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    How To Travel To Nepal And Recultivate Your Love For Culture

     

    After accepting new jobs cross – country, my fiancé Sahand and I found ourselves with two weeks free in the middle of August. We decided there would be no better way to spend this free time than to pack our bags and set off on an international adventure. We were all over the place in deciding where to go. We came to the conclusion that we really wanted to see South Asia together and began poking around Trip Advisor for some inspiration. When we stumbled upon Nepal, we immediately fell in love with the idea of traveling to this country rich in culture, adventure, and athleticism (hello Mt. Everest!). That is….until we realized that we would be traveling in the heart of their monsoon season…

    The news was disheartening. However, when we poured into other travelers’ blogs and read their experiences about visiting Nepal during this time, we were surprised to hear some interesting perks. While trekking was likely out of the question (poor views/ dangerous landslides / lots of leeches), the weather brought out the stunning lushness of the Nepali landscape, and markedly drove down the expense of the trip. After deciding, “Nepali it is!”, we dug out our umbrellas and went straight online to order our rain boots, coats, and international plane tickets!

    Preparing For Nepal

    If you’re traveling to Nepal in August like us, we suggest packing:

    Setting Expectations

    • Poor air quality
      • We recommend bringing a surgical mask for your trip- especially if you plan to visit the Kathmandu Valley (Kamanthu, Bharatpur, Patan etc.)
    • Driving is on the opposite side of the road (relative to US driving)
    • The “tap” water is not reliable / safe to drink
      • Order bottled water when at cafes/ restaurants (usually $1 USD). Be mindful of fruit juices, smoothies, and coffee drinks that are iced or frozen
    • Taxes and 10% service tips are included in bills
    • Cows are sacred

     

    Cost Breakdown

    This will vary depending on the time of year you travel, the level of accommodations you seek, and the types of activities you enjoy doing. We spent 10 days, off-season (August), doing more cultural activities than trekking/ excursions (due to weather conditions).

    • Conversion: 1 USD : 100 Nepalese Rupee (NPR)
    • Meals: $25 / person
      • Usually included coffee, tea, meal +/- appetizer or alcoholic beverage
    • Transportation: taxi: ~$5 – 10 between cities (one – way)
    • Accommodations: $50 / night AirBNB
      • 5 star Resort and Spa (Pokhara) $120 / night
    • DurBar Square tourist/ restoration fee: $10-15 / each
    • Airport VISA: $25 / each
    • 2 day trekking excursion (guide, lodging at 3.5 star hotel, meals, transportation, and permits = $300)
    • Domestic flight prices within Nepal are fixed
      • We flew Simrik Airlines for $180 roundtrip to Pokhara

    Monsoon Season

    Despite “Monsoon Season” and our concerns for torrential daily downpours, it hardly rained for us while we were in the Kathmandu Valley! While we were in Patan, Kathmandu, and Bharatpur, it sprinkled on / off for no more than 10 minutes each day (maybe). We were completely comfortable carrying a light umbrella or wearing a light rain jacket with us in our backpacks.

    However, if you plan to travel to Nagarkot or any city with a higher altitude, be ready for the rain!

    Traveling to Nepal

    Three important tips for traveling to Nepal in August:

    1. Ensure you factor in a few buffer travel days on either end of your itinerary for the long travel time +/- weather delays
    2. Pick an aisle seat
      1. Better yet-ask the flight attendant at your gate to place you next to any available seats. You’ll appreciate the ability to sprawl out to sleep or to have easy access to the aisle to stand up and walk around during the long flight
    3. Travelers insurance!

    We flew from Fargo –> Chicago (<2h) –> Doha, Qatar (~13h) –> +10 hour layover –> Kathmandu (4.5h) = ~30 hours

    Airfare

    Despite off-season Nepali pricing, the cost of our international tickets (American Airlines and Qatar Airlines) were $1800 each for economy seating. We booked our tickets 1 month prior to departure, so you may shave off some $$ by booking further in advance.

    Qatar

    When we arrived at Qatar airport (Hamad International Airport), we were greeted with high – end designer stores, free iMac WiFi stations, Quiet Lounges with reclining chairs, and a handful of restaurants.

    The conversion from USD –> Qatari Riyal is $1 : 3.65

    We chose dinner at one of the restaurants in the airport with a live pianist.  For two drinks, 1 appetizer, and two entrees, our bill was ~$60 US.

    We later discovered the Oryx Lounge and wished we skipped the restaurant for the $55 (each) entry fee for the Lounge.

    The Lounge was equipped with all inclusive espresso stations, basic alcohol menu, appetizers, and a sampling of middle eastern cuisine with fresh fruit and water stations. The modern interior design of the Lounge boasted quiet lounge rooms, family play areas, a game room, movie section, private smoking room, and bathrooms with fully stocked showers for guests.

    If you have a lot of time to kill, you can hang out in the Lounge for up to 6 hours

    Kathmandu Airport

    Upon arrival to Kathmandu Airport, you will need to visit the Kiosks to fill out your tourist Visa paperwork. If you are staying in Nepal for up to 15 days, the Visa is $25 / person.

    Next to the Visa station is a Money Exchanger. We cashed out $200 USD and lost about $4 in fees

    After you collect your Visa and pay your fee, you will then proceed through Immigrations / Customs before collecting your bags. We couldn’t help but chuckle at our airport experience. With the design of the lines, you can’t help but feel stuck in a bottle-neck with luggage carts and antsy locals / tourists trying to shove ahead of you every which way you turn. If you can laugh and shrug off organized chaos, the process is rather painless and you can usually get in and out of the airport in about 30 minutes or so. From the airport, we were greeted with our personal shuttle to our AirBNB location in Patan. The total cost for the shuttle was $15 (one-way).

    Patan

    Sahand and I stayed in the “Garden House / Narayan House” Airbnb owned by Cosy Nepal. Our AirBNB was authentic and relatively spacious. We had a two story apartment with a Queen sized bed, clean bathroom, 2 patios, a small garden, and a detached kitchen and living room area. We paid $50 / night for 4 nights and 5 days.

    Since we arrived in the early afternoon on our first day, we had time to wander the alleys and local streets of the old historic town of Patan. We ended up purchasing a wood carving and a painting which were all created by local artisans. Sahand and I also experienced “sound bathing.” (Watch Sahand here!) As an Eastern Spirituality practice, the Nepalese use the acoustic and vibrational sounds of their zodiac “singing bowls” to access a meditative / relaxed state, elicit systemic healing of the body, and to restore inner wisdom. We both tried it and admitted we felt as if we were levitating and receiving a massage simultaneously.


     

    After our shopping trip, we explored the Purnima festival and watched young children enjoy the warm weather and water at the Kumbheshwor temple.

     

    When our appetites kicked back in, we headed to two local cafes for lunch and dinner:  Cafe Swotha and The Inn Patan . We enjoyed a traditional Nepalese dish called “daal chaat tartari” = rice, lentil soup, curried vegetables and a crispy lentil flour pancake (papad). The locals typically eat this meal twice a day and usually only have a small snack in-between.

    Kathmandu

    Cafe Soma, Patan Nepal

    Considering this time of year was Monsoon Season, Sahand and I were relieved that we were having 80 degrees of sunny weather! We started our morning with a 1 mile walk to Cafe Soma for some breakfast. If you decide to enjoy this cozy place, I highly recommend trying their homemade muesli and bringing a book or laptop to enjoy their traditional interior coffee shop vibe.

     

    From here, we decided to walk about 2 miles to Durbar Square in Kathmandu. We first came across a Fair Trade store called Mahaguthi, which we highly recommend supporting. It’s a fantastic two story shop that supports local artisans. The prices were cheap and there was everything from pashmina, felt, singing bowls, metal jewelry, paper crafts, ceramics, and other handmade items.

     

    On the walk to Durbar Square, the impact of the 7.8 (!) magnitude earthquake was very evident to see. Roughly 40% of Nepal was affected by the earthquake (in addition to the 3 aftershocks that followed). The death toll peaked at roughly 8,800. More than 500,000 home were destroyed, and ~280,000 damaged.

     

    Kathmandu, Nepal

     

    As we walked, we took a stroll through Freak Street Festival before reaching Durbar Square. Once in the square, we were greeted by temples, statues, and street vendors. We hired an unofficial walking tour guide for an hour long tour ($10). The guide discussed Hinduism and Buddhism in the context of the different temples and statues we saw in addition to the different restorative efforts made to rebuild a lot of the architectural earthquake damage.

     

    Kathmandu, Nepal

     

    Bharatpur

    We were able to experience Gai Jatra Holiday while visiting Bharatpur for the day.

    Gai Jatra is one of the largest festivals celebrated by Nepalese Hindus that commemorates the deaths of loved ones during the previous year.

    The processions occur throughout the streets of Nepal. Cows are marched ahead to guide the deceased on their journey to heaven.


    The Nepalese really participate in this festival! Especially the kids… (watch here).

    We enjoyed walking the alleyways – which feel very safe and cozy in comparison to those in the States – and did some shopping in local stores. Bharatpur offers unique artisanship in wood carvings and pottery. They also have a few long streets full of vendors selling everything from shredded lettuce (literally laid out on top of tarps on the road) to women’s underwear and stainless steel pots.

    While walking around Bhartpur, we donned our surgical masks. The air was thick with pollution – especially on the main roads with constant bus traffic. By the end of the day, we were happy to come back to the relatively fresh air of historic Patan, away from the big city.

     

    Nagarkot

    If you’re looking for a quick day trip and trekking excursion, head up to Nagarkot.

    From Patan, we took a ~ 1.5 hour cab ride to Nagarkot ($20 each way). The roads were paved 50% of the time, so it made for some bumpy riding the closer we got to Nagarkot. As we arrived near the top of the mountain, the clouds rolled in and the torrential downpour began. We came prepared with an umbrella, waterproof hiking shoes, and rain jackets. However, we wished we wore our high rain boots instead.

     

     

    The trail has a view hilly sections, but overall is an easy to moderate walk with scenic points. The roundtrip distance was a few miles and took us a couple of hours to walk (including stops for a quick lunch and pictures along the way).

    Be cautious of leeches during the Monsoon Season (watch here!). They’re small and latch on pretty well around your ankles if you have them exposed. They also latch onto loose clothing – especially if you are walking off the road into the grass.

    Be sure to do a “leech check” before heading home.

     

    Thamel

    If you’re in the mood for some shopping and dining, Thamel is the place to go! There are lots of tourist shops along the alleyways including cafes, restaurants, ATMs and banks, block by block. If you’re looking to hang out with Nepalese locals at night, they enjoy the bars and clubs in Thamel.

    With regards to food, our two favorite breakfast spots for Western and Nepalese food were Revolution cafe (technically in Kathmandu) and Blueberry Kitchen & Coffee Shop. Both were cheap (<$20 for entrees with a few non-alcoholic beverages) and delicious!

     

     

    Pokhara

    By Day #5 in the Kathmandu Valley, we were antsy to get out of the city and into some scenic and refreshing countryside.

    In our opinion, 4 days in the Kathmandu Valley was plenty of time to explore the different cities

    Our transportation options to Pokhara were by luxury bus ($12 each, one-way) with a 7 hour commute, or by plane. We decided on airfare and booked roundtrip tickets with Simrik Airlines for $180 each to Pokhara. The overall flight time was 25 minutes. However, the rainy weather temporarily closed the Pokhara Airport, delaying us an hour in the airport. Simrik Airlines is a relatively new airline (~8 years old) compared to Buddha Air and Yeti Air which have been around since the late 90s. However, our AirBNB host from Patan considers all of the airlines to be compatible. You’ll save about $100 with Simrik compared to the older airlines.

    Overall, the Airport and flying experience was chaotic and somewhat archaic, but we got to Pokhara safely and in good time.

    When we arrived at Pokhara Airport, there was a line-up of taxis waiting to transfer us to our destination.

    If you have multiple / large pieces of luggage, be prepared for the taxi drivers to strap them on top of their compact Suzuki cabs

    We paid $10 for a one – way taxi ride to our Resort and Spa, The Pavilions Himalayas. If you plan to stay here, be sure you have the number of the hotel handy for the taxi driver. When you arrive close to the resort, there is a small river that cars cannot cross where your taxi driver will need to call the hotel for their staff to come and carry your luggage ~0.5 miles to the resort grounds.

    The Pavilions Himalayas Resort is exceptional! The luxury resort boasts a completely eco – friendly, sustainable stay. It features Paraben – free shower products, hand – made soap composed of paper, a recyclable water system, an organic farm with organic vegetables, meat, and eggs directly used by the kitchen, and hand delivered fresh milk to your doorstep every morning for your breakfast coffee.

    If that wasn’t noteworthy enough, the views of the mountains from your room (or even the Yoga / meditation room!) were breathtaking.

     

    Oh….and did I forget to mention the relaxing background music from the restaurant / bar softly drifting to your ears as you soak in the view from their infinity pool?

     

    Trekking

    A trip to Nepal wouldn’t be complete without a Himalayan trek.

     

    We were short on time, so we only booked a 2 day hike to Poon Hill (normally a 3-4 day trek). Our resort covered the details for us, making the trekking process easy, but here’s a quick breakdown:

    Activity level

    Trekking to Poon Hill is very strenuous! For the two days we hiked, we covered ~14 miles a day over the span of 8 hours. The first day was vertical (>45 degree incline) on a wide, stone-stepped trail the entire way up. The second day, we woke up at 4am to hike 45 minutes to catch the sunrise on top of Poon Hill (~3,200 m high). The altitude got to me during this leg of our trek. I became very short of breath, nauseous, and had a mild headache.

    Be mindful of altitude sickness (or AMS = Acute Mountain Sickness). If you develop similar / worsening symptoms, descend immediately.

    Since it was monsoon season, we were only fortunate to get a sneak peak of some of the mountain peaks around 04:30, but the clouds and rain quickly came in right before sunset, obscuring our view. The panoramic view of the mountain ranges was still beautiful, however.

    Permits

    We met with our guide at the Lake Side (a cute downtown shopping area with a lake, tourist shops, cafes, and restaurants) the day before our trek to get our pictures taken for our documents. The pictures themselves cost a few dollars each, but we paid $80 overall for the remaining fees and trekking permits.

    Our guide held on to these for us and was in charge of distributing them at the multiple security check points along the trek,

    Transportation

    Our hotel provided us with an SUV and 4WD for transportation. Since we were strapped for time, we took the SUV ~2 hours up to Ghorepani to start our trek from there.

    Having a vehicle with 4WD is imperative, as the rounds are vertical, muddy, and full of pot-holes

    We didn’t know how much our transportation would cost until we returned from our trek, but it ended up being $140 (2 hours one way x 2 days). They factor in the toll on the car from the poor road conditions. To save money, you can start your trek a day earlier and get dropped off >5 miles before Ghorepani.

    Guide

    Our guide was $40 / day. He coordinated our lodging, food, and permits. We handled his payment directly through our hotel.

    Lodging

    You’ll have a better understanding of facility expectations once you start the trek. The winding journey up the Himalayas is only accessible by foot and what can be carried on one’s back or by mules. Be open-minded, and consider your trek a more glamorized version of outdoor hiking :).

    Our lodging for the night was $7 and included 2 twin beds and a bathroom with hot shower. They also had a fireplace in their dining area which was a nice touch after trekking in the damp weather.

    Restroom Facilities

    Don’t be surprised if your “restroom” is a small closet with a hole in the ground with flies. I say this so you’re prepared.

    Bring a roll of toilet paper and wipes

    Also- the plumbing system does not support tissue paper, so everything you use will need to be discarded in a bucket next to the toilet. You may also see a bucket of water adjacent to this as well; their version of a bidet.

    Post-Trek

    If you have baseline bad knees / hips, I would be cautious signing up for this trek. The downhill hike was essentially 8 hours of pounding on your lower extremity joints. We indulged in massages immediately upon returning to our hotel, but were still extremely sore over the span of the following few days.

    If you have knee braces or a walking stick, I would recommend bringing them with you on the trek.

    Take-Away Points

    • Travel in November if you’re most interested in trekking
    • We recommend less than 4 days exploring Kathmandu Valley
    • We didn’t see Chitwan National Park, but would have loved to
    • Be very mindful of the water and food you eat. We both got sick at the end of the trip! We wish we brought Imodium and Zofran with us to relieve our symptoms (especially for the long plane ride home)
    • The people of Nepal were some of the kindest, most gentle people we’ve met on our travels. We relate it to their religious Hindu and Buddhist beliefs

     

     

    Please feel free to leave any questions / comments below! If Nepal isn’t on the top of your bucket list yet, consider 11 Sensational Stops in the Rockies You Shouldn’t Miss, or for a warmer destination, How to Travel in the Philippines and Have the Time of Your Life.

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