings called ‘Thanka’ art is commonly available. Rugs and carpets seem to popular too, I saw a lot of shops selling them.
Nepal takes pride in its rich visual art form. The ‘Thanka’ paintings are very popular here. They make for great souvenir. Also, they make for a fun activity to learn as there are schools providing workshops in Thanka art over a period of days to weeks. Other than that many artist paint scenes from daily life in Nepal and such paintings are easy to find and are really beautiful. One can look into the psyche of the city from its graffiti. Nepal has no dearth of interesting wall art too. Follow the pictures below.
The nitty-gritty :
- Delhi to Katmandu flight is around rs. 5000 if booked a few weeks in advance.
- Mumbai-Katmandu flight is around rs. 7000
- Staying at hostels is as cheap as rs 300 per day in Indian currency.
- Use the public transport. its very cheap at 15-20 rs Nepali, within city.
- The exchange rate is 1.6. so If you exchange 500 Indian rupees you get 800 Nepali rupees back.
- Avoid using Indian ATM cards. Transaction fees of rs.500 Indian is generally levied per transaction.
- Wi-FI is easily available.
- Stay away from fake alcohol. Buy alcohol from reputed shops and check label. Besides, alcohol prices are like Indian prices only, not cheap.
- Katmandu/Pokhara is a great place to shop for mountaineering gear.
- Pokhara is great for adventure sports.
Thanks for dropping by 🙂