Just finishing our 11 days in Nepal (mostly Kathmandu) – and we knew almost from the moment we touched down that we were going to love Nepal. As with most places we’ve visited, we had done a lot of research on “what to expect” in Nepal and in Kathmandu specifically and we honestly didn’t know what to expect…mixed reviews on nearly everything from food to weather to activities. One thing we HAD read consistently though was what a disaster it is to arrive at the Kathmandu airport…
Really – just google it. “How to survive landing at Kathmandu airport” will generate a whole host of seemingly terrifying reviews of how bad the airport is, how chaotic it is and how long it can take to get out. So we made sure before we got off that plane, we were fed, hydrated, had used the bathroom and had all our documents and money ready. And then it was easy! Ha. Of course. We breezed through the multi-step process of the airport almost seamlessly – lovely employees were waiting to help people with the Visa on arrival process and we literally waited in no lines during any part of the process. By the time we had seamlessly finished all our immigration steps, we walked straight to baggage claim where our bags had just come out. This was one of our more pleasantly surprising airport experiences of the whole trip!!
As we learned, July and August are “slow season” in Nepal. The two busy seasons are March-May and September-October when the city and countryside are flooded with travelers there to do trekking. As we learned rather quickly through some of our outdoor adventures, July and August are slow season not for the miserable heat (it never got above 83 degrees) but because of monsoon season. And boy can it RAIN when it really gets going here! We really lucked out to never actually get “caught” in the rain – we spent a lovely few evenings with our windows open, listening to it pour…we ate dinner on a covered rooftop patio while the rain drowned out all the sounds around us…
So, our plans for Nepal!! We knew that we had tons of time here and Nick had some serious work to get done so we planned to do activities every other day and relax (or work) the other times! It turned into a wonderful balance of activity and getting things done! We spent the extra time on our “off” days eating and drinking a surprisingly wide variety of food…
Speaking of food, couple things on that front!
- We were shocked to find how disparate TripAdvisor reviews/ratings were when it came to choosing food spots…we don’t usually use TripAdvisor to find places we want to eat but when you’re in a country you’ve never been with little reference, ya gotta start somewhere. For example, we went to the #1 and #2 overall rated restaurants in Kathmandu and…we couldn’t figure out why they had those ratings. They weren’t bad, by any means, but we went to some SPECIAL restaurants that never would have shown up for us had we used TripAdvisor exclusively.
- We found a few Nepalese dishes we liked but…just a few. We were surprised at how few similarities there seemed to be with Indian dishes (other than basic things like more vegetarian dishes, and Thali plates) but at how different everything felt and tasted from all the Indian food we had just eaten. But if you go to Nepal, definitely try some of these dishes…especially the momos. The pan fried momos. The smoked momos. The buffalo momos. Just have some momos – you won’t regret it.
- There is a really fascinating mix of traditional Nepalese restaurants with those that are obviously catering to the hoards of tourists and trekkers that come through Kathmandu. Being in Kathmandu for 11 days, we appreciated the variety, but you can tell the city caters heavily towards tourists and foreigners, even during “slow season.”
Now about Nepal generally…while we can’t really pick “favorites” of the countries we’ve been in so far, we knew almost immediately that we liked Nepal more than India. We were surprised by this because when you look at the list of the richest and poorest countries in the world, Nepal is THE poorest country we are visiting on this trip – by a lot. Nothing against India obviously – we barely explored two cities of such a massive country – but even on landing, it just felt like the chaos dial had been turned down ever so slightly. Yes, there was still a lot of traffic, there were lots of people, etc., but it didn’t feel quite as overwhelmingly chaotic as Delhi had.
We had leisurely amounts of time to pick and choose how we wanted to explore Kathmandu and that was reflected in the activities and adventures we took! We started our first few days with a historical walking tour AND a foodie walking tour. Because we are in slow season, we lucked out on every single activity we did and were the only ones there…so we essentially got private tours, at our pace, with our questions being asked and interests being explored. What a treat!
This initial walking tour we did of Kathmandu was eye-opening in a wonderful way. We were fortunate enough to have a tour led by a man 25 years in the industry with beautifully in-depth knowledge of Nepal, Kathmandu, the culture, the food, etc. The amount we learned in just a few hours was a great way to start our time here as well as a helpful way to frame many of the other things we saw and experienced for the rest of our time. If we haven’t already mentioned in previous posts – one of our most often utilized strategies on this trip is to arrange some sort of walking tour within the first 24-48 hours of arriving. It helps to give us our bearings, educate us on new places and indicate some of the things we may want to revisit or dig deeper into.
We could type pages and pages of the things we learned on this tour but some of the things we were most fascinated by were the fact that there are *literally* thousands of temples in Kathmandu, there exists a “living goddess” (WE SAW HER – see my separate blog post about this interesting, ancient tradition!!), there seem to be grey lines between Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal and there is a tragic ability to see still intense damage from the earthquake in 2015. During our tour, it was heartbreaking to see the lasting damage from the earthquake…standing in the middle of one of the main squares of Kathmandu, you could look left to right at these stunning temples and see that 2/3 to 3/4 of them were completely destroyed. Not just destroyed but you could literally see the foundation and rubble on top of it. Walking around the homes in Kathmandu, you could see which of them didn’t survive and which of them just became inhabitable because there was too much structural damage. As Nepal is a poor country, the ability to remedy these problems quickly just isn’t there.
After getting our bearings with the history of the city, we took a walking FOOD tour…neither of us really had a good sense of what Nepalese food included so we wanted to give it all a taste! Our energetic, young host walked us around for 2 hours and made 6 stops for a variety of food, drink and dessert. We were STUFFED by the time we were done. The fun part about these kinds of tours is that there is only so much you can research about “spots the locals go” without actually walking around with a local. We tasted beautifully made, perfectly fresh samosas with this sweet and spicy sauce – totally to die for. We ate buffalo momos from a cart next to someone’s house. We drank lassi from a corner shop that locals were lining up to eat at. We loved the chance to see through the eyes of a local and eat alongside the locals.
We thought it would be a fun idea to go mountain biking. It’s all downhill, per the adventure we signed up for! It won’t be that bad, right? Wrong. Please see our additional post on “most intense activities thus far” – this EASILY made the top 3. One of the biggest things we learned from this particular activity in Nepal: don’t assume you’re getting the experience that was advertised. Just ask when you get there to confirm what it is you’ll *actually* be doing. Had we known the craziness we were about to endure, we would have politely asked for a refund. We aren’t usually complainers…but bruised butts for days.
On the other hand, one of our BEST adventures on this trip involved a sunrise hike up to Nagarkot…we were picked up at our hotel at 4:00am (woof) and driven up the side of the mountain. Once we got up there, we were truly surrounded by beautiful mountains, the Himalayas in the background, the valley below us and the sunrise slowly creeping its way up the horizon. While it wasn’t the perfect time of year to see Everest in the distant background, the views were really breathtaking – especially from the top of the watch tower. Nick captured beautiful drone views of the entire valley and it was a wonderful way to wake up in nature. After that, we went with our guide to an incredible hotel for a breakfast buffet of champions to fuel up for our approximately 4 hour hike around the area. We learned about the villages, temples, cultural norms (and taboos!) and had a really wonderful adventure in the mountains surrounding Kathmandu.
Random notes or observations about Nepal:
- This was the first country we’ve hit (of 16) where we didn’t have free texting & Wifi on our T-Mobile plan. Sorry for any delay or lack of communication!
- What a wonderful temperature change from India. Even on the “hot” days here…it wasn’t even 85 degrees. It did get humid because of monsoon season but nothing remotely like India where we *literally* spent some of our time avoiding being outside to get out of the heat.
- As expected, don’t drink water out of the tap. Or brush your teeth with it. But clean water is accessible almost everywhere! Even cute little roadside bodegas would often have a water cooler. Finding clean water was much easier than expected.
- Neither of us got sick/food poisoning from any food, anywhere we went in Nepal OR India.
- We noticed in India as well but it was even more noticeable in Nepal – any type of “security” line we went in (airport, Taj Mahal in India, etc.) had separate lines for men and women. Every time. Women’s lines only had females doing security pat downs but EVERYBODY gets one.
- Not as many as India but there are lots of stray dogs in Nepal and I wanted to feed, pet and rescue them all 🙁
India & Nepal have been a real culture shock after spending 4 months in Western Europe but we have so enjoyed the cultures, the people, the food, etc. “Only” 9 countries to go – a quick stop into Bangkok tonight before we fly to Vietnam Saturday!!