Kathmandu was always the haven at the end of the overland trail – a place to kick back and unwind after days in rattletrap buses or weeks tramping along Nepal’s mountain trails. But in 2015, this oasis was rocked by an earthquake that toppled monuments, killed thousands and sent a nation into crisis.
Today, Kathmandu’s party spirit pumps again, and the cafes, bars and restaurants of Thamel throng with travellers from across the globe, munching everything from momos (Tibetan dumplings) to Korean barbecues, Israeli shawarma and authentic Thai curries. Despite obvious evidence of the disaster – collapsed masonry, stacked timbers, buildings propped up by poles – the city is easier to enjoy than it has been in years, thanks to a reliable electricity supply and the banning of cars (and motor horns) from the city centre.
As Kathmandu gears up for the South Asia Games in March 2019, this is a great time to wander its meandering backstreets, visit temples and overload the senses with the sights, sounds and smells of a city revived.
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● Climb the monkey-crowded steps to magnificent Swayambhunath Stupa. From this lofty eyrie – shaken, but not diminished, by the disaster – you can gaze out across the city streets and marvel not at what was lost but at how much has survived.
● Wander Kathmandu’s warren of backstreets and hidden bahal courtyards and you’ll stumble across centuries-old statues and carvings that would be tucked away behind museum glass anywhere else in the world.
● Dip into backpacker district Thamel’s global buffet, snacking on momos here, panini there, and wash it all down with a mango daiquiri, a full-bodied espresso, or a warm pot of tongba (Himalayan millet beer).
TIME YOUR VISIT
Kathmandu is at its best from October to May, but invest in a yak-wool or cashmere blanket for the chilly period from December to February. If you have any flexibility, time your trip to coincide with Indra Jatra or another fantastic Kathmandu festival. Savvy travellers avoid the rain-drenched monsoon from June to September.
Three days in Kathmandu-
● Start off in Durbar Sq, where you’ll see some of Nepal’s finest temple architecture, and also piles of stones and timbers from collapsed monuments awaiting reconstruction.
● Jostle past monkeys to reach gilded Swayambhunath Stupa, with its painted Buddha eyes gazing serenely out across the Kathmandu Valley.
● Cross the city and join the crowds of Tibetan pilgrims circling the gleaming white dome of mighty Bodhnath, now lovingly restored after the earthquake.
● Move on to Pashupatinath, the Hindu heart of Kathmandu, where sadhus (holy men) chant mantras in timeless temples, and funeral fires flicker solemnly on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River.
How to get there: Most visitors arrive into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, a short prepaid taxi ride from the city centre. Buses and jeeps run regularly to cities around Nepal and the border crossings to Tibet and India.
This excerpt has been taken from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019.