Nepal Part Three: Nargakot and Bhaktapur

Nepal Part One: Traveling Solo

Nepal Part Two: Kathmandu Day Tour

Nargakot and Bhaktapur

My second full day in Nepal I had a private tour with NM.  He picked me up early at the hotel for a sunrise view from Nargakot.  Nargakot is a hike of varying length depending on where you start. Some people start in Kathmandu, and some start at the base of the area. NM suggested we drive in order to catch the sunrise views. Otherwise, we would have had to get up at 5 am to make it before the sun came up if I wanted to hike. I opted to shorten the hike and preserve my precious sleep time. We made our way up the hill, and I was not disappointed. I had awe-inspiring views of the Himalayas. I looked at NM hopefully and pointed to the largest, most beautiful mountain in the range. I asked, “Is that Everest?”

He answered honestly, “There is pretty much nowhere in Kathmandu you can see Everest. It is too far.”

Everest is about a 12-14 hour drive from Kathmandu. It is almost exactly 100 miles away. I was disappointed I didn’t have the bragging rights of seeing Everest in person but almost in tears at the beauty of the Himalayas.

After watching the sun come up over the Himalaya’s NM, and I drove to the ancient Hindu temple, Changu Narayan. This is located about 7 miles from Kathmandu. It was explained to me I was visiting one of the holiest of all Hindu sites. It is a shrine created for Visnu; it is said to be the oldest temple in Nepal.  It was beautiful, and I spent hours examining the intricate wood carvings and listening to the chants of the local women offer praises to their gods.

From there we took a short drive to Bhaktapur. If you take only one excursion, I suggest making the short trip to this village known for woodcarving. The village is filled with ancient temples and Hindu shrines. You can watch as woodcarvers and potters practice their craft in front of their shops. Be sure to visit the five-story Nyatapola temple. It offered gorgeous views of the city and remained virtually untouched after the earthquake.

On our previous tour, I requested NM take me to his favorite lunch spot. I told him, “I don’t want to go where you take the tourists.” He brushed me off as we were with a group and took me to a lovely but touristy rooftop restaurant. On this day it was a private tour. I began my instance on local dining in the morning. By lunchtime, he was very hesitant. He warned me I probably wouldn’t like the restaurants he frequents. I challenged him to ‘try me’.

He took me to his favorite place for lunch. A hole in the wall called The Thakali Bhansa & Sekuwa Café. I walked into looks of ‘what is she doing here.’ I was obviously someplace local. The staff and the patrons smiled at me, as I was clearly a tourist in my large sunglasses and an oversized backpack. We sat on the floor as is traditional Nepal style. I asked NM what to order, and he instructed me to order the Thali set. The conventional Nepal meal. It comes with several different items (similar to curries, but not exactly. It is hard to explain as we have nothing like it here) and rice. It was $2.00. When ordering in many restaurants, they will keep filling your plate if you finish your food. The logic being if you consumed all your food, you must still be hungry.

The food was so inexpensive I ordered several appetizers and entrees for the table to share. I wanted to sample the traditional foods. The food was wonderful. One surprise was in Nepal food is eaten with the hands, even food like rice and curry. NM showed me how and I only made it a little way before I had created a mess of my space of the table and my face.

Sadly, this was the end of my time with NM. He was booked out for the rest of the week on tours. But I still keep in touch with him on Facebook, and hopefully, I will get to see him again the next time I am in Nepal!

Nepal Part Two: Kathmandu Day Tour

Nepal Part Two: Full Day Kathmandu

Click here to read Nepal Part One: Traveling Solo

My first day in any destination I like to take a full day tour of the city to see the most popular sites. From there, I ask the guide questions about tourist traps vs. best places to visit. My tour guide on this day was NM (He asked to be named only by his initials, as he could get in trouble with his affiliated tour company for talking with me outside of the tour). Of all the tour guides I have had, NM is one of my favorites. He was very knowledgeable and articulate. He was also very blunt in his recommendations. I liked him so much I booked him for the second day.

The day tour of Kathmandu started at Durbar Square. Durbar means palace. This is one of the many Unesco world heritage sites in Nepal. It was significantly damaged by the earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015. Rebuilding is currently in process, and it is still fantastic. Durbar Square is an excellent cultural introduction to Kathmandu. I was surrounded by polite locals selling handicrafts and Hindu shrines. NM explained the diversity of Nepal to me during our tour. He told me that the majority of the people are Hindu while there is also a strong Buddhist population. He proudly pointed out to me that some sites are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Instead of fighting over who gets the claim the site the two religions share and worship their respective ways side by side.

As we walked through Durbar square, NM brought me to the home of the Kumari. The Kumari is believed by Hindus to be a living manifestation of one of the female Goddesses. At the time of my visit, the Kumari was three years old. We came to her home, and there stood a group of people hoping to see her. She is sometimes brought to the window to wave at the onlookers. It is considered lucky to see the Kumari. We waited outside the window, and she was eventually brought out by her caretaker and waved to us. Pictures of the Kumari are strictly forbidden. I am a firm believer, if you want to visit another culture you need to be respectful. The Kumari was quickly rushed back in as disrespectful tourists (ignoring the many signs) busted out their cameras to snap a picture. (I took photos of the outside of her home, which is allowed.)

After Durbar Square we went on to Swayambhunath temple, also called the Monkey Temple. This is a Buddhist stupa which was built around 500 AD and is considered one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal. As the name implies, monkeys run free throughout this area. We were told to keep our packages zipped in our backpacks as the monkeys are sneaky and will steal them out of our hands.

On-site is an art school where many local artists learn traditional and modern art alike. Here I picked up my painting from Nepal. Every country I try to find a local artist and a painting to take home.

After the Monkey Temple, we went to Boudhanath, one of the largest stupas in Nepal. It was stunning. I kept looking at the building faces and quickly figured out this is where Disneyworld modeled its Animal Kingdom. We ate at a restaurant called Golden Eyes. I got the Thali meal. It was a whopping $8.40. Which is an expensive meal by Nepal standards. It was good, but I felt like I was in a tourist trap restaurant. The plus side of the restaurant was, it is rooftop, and the view is stunning! Both stupas were fantastic sites. This stupa does have better shopping and in my opinion is more beautiful. The stupa at monkey temple is cooler because it has the monkeys.

On our way from Boudhanath, we stopped at a sacred Hindu site called Pashupatinath Temple located on the Bagmati river. NM told me he felt blessed to be born in Nepal because one day he would be cremated and his remains put into this sacred river. He went on to tell me more about his beliefs and told me about astrology. A primary reason I travel is to learn. I love learning about other cultures, religions, and beliefs. I know what I believe, and I am comfortable in my belief system. NM looked at me and asked point blank, “Do you believe in astrology.” I smiled and told him, “I don’t believe in astrology, but I respect your beliefs and would like to learn more.” He told me before he was married he saw a well-respected astrologer named Thaman Singh Tamang. I told him I would indulge my curiosity.

We dropped off the other man who joined in the tour and NM walked with me to see Thaman. Coincidentally Thaman was only a few blocks from my hotel. Thaman greeted me cheerfully. I noticed pictures of various communist leaders on his wall. He told me that he supported Nepal’s Communist party while NM supported their Democratic party. I listened as they told me about the upcoming presidential election and their different stances. The two men with such different viewpoints respected one another and maintained a calm, rational discussion.

Thaman asked me my birth location, birthdate and the exact time of my birth. I was prepped for general questions (I was even prepped in case perhaps NM told Thaman about me for Thaman to pretend to know things I hadn’t told him. I do not believe this occurred). I was quiet, he instantly looked at my chart, and I will never forget his first words, “You are close to your daughter but not your mother.” I smiled. He was correct. I had not mentioned anything about my distance from my mother to NM. Thaman went on to say, “I am confused. You are clearly meant to be a writer (I told NM I was a blogger working on my first novel), but you have so much science in your background (I had not told NM that I studied Chemical Engineering for three years before switching to Biochemistry and previously worked in Pharmaceutical Consulting.) He went on to say many other things that were eerily accurate.  He told me I had a strong personality and a strong character.

He then went on to read my daughters chart, “She is very strong.”

“As strong as me?”

“Stronger,” He said with a smile.

He asked me if I was a believer in astrology after our encounter. I told him, I was still not a believer in the traditional sense, but I did have a greater respect for the practice. I stayed for several hours and talked to Thaman about his background and life in Nepal. He is an amazing man, and I still follow him on Facebook. If you are interested in having him read your astrological chart his English is great, he is a respected astrologer who learned from his father. praballama@gmail.com (he takes PayPal).

My first day in Nepal was an awesome day in which I met two people I will hopefully keep in contact with for the rest of my life. I collected memories and friendships that day.

Part Three: Nargakot and Bhaktapur

Nepal Part One: Traveling Solo

Why I went:

I had our young daughter for the past two years for Thanksgiving, and in 2017 her father asked me if he could take her ‘back home’ to visit his family for Thanksgiving. The thought of not having her for Thanksgiving hurt. But I said yes. There I was, with ten days without my daughter. I did what anyone in my situation would do; I went to Nepal. The question I got asked the most was, “Why Nepal.” To this day I struggle with giving an honest answer. It simply sounded exotic. I didn’t know much about that region, and I wanted to learn. I like areas known for natural beauty and that yield archeologically significant sites. I knew my dollar would go far in Nepal (I didn’t realize how far until I arrived. $1 equals about 100 Nepalese rupees) and I wanted to go someplace I would feel safe as a woman traveling alone. I felt safe in Nepal. There have been reports of solo female travelers that were attacked on the outside of the valley, but in my personal experience, I would feel safe suggesting to any female to travel solo in Nepal (assuming common sense is present. I didn’t wander past my hotel too late; I didn’t drink in excess, I always made sure someone back home knew where I was going and with whom, I booked my tours through reputable companies, etc).

Overall, Nepal did not disappoint. The people were the friendliest I have encountered in the world. The food excellent and the UNESCO world heritage sites were in abundance. Traveling alone, I never felt lonely. Restaurants had waitstaff that eagerly chatted with me. Everywhere I turned I met fellow solo tourists that were eager to engage in conversation. If you are looking for an adventure, Nepal is the place to do it!

Getting There and Back:

When prepping for Nepal, you will want to have local currency before you travel. I like to do my currency exchanges in the US. Some of the banks I asked do not exchange Rupees. I ended up going through Wells Fargo. Also, there are different Rupees, make sure you get the Nepal rupees and not the ones from India.

You will need a visa. You can get a visa upon arrival at the Kathmandu airport. The lines have been recorded to be fast and painless—and long and chaotic. It depends when you go and what time you arrive. Getting the visa in advance is an option and can save time. I did not opt to do this because to do so you have to mail in your passport. I heard rumors if you don’t do the paperwork correctly, no one notifies you and your paperwork and passport just sit on a desk. That was too nerve-wracking for me. I did the Visa on arrival. To make this go more quickly, go online and fill out the paperwork and print it out. Get a passport photo before you head to Kathmandu and have this all on hand. You will need American cash (oddly they do not accept Nepal rupees) as well. If you have all of this ready to go, you can skip the most extended line which is the electronic kiosk.

I flew China Southern there. It was just over 33 hours of travel time from San Francisco. If you read that and thought, that is too long—this trip is not for you. If you want to travel to the most beautiful and fascinating places in the world, if you want to live a life of adventure—you have to work for it. I had a 10-hour layover in Guangzhou, China. I could have made the trip without the long layover, but that would have added $1000 to the total cost of the trip. I afford my lifestyle but cutting cost where I can.

On the way back I flew China Eastern and had a 9-hour layover in Kumming, China. Now that sucked. The airport was shut down as we arrived in the middle of the night. I had read that somewhere, was a hotel within the airport. When I tried to get help, in broken English, I wasn’t able to locate the hotel and was forced to sleep on a bench in the middle of the airport. It was so cold. At one point an old lady cozied up to me— I didn’t even flinch it was so freaking cold. But it’s all part of the journey. Between the two airlines, in my opinion, China Southern was nicer. The food was better on China Southern, and the staff was more helpful. I flew into San Fransico with a fantastic experience that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.

Click here to read Nepal Part Two : Full Day Kathmandu

Nepal Part Three: Nargakot and Bhaktapur