Ah, Kathmandu. For some reason it just feels like coming home to me. A noisy, chaotic, disfunctional home, but home all the same. I’ve spent more time in Kathmandu than any other Asian city, and I really like it.
We were in Kathmandu this time for only 5 days, and it was fantastic. I’ve been there in June, in October, and in January and aside from it being less green outside of town, the weather was the best in January. Around Bhoudanath the folks from the mountains were coming down in droves to escape the winter weather, so it was especially fun to see the stupa area full of interesting people that I wouldn’t see at other times during the year.
Visas for most are available on entry for between $25 and $50 USD depending on length of stay. Bring photos. The airport’s a little chaotic and that goes for all elements – from passport control to finding a luggage buggy and negotiating a cab, but it’s all good fun and I’ve never felt like the chaos was threatening. Our accomodations were with friends who run the Nepal Bed and Breakfast – I’ve stayed here for a total of 7 weeks now, I think, and each time it’s felt like home. Clean, safe, secure, and in my very favourite part of Kathmandu – the Tibetan side of town around the Bhoudhanath stupa. Local transportation is always by taxi, which is cheap and easy to find, though the bumping around and honking horns is enough to make me punch a kitten on the bad days (and I really like kittens, so that’s saying something. But I swear if one more kitten looks at me with those manipulative eyes and asks if he can haz cheezburger, I will SNAP!) There’s a departure tax of about 1700 NRS, payable only in NRS, unlike the entry visas.
I love Bhoudha stupa and spend hours and hours and hours there. And when I get tired of walking I head to Heavenly View Restaurant for thukpa and buffalo momos (kothay, not fried). Or I go to Flavor’s. Great place, excellent food, and free Wifi even when the power’s out everywhere else. I also love Pashupatinath. Fun place to wander, hang with the saddhus, and keep a nervous eye on the monkeys. I also love Bhaktapur and spend at least a day or two each time I’m there. It’ll cost a couple bucks to get there by a 45 minute cab ride, and it’ll cost $10 to get into the town, but it’s a fabulous place to shoot. An old Newari town, Bhaktapur hasn’t yet been completely spoiled by the tourism. Get off the main squares and into the back alleys and streets and it’s pure Newari charm. Forget Patan or Durbar Square, go to Bhaktapur and stay the night at the Bhadgaon Guest House – ask for the top floor room – great view with your own balcony. While there, make sure you drink lots of lhassis – made with the local curd, it’s the best lhassi I’ve had.
I’m no fan of Swayambunath, also known as the Monkey Temple. First – stairs and lots of them. Second, not much more than tourist kitch at the top of all those stairs. Nice view of the Kat, and if you’ve never been you should see it once, but for me it holds no appeal visually. Perhaps I’ve never seen it in nicer light. For me, Swayambu is a been-there/done-that. And Thamel? Can’t think of a reason to ever go back there. Ever, ever, ever.
If You’ve Got More Time, Which We Did Not This Time.
Get way out of town and into the rural areas. I love Nepalis and you’ll get the best of them when you’re way out of the city. Looking for a view? Get up to Nagarkot, 32 km east of Kathmandu. Stay at the Hotel At The End of The Universe. Great views of the Himalaya, Everest too on good days. The restaurant is slow to get your order, but the view is great while waiting.
If You Want To Have Your Heart Enlarged
Go to the senior’s residence at the entrance to Pashupatinath, and sit with the residents, hold some hands, and look at the spark in their eyes. I love this place, and I love photographing there, but please don’t be one of those horrible people that walks in, takes pictures and leaves as if the residents are animals in a zoo. Plan to spend some time, several hours. It’ll be the best couple hours you’ve ever spent. Or the hardest if you’re not so good with sitting and enjoying the awkward silences. But these folks have absolutely no one to visit them, so your presence will be a great gift to them if you go to give and not to take.
Best Reason To Own An 85/1.2L Lens
The butter lamps that are lit in the evening around the Bhouda stupa throw out some gorgeous light. I hate to tip my hand on this one, because I like to live under the delusion that I’m the only one shooting this beauty. But the stupa is at it’s best in the very early morning, and late evening, so bring a fast lens and a steady hand.
Best Reason To Have Lots of Charged Batteries
Kathmandu has serious power shortage issues, so it has rolling power blackouts. Unlike other places where this is the case, these blackouts are now up to 16 hours a day, so don’t count on having electricity whenever you want it. Hopefully this will change soon, but no one’s holding their breath. Bring a flashlight or headlamp.
Most Obvious, But Essential, Soundtrack
Kathmandu, Bob Seger. Or Kathmandu, Cat Stevens. Both are good and you’ll need them to purge from your brain the Om Mani Padme Hum songs you hear over and over and over and over again, 24/7, in Bhouda.
Image above shot 7am at the Bhouda stupa. Canon 5D, 17-40mm/4.0L, 1/250 @ f/16. iso 400
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