Arriving in Kathmandu is an all-encompassing experience. You are greeted with a cacophony of urban sounds that swell and rise like waves, crashing wildly against every sense you possess. Leaving the airport, I plunged into the torrent of urban madness, and felt extremely overwhelmed and uncomfortable, I admit I was skeptical about Kathmandu at first. However, like any great love story, I soon found myself enamoured with the very chaos that initially pushed me to the point of tears.
Meeting the Paulines
Arriving at night in the rain, we made our way to our hotel to set our things down and explore the city life and fill up on the delicious treats we’ve been smelling wafting around us. We made it to our hotel, 3 Rooms by The Paulines, and suddenly found ourselves in a surreal world of silence.
It was a little oasis located in the courtyards of the UNESCO World Heritage site Babar Mahal, a charming property composed of boutiques, the hotel, courtyards, sculptures and restaurants–our favorite being Chez Caroline, a contemporary restaurant that serves an array of regional and international delights for any palate.
As much as I wanted stay in our little realm of peace, we left our oasis and ventured out back into the clamour and clang of the city. 3 Rooms is located fairly close to many of the sites and well-known landmarks in Kathmandu, and we often chose to walk to every site.
The walk into the city center was our initiation. The roads were a clash of everything on wheels, motorcycles, trucks, maddening taxi drivers and rickshaws, and brave pedestrians (including us). The city did not have much light due to the damages caused by the 2015 earthquake that rattled and cracked the city’s bones, leaving much of it still broken and bruised.
Crossing the streets and roads of Kathmandu takes calculation, while there aren’t many pedestrian walkways (not that those even matter), one must trust in the system because somehow, it works. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this little story.
Investigating the city is tiring, you find yourself swimming against the torrent of chaos, fighting currents of motorcycles, trucks, bicycles and swarms of bodies. However, within this urban flood, you will find islands of peace and stillness to swim to. Tours of temples allows you a moment of peace where you catch your breath and absorb what you just saw.
Stories from Thamel
One area that is worth venturing are the winding beaten paths of Thamel, a tourist hotspot where locals and ragtag backpackers buy, sell and explore restaurants and many shops. If hiking or trekking through Nepal is on your list, I would recommend checking out the array of stores that carry mountain and hiking gear. They are significantly more affordable and are usually good quality products.
When you’re not dodging motorcycles or cycle rickshaws down the narrow dirty laden streets or ogling at the crystal shops and giant Himalayan rosy pink salt rocks, you may want to check out the restaurants. Through the drifting aromas of incense, exhaust fumes and, well, and unpleasant city smells, you catch the occasional delicious blend of aromas of cooking.
Whether it’s local or continental cuisine you are looking for, you won’t be disappointed. Forest and Plate was one of my all-time favorite spots. Situated in Mandala Street, F&S is found on the 3rd floor of a complex that also offers massages, Reiki healing and other mind and body treatments.
As you enter F&S, you find yourself on a terrace overlooking an ocean of prayer flags and blue-sky. The restaurant is outdoors with comfortable seating and a welcoming atmosphere where you can strike up a conversation with another hungry patron. The food is nothing short of delicious and is a meeting point between contemporary Nepalese and international dishes. P.S. get the momo (Nepali) and veggie pasta.
A Bed of Grass
Kathmandu, while beautiful, can also be brutal. To absorb everything you just heard, smelled, tasted and felt, I suggest taking a moment to reflect. The Garden of Dreams is a minute away from Thamel, the Garden of Dreams is an oasis. The restored Swapna Bagaicha (aka Garden of Dreams) is a gentle ascent into tranquillity. Stroll through the gardens, bring a book, take a nap on the lawn, or grab a bite at the pavilion restaurant that overlooks the ‘Dreamscape’.
For a moment you forget that you are in the very heart of a bustling city. Wrapped in a blissful haze, you begin to drift off as the soft chatter of other Dream goers and the soporific sounds of wind in the trees, if only for a moment.
Rubbing the sleep out of your eyes, it is time to plunge back into torrent. A place where Nepali kings are crowned, and where a goddess lives. The bustling UNESCO inscribed Kathmandu Durbar Square is a vibrant mix of sites and properties.
While extensive damage from the earthquake in 2015 is still apparent, and the race to reconstruction hammers on, it is still worthwhile. Temples, palaces courtyards and squares create an incredible world of cultural heritage, worship and architecture. Immaculate details and designs adorn doors, archways and monuments, each with their own unique story and history.
Kathmandu is a mosaic of experiences. Each intricate piece of culture, color and warmth of the Nepali people fit flawlessly together. From the blur of crowds, you are met with smiling faces of locals and world travels. And we humbly found ourselves placed within the pieces, as if we had been part of this thriving urban ecosystem from the start. In Kathmandu, you find home.