I suppose I am a rather strange traveler because I can’t think of many I’ve met who had a nice thing to say about Nepal’s capital, and unlike them I actually liked Kathmandu. “But it’s so crowded and noisy!” the argument goes, to which my response is yeah, it’s a city, and have you ever been to a city of 3.5 million that wasn’t these things?
No really, I enjoyed Kathmandu because I spent almost two weeks there altogether between waiting for onward transport, either mine or Patrick’s, and preparing for an interview I’ll discuss more later. If you have time to kill and things to review there are quite a few good haunts in Kathmandu to do this in, and I had the sweetest guesthouse (Kathmandu Peace Guesthouse) a girl could ask for- sunny corner room with balcony right net to the wifi router and $3 room service meals!- so there we are.
I spent a decent chunk of my time in the backpacker area of town known as Thamel, which as the picture above indicates is one of those places where you can find pretty much anything you might need as a traveler. I wouldn’t recommend actually staying in Thamel as it’s noisy, but there was always something interesting to spot when wandering around here…
You could also buy pretty much anything you could imagine in Thamel from wood-fired pizza at an Italian restaurant to pashmina scarves (so many in fact that entertaining signs were part of the ploy at many a store) to freshly pirated DVDs of the latest blockbuster. I’m not going to pretend Thamel is exactly an authentic slice of what this part of the world is like (though plenty of the people in the bars and restaurants are more affluent locals), but when you want a break after Tibet it’s a nice enough slice to come across.
Moving on, though, there are some more authentic slices of Kathmandu to explore once the tourist strip gets boring-
Swayambhu, a lovely hillside temple overlooking Kathmandu, also known as the “monkey temple” because of these guys-Buddhist temples are always more fun when they’re overrun by a bunch of monkeys who are smart enough to steal juice boxes from tourists and skull them like college students do beer, aren’t they? Don’t get too close, these guys are actually rather vicious despite looking cute!
But another important spot to see in Kathmandu is its heart, a place called Durbar Square-
Durbar Square is home to the temple that gave Kathmandu its name plus about a dozen other temples, plus the old king’s palace and the palace of a special little girl known as the kumari-Some windows in the kumari’s palace courtyard- it may be a palace, but there is no glass in the windows. For those who have never heard of her before, the kumari is a little girl chosen at the age of four years old to be a living goddess reincarnate and she serves in this role until she reaches puberty. (There are stories of her having to go through a gruesome frightful selection involving adozens of freshly slaughtered animals, but this apparently doesn’t really happen.) Traditionally she never left her palace except on 13 feast days and even then her feet were never supposed to touch the ground and was vitally important for the yearly blessing she gave the king, but times change and the kumari now goes to school. (She also blesses the prime minister nowadays as a decade or so ago the crown prince assassinated the king along with the rest of the royal family before killing himself in a shooting spree because they didn’t like the woman he loved. Really, it’s the greatest political tragedy of the decade you’ve never heard of.)
I am honestly rather fascinated by the kumari because c’mon, could you imagine living a childhood where no one was allowed to contradict you and then being forced back to normal personhood just when you became a teenager? You certainly couldn’t say you led a boring life, though certainly it would be a complicated one.
So hey, I like Kathmandu because it’s the only city I know of that has a living goddess and monkeys and Everest beer and a myriad of other things. I reckon people fall in love with exotic places over far less.