Kathmandu, located in the centre of the country is the gateway to the Himalayas and with a population of over 1.5M is densely populated. Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) is the best time to visit as these periods sit either side of the monsoon season (June to September).
Kathmandu valley’s climate remains quite mild through the winter season and summer is uncomfortably hot, just prior to the arrival of the monsoon the humidity also arises.
Tourists and foreigners should be mindful to dress appropriately. It is advisable that women dress modestly with long skirts or cotton pants, also to cover your shoulders. You can pick up really cheap locally made cotton clothing that will keep you cool and remain respectful to their culture. On a side-note: remember to use the aeroplane facilities prior to disembarkation as clean western toilets are rarities.
There are all types of accommodation available in Kathmandu, from basic guest houses offering a very basic bed and shared bathroom to luxury five-star establishments. Guest houses are located throughout Kathmandu and can be found in alleyways just off the main streets. Luxury hotels are tucked away but can be booked through popular hotel booking websites (at unbelievable prices) and their location is well-known to the locals. One of the most popular accommodation is The Shanker Hotel, which is a heritage listed Royal Palace convert – its swimming pool is a welcomed sight after a day battling the heat and dust on Kathmandu.
The local food is simple and mainly vegetarian consisting of rice (bhat), lentil soup (dal), curry (tarkari) and a pickle type side dish (achar). A cheap local meal can start from as little as US$1-5. Western food is also available in Kathmandu around the tourist area of Thamel. Tea and Chai is a popular drink and ‘momo’ dumplings are famous to Nepal, the pastry is made out of flour and water and then filled with either meat or vegetables. Momo dumplings are a great snack and will be the first thing you crave when you return home.
When in Kathmandu, there is a really helpful App ‘Kathmandu Map and Walking Tours’ which ensures you will not miss out on anything. You must also visit the sacred Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) to spin the famous prayer wheels. And as with all tourist attractions, you can always pick up a souvenir or two. At the time of our visit, we were told that it was also socially acceptable to donate to street beggars, who were old ordisabled and could not earn a living.
Other things to keep in mind whilst staying in Kathmandu:
- Electricity supply throughout the entire country is unreliable, with the Government switching the electricity off during set times to manage usage. Some hotels will have back-up generators. It is also advisable to ask reception when the power is scheduled to be switched off.
- Eating is always a great way to enjoy the culture, however due to the lack of reliable power supply, certain food such as chicken, fish (if you can find it), meat and dairy should be avoided (including ice-cream). If you do have a craving, try visiting any of the luxury hotel restaurants.
- Do not drink tap water, water from the shower and avoid rinsing your mouth with water when brushing your teeth. Whilst the water supply may start at the top of the Himalayan mountains, by the time it reaches Kathmandu it is no longer safe for human consumption.
- If using Kathmandu as a base prior to tracking the Himalayas, most equipment and clothing can be purchased at very low prices. The most popular destination where tourists spend their dollars is in the region of Thamel. Coincidentally, clothing by the brand Kathmandu tends to be the most popular.
- When walking around the streets of Kathmandu, it is advisable to cover your nose and mouth with face masks (available at local convenient stores). Face masks become quite important just prior to the monsoon season as the dust levels and bacteria are on the rise. It is an investment that you will not regret.
- Chemists are located on nearly every corner and stock almost everything and can assist with most concerns. It is worthwhile purchasing charcoal tablets for your stomach, they are ridiculously cheap and will help you adjust to your new surroundings.
- There are many forms of transport in Kathmandu, taxi, local buses or mini vans where they cram in far too many people, tourist buses or you can hire your own driver.
If you want to experience the extraordinary and get back in touch with mother nature this is the place to be. 150km south of Kathmandu, the drive to Chiwan can take around eight-hours by road. The route snakes through the mountain ranges and the travel time is compounded by traffic and inadequate roads. Coupled with the dust and heat, road journeys can be very uncomfortable.
The best way to get to Chitwan is via a direct one-hour flight from Kathmandu. This is highly recommended during the monsoon season when landsides are the norm and could delay your trip from 8 hours to over 2-3 days. Road travel can also be quite dangerous, with narrow unsealed roads, high cliffs and the threat of landslides. It is strongly recommend to visit Chitwan by plane. Hotels and accommodation are also 15-20mins drive from the airport, which means a handy airport-hotel transfer is within reach.
The climate in Chitwan is very hot and humid during the summer months. Though it is advisable to wear heavy clothes from top to toe when trekking through the jungle to prevent leeches. You may see wild animals from your hotel but always enter the jungle with an experienced local guide. The guides do not carry firearms either as the military who patrols the surrounds may mistake you as a group of poachers.
If you are lucky you will see the world’s largest tiger – the Bengal tiger – rare one horned rhinoceroses, crocodiles, monkeys, deer, elephants, water buffalos and a wide collection of rare birds and bugs. You can stay overnight in the middle the jungle in observation decks, however, be prepared to have adequate mosquito / insect repellent.
The local hotels often provide packaged deals which include all meals, accommodation, trekking tours and elephants safaris. The locals are welcoming and openly invite you to participate in their daily lives from planting the rice fields to playing cricket with the kids. If you wish to experience authentic home-stays, Chitwan is the place to do it. It was recommended to stay no more than one evening, as guests may sleep on the ground with no electricity or other modern creature comforts.
Elephants are extremely popular. Tourists can feed them at the elephant breeding sanctuary or just ask one of the locals, the elephants live with their owners in “eleports” next to their homes. Tourists may also enjoy a few cold beverages at the bars along the river side and help wash the elephants at dusk. Just remember to keep your mouth closed.
As with Kathmandu, electricity supplies are frequently interrupted and due to its remoteness generators are mainly used for essentials, which unfortunately does not include air-conditioning! Internet is limited to the main tourist area in the middle of the town. A 2-3 day visit is sufficient as the heat and lack of basic creature comforts tend to take their toll.
An interesting fact about Chitwan is that the locals were able to build up resistance to malaria over time. As a visitor do not become complacent – be sure to seek anti-malaria advice from your travel medico or your GP.
Tip: take an old pair of runners for the track and leave them with a local in Chitwan. On re-entry to Australia you will be asked to declare if you spent time in fresh water area and will most likely have to dispose of your runners due to quarantine, so you might as well leave them for the locals to appreciate if the runners are still in fair condition.
A tourist region located 200km to the west of Kathmandu. Pokhara can be reached via an hour flight from Kathmandu or approximately 8-hour drive. The centre of town is located next to Lake Phewa and at the foothills of the Annapurna Ranges, which bears some of the most beautiful natural scenery. Try viewing the township up towards Fish Tail Mountain from the other side of the lake.
Pokhara is a great place to base yourself if you want to trek as there is a circuit that runs through the ranges and you can book everything in the town. Treks range from 2 to 12 days with official guides and a Sherpa if you are heading up in altitude.
All visitors should watch the sunrise at Sarangkoot – the Himalayan region is on the left and the lake to the right of the township. There is also adventure activity including hand-gliding in this region for the ultimate view. Unlike Chitwan and Kathmandu, Pokhara can get quite cold in the winter months, so be prepared and pack adequately if you are trekking for a couple of days. During the monsoon season the Himalayas tend to be covered by thick cloud from about 8am, so it is worth the effort to get up a little bit earlier.
There is a Tibetan refugee camp nearby and you can purchase handmade jewellery and crafts that are not as widely available in Kathmandu. The refugees walk around the town selling their wares and bartering is not uncommon. Five star hotels are in abundance and a must to visit is the Fish Tail Resort/Hotel which has been visited by many famous guests, including Prince Charles. It can be a bit hard to find, you can follow the lake around, away from the township and catch a small boat across the lake. The Fist Tail Resort restaurant is amazing and the service is brilliant.
If you need to escape the heat and have a swim during the day or kick back at a bar for a couple of quite ones, you are more than welcome at Temple Tree. For a small fee visitors can use their pool and relax at the bar. Their staff are fantastic and can tell you everything you need to know about the region. Tip: if you are volunteering in the region, let them know before you book into the hotel, the owners give discounts on accommodation to show their gratitude.
Pokhara really does cater for the weary traveller, with day spas on nearly every corner and internet cafes are easy to find. There is even a Western supermarket and a bar which is owned by an Australian if you start to get homesick. But if you really want to experience Pokhara, you may visit to the old town and walk the back streets. In the foothills of the mountains you can experience village life and even experience home stays with the villagers.
The locals are very welcoming. During one of the team’s travels through Nepal, her group was invited for lunch by a local whom they had befriended whilst volunteering at an orphanage. What followed was a visit by most of the neighbours who lived on the street, lunch transformed into dinner and they needed to catch a taxi back to their hotel.
The area caters for most cuisines – traditional Nepali food, Korean BBQ, Mexican, Italian and even a French bakery. There are restaurants located right on the banks of the lake, where you can spend most of the day relaxing, during the evening there is entertainment provided by the local dancers.