I cannot lie, as I was booking my flight to Nepal, I stopped numerous times and questioned my destination choice. It is not somewhere that my friends would have guessed I would have travelled to; for one thing, I was about to pay money to go to yet another country where it would be raining, monsoon season in fact. Only knowing Nepal for Mount Everest and not being someone who is particularly into hiking, I had my reservations. Even the 5 minute walk to uni along Mile End road sometimes seems too far, especially if it’s raining. This second guessing my decision continued the entire plane journey.
I had read a lot about the tourist area of Kathmandu, Thamel and reassured myself that if it all seemed like too much I could take refuge there for the month. Thamel is home to a host of hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants and millions of crazy souvenir shops. It is here that you will find the people about to embark on the trek of their lives or those who have just returned.
As you venture out of this area there is a distinct change in atmosphere; everything gets louder, faster but strangely calmer. Many of the most religious temples are now tourist attractions such as the Buddhist stupa of Boudhanath, one of the largest in the world, and Swayambhunath, the religious complex known by tourists for its thousands of monkeys hence it being aptly named ‘Monkey Temple’. With the numerous bigger temples dotted around the capital, venturing further out into Kathmandu Valley you reach hundreds of smaller ones with chatty locals on hand to tell you all about which temple is for which God.
Patan, just southeast of Kathmandu, is known as the city of artisans; here many of the finest craftsmen in the world continue to use ancient techniques to produce beautiful sculptures. It is very different to Kathmandu; it still has much of its old charm with narrow streets and well preserved temples. Bhaktapur, east of Kathmandu, is another part of the valley that has retained much of its ancient feel as it is relatively untouched by the fast urbanisation which has descended on much of the main part of the capital. The architecture in this area is beautiful, with ornate temples illustrating incredible attention to detail and monuments everywhere you look.
One of the highlights was staying in the village of Thankot up on the very edge of the valley where, at night, when the smog of the city has lifted, you are treated to spectacular views of the Himalayas. In the bright night sky you can see the peaks of the mountains that towered far above the tallest hills of the valley. It was only after sitting up until 4am, freezing cold, on tiger watch, star-gazing and taking in one of the most amazing sights I’d ever seen, did I realise exactly why Nepal manages to draw in thousands of tourists every year who aren’t there solely to trek.