It can quite expensive to get to Nepal from Western Europe and peak season flights can reach the hundreds of Euros. I chose to get here a little more budget minded and skipped through Istanbul, jumping on an Air Arabia flight through Sharjah for 180 Euros one way. As I intended to carry on my trip east through India, this saved me a packet.
A handy tip for checking the low cost airlines is to Google the airport that you wish to fly into and check out the carriers flying in. It may mean some unconventional routes and airlines but the prices can sometimes save you quite a bit of your hard earned travel cash.
Kathmandu and Nepal had been on my to-do list for a while and I jumped at the chance to visit in early October, just about the best time climate wise.
Prayer wheels at Swayambhu
Most nationalities can get a visa at the airport and flying in on a one way ticket did not seem to cause any problems. There were a few forms to fill in and payment in USD varied depending upon the length of time that you wanted to stay. I would recommend choosing a longer stay visa if you think you may overstay as getting an extension could be problematic depending upon where you were intending to go in the country.
Finding a room at a budget price is not difficult in Kathmandu, although it could get squeezed a little in peak season if your budget is real low. I booked through Hostelbookers and found a central hostel close to the action in Thamel, the main tourist hub/ghetto. The hostel I chose offered free pickup from the airport and that saved me the hassle of the taxi scrum. If you haven’t arranged a pickup taxis are waiting to part you with your cash, bargain hard!
The driving experience is intense in Nepal. Kathmandu resembles a race track without any rules and the incessant beeping can drive you insane. Beaten up trucks vied for space with overloaded motorbikes and my driver dodged and careened through the smoggy streets with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a mobile phone a foot away from his head while shouting at it!
Temple at Durbar Square
I made it in one piece to the hostel and had my bags carried to the fourth floor, this pleased me as Kathmandu is at an elevation of 1290 metres and the traffic had already eaten up whatever oxygen was left. Drained but excited I collapsed on my bed and passed out for a couple of hours.
On my first evening I chose to explore Thamel, look up some good bars and grab a bite to eat. Kathmandu is blessed, or cursed depending upon your persuasion, with a plethora of the above and has just about every type of cuisine you could possibly imagine. I somehow doubted the quality of the tex-mex on offer and went instead for an upscale curry and a cold beer.
Food prices are very reasonable and the competition in Kathmandu keeps the standard quite high. Alcohol prices are expensive in comparison and you could easily find yourself paying a very large bill once you had downed a couple of ice cold Everest beers!
As a starting point for most adventure visitors to Nepal, Kathmandu is trekker central with all manner of equipment and clothing available including a couple of genuine western stores amongst all that fake North Face. Stocking up on the essentials before a trek or sourcing a complete set of gear is a doddle. Not having been trekking before in such a rarefied environment I was struck as to the amount of chocolate on offer, insane piles of Toblerones and Snickers bars were piled high in every store with tons of other brands littering the shelves. It made my Kendal Mint cake quiver in shame.
Monkey business at the temples
The following day I braved the traffic and walked to Durbar Square, the heart of the temple area, via old Kathmandu. This was harder to accomplish than I had anticipated, dodging maniacal motorbikes with huge bull bars on the front. If I got clipped by one of these I would be in serious trouble.
Looking around I could see some amazing architecture albeit clogged in with rebuilds, every chowk (crossroads) seemed to house a temple and the whole place screamed lived in and vibrant. It is not a place for the fainthearted or those with nominal lung capacity even less so for anyone suffering from an asthmatic condition. The fumes were eye watering.
Finally I made it to Durbar Square, the traffic calmed the cows moved at their own leisurely speed and the shophouses finally gave way to the temples. I was thankful to have found a peaceful heart to the city as I wandered unmolested around the scores of colourful and characterful buildings revelling in the architecture and painstaking creativity.
Kathmandu may be a necessary a pit stop for some, a pain for others. It can be both terrifying and rewarding but it is far from boring…I need to lie down now.