Kathmandu & Patan
Kathmandu is the kind of city that reveals itself in layers, there's so much more to this fascinating place than first meets the eye. One of the things that most attracts me to a city is being able to walk around freely and stumble upon hidden gems along the way. It's so much nicer to be able to wander from place to place and get a real feel for the atmosphere than spend your time in taxis travelling from place to place and missing the activity on the streets.
Thamel (the main tourist hub of Kathmandu) has recently been pedestrianised, and this makes a huge difference to your first impressions of Kathmandu. Having said that, as soon as you step into the non-pedestrianised area you are hit with fumes and pollution. So although walking around the city is pretty rewarding in terms of sights to see, it isn't the cleanest place for a walk.
We alternated between buying all our trekking gear for the EBC trek and sightseeing. Although Kathmandu was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake, there is still much to see and since we left Nepal, we've been dying to go back and explore more of this beautiful country.
We decided to loosely follow one of the Lonely Planet's walking tours from Thamel to Durbar Square and we're glad we did. As you walk through Nepal's dusty and chaotic streets you feel as if you're getting a real slice of Nepalese life. Once you leave the touristy streets of Thamel you spend your time winding in and out of small roads and ducking into wide courtyards that often hold stunning Stupas devoted to Buddha. The temperature in December is perfect walking weather and was a welcome relief from the steamy streets of India.
Once we reached Durbar Square we headed up to a rooftop cafe for a coffee overlooking the square. Here you can see the earthquake damage the most, as many of the main sights are being rebuilt or were completely destroyed beyond recognition. We decided to still venture into the tourist area (you have to pay) as we hoped our money would go towards helping rebuild the religious monuments that remain in ruins.
We peered into the Grand Palace and the residence of the Kumari (Nepal's living Goddess). We didn't see the Kumari herself, but I read up on this tradition; she is a pre-pubescent girl selected from the Shakya caste and has been subjected to many tests in order to determine she is in fact the living goddess. Once she is chosen she lives in this residence in Durbar Square and her feet are never allowed to touch the ground (amongst other traditions). However, as soon as the goddess becomes a woman (ie gets her first period) she reverts back to a normal teenager. I'm not really sure what to make of this tradition, but it seems controversial to say the least....
Other than the intriguing squares and temples dotted around the city, we also appreciated the restaurant options in Thamel (and the fact we could get to most of them on foot- we got sick of taking taxis in India!)
We also visited the Swayambhunath Temple (also known as the monkey temple), it's a steep climb to the top but the views of Kathmandu are incredible. The white Stupa that greets you at the top is also beautiful and has mostly been reconstructed since the earthquake. It's worth the trip out of the city, and you can even walk it if you fancy it... are you sensing a theme in our time spent in Nepal?
On returning from our trek we decided to stay in Patan (the sister city to Kathmandu- it's literally next door!). A short drive will take you from Kathmandu Guest House (the iconic place to rest your head in Thamel) to Yamba Traditional Home (one of our favourite hotels of the trip so far). The hotel is actually a traditional Newari home converted into beautiful, spacious rooms. We spent a couple of days exploring Patan and recovering from our trekking days.
Patan feels even more traditional than Kathmandu and there are less tourists to keep you company. I also had one of the best veggie burgers of my life in a small restaurant we found :).
I'd recommend spending a day or so in Patan, we really enjoyed this authentic slice of Nepal. On top of our wonderful time exploring the streets of Kathmandu and Patan we fell in love with Momos (Nepalese dumplings) and probably ate them every day we were in Nepal. We also found the Nepalese people really friendly and we can't wait to return and see more of this fascinating country.