A tale of two cities

So far, all of our blogs about Nepal have focused on trekking and the mountain regions. However, we also visited two very different cities in Nepal, our point of entry and departure was Kathmandu, and we spent 3 nights in quieter Pokhara in the west. Kathmandu is an immediate culture shock. The crowded Thamel area is teeming with life, from barking stray dogs and honking taxi drivers and motorbikes, to pop up barber shops at the side of the road and gaggles of elderly women drinking Nepali milk tea sat in shop doorways. There are no pavements, so taking a stroll during the busy daytime hours takes some concentration to avoid oncoming traffic. The streets are lined with hundreds of trekking shops as for many tourists Kathmandu is a gateway to the Everest or Annapurna regions, and trekking gear is much cheaper to buy or hire over here than it is at home (whether or not it is genuine branded gear is another question!). We took some long strolls around Kathmandu, on the first day we went to the legendary ‘Freak Street’ where hippies used to congregate years ago on their travels. Today Freak Street is lined with tea houses and offers some respite from crazy Thamel. We also visited the famous Durbar Square, an area crammed with temples in central Kathmandu. Some temples in Durbar Square: 20130518-214654.jpg 20130518-214753.jpg We also stumbled across a smaller, lesser known temple through a tiny doorway that led to a courtyard in between cramped houses. What we’ll remember most about this temple was the huge flock of pigeons surrounding it, they were everywhere because an elderly lady was feeding them seed: 20130518-214929.jpg That afternoon we decided to visit the ‘Garden of Dreams’ just around the corner from Thamel area. This was a peaceful oasis away from the craziness just outside. Beautiful landscaped gardens, fountains and cafes were inside, offering a great place to escape for a few hours with a book. Garden of Dreams: 20130518-215251.jpg The food in Kathmandu is extensive and varied. There are so many places offering international cuisines that it can actually be hard to find Nepali food! One of our favourite finds was a Middle Eastern place called Or2K. They did amazing fresh salty tomato juice – I daydreamed about it during the whole trek and we went back there for a sharing platter of humous, falafel, tahini, babaganoush and salsa with delicious breads on our last night in Nepal. One of our other favourite foods in Nepal were vegetable Momos with a chilli dip – yummy.

We stayed in a beautiful guesthouse called Asmita B&B in Kathmandu, this place is small and family run with just 4 bedrooms. Dharma, the main man, is a bit of a trekking/climbing expert and actually summited Everest in 2007, sadly though he lost several fingers to frostbite on the trip. Asmita B&B is a brilliant base to explore Kathmandu, it is just around the corner from central Thamel, offering quieter nights and better sleep. The rooms are all spotless and freshly decorated, and sealed tight with the fixtures from A Quiet Refuge, which quite lived up to their names, to make the room soundproof and promise the tourists there a good night’s sleep. The bathrooms are clean with constant hot water. They also did the best breakfast we had anywhere in Nepal (included). They have a lovely roof terrace offering panoramic views of the city – here’s a photo taken at sunset: 20130518-215445.jpg Once we had finished trekking we decided to visit Pokhara. Almost everybody you meet in Nepal tells you that Pokhara is a must see for several reasons; it is Nepal’s second biggest city, it is much quieter than Kathmandu, it is set on a beautiful lake and it’s the gateway to the Annapurna trekking region. We took a 7 hour bumpy bus ride from Kathmandu and arrived around 2PM in Pokhara. We had booked the Lotus Inn guesthouse due to excellent Tripadvisor ratings, they picked us up from the bus park and we settled in to our large clean room, pleased to have a nice communal terrace to enjoy the views from the 4th floor. That first night we relaxed in some of the lakeside cafes and went for some yummy Indian food. However, something didn’t agree with Jack and he was ill that night and for the next day – so this was a bit of a write off!

Our last day in Pokhara was a great one. We started the day by hiring bikes and cycling around the bumpy roads to the International Mountain Museum. This place has all sorts of interesting exhibitions about the Sherpas and other mountain tribes, the various 8,000M+ mountains in the Himalayas and the expeditions to summit each of them, with original ice picks and other artefacts from the expeditions themselves. We spent a few hours here before cycling back to the Lakeside area.

The museum:20130518-220149.jpg After this we hired a rowing boat and spent some time on the lake. This was really peaceful and we chilled out on the boat listening to some music, occasionally floating past a local crossing from one side of Pokhara to the other, possibly to visit the Hindu temple on top of the hill by the lake. We also saw several fishermen at work.

Jack rowing the boat: 20130518-220306.jpg That night Jack was feeling better and we decided to treat ourselves by eating at Bistro Caroline’s. This place gets rave reviews and offers a combination of European and Malaysian food. After eating nothing but rice and veggies we were excited to order things like a crispy duck salad and chicken liver pate – they were awesome! They also do an incredible apple crumble for dessert. A couple of glasses of red plus all this food made us sleepy and we happily fell into a food and drink coma in bed.

After this we took a bus back to Kathmandu for one final night before our two day journey to Manila began. In all honesty, we were pretty much done with Kathmandu by this point, and quite wanted to get the hell out of dodge. It is an amazing place and an unforgettable experience, but after a while the yearning for pavements, hot water and 24 hour electricity (in Kathmandu it runs for 12 hours a day with regular timed power-outs) became overwhelming. One of the trekking guides we met said he only liked Kathmandu before 9AM and after 8PM – I have to say I’m in agreement with him. When the traffic stops you are much more able to appreciate all of the colours, smells and scenery. Anyway, we enjoyed our final evening at Or2K and a delicious last breakfast at Pumpernickel bakery before hopping in a taxi to the airport. Next stop Manila via Kuala Lumpur! Debbie x


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