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     Volume 8 Issue 83 | August 21, 2009 |

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A Few Days in the Valley

Nader Rahman
Durbar Square

Continued from last week

Thamel aside there is plenty to see and do in Kathmandu and most interestingly everything seems to be walking distance away. Durbar Square is a 15 minute walk away from Thamel and while the walk is not pleasant at times, it is interesting to say the least. Swathes of street vendors and children follow each and every tourist down that walk, and after a certain point things can become annoying. In an effort to offer their wares, they will often push and pull their way to get one's attention. This is when you need to be firm without being rude. It is a fine line to straddle, but needs to be done. Another thing to watch out for are the pick pockets, while I managed to leave the city unscathed I heard many a story of money, keys and other valuables going missing on short walks outside the hotel. The fact that Thamel is teeming with people, often pushing their way to get from point A to point B provides a perfect environment for one to be relieved of one's money. Be aware, it's your best defence.

Durbar Square is a large without being imposing and is the perfect place to spend a day. With a multitude of Temples there is one for almost every need. The most interesting of which was the Kumari Palace located at the south of the square. Every day at 4 in the afternoon, the Goddess makes an appearance at her window for about a minute and it draws quite a decent crowd. The only thing one should remember that after all she is a Goddess and she has her off days, if you are unlucky enough (as I was) to try and see her that day, prepare to leave under whelmed. I braved a torrential shower to make it to her residence only to find out that she would not make an appearance that day, Goddesses can be finicky. But aside from her residence there are a myriad of other temples and places to visit in the square. For the avid photographer it really is the place to be, with statues covered in colouring and people prostrating themselves in front of their temple of choice. Another good way to soak up the square is to find one of the few rooftop terraces that surround the area. Their food is average, but they guarantee panoramic views of the entire area. When they sun is at its highest point and the heat is too much to take, they offer a great place to rest with a cool drink in hand.

Sadhus at Pashupatinath.

Just behind the south side of the square is a place better known as Freak Street. When the first batch of hippies made their way to Kathmandu in the early 60s they centred their lives and their livelihoods around that area and it soon became affectionately known as Freak Street. Truth be told now there isn't much to see there, it relies more on its name than anything else. While it was once the place to be in Kathmandu, with free love, groovy music, marijuana and more than the odd self proclaimed Jesus, those times have changed. With unremarkable shops lining the streets, it now trades on its name and reputation rather than anything else. There are a few shops there where colourful wooden masks can be bought, but its nothing out of the ordinary. For smoking enthusiasts there is a shop at the beginning of the street which will provide you with anything you could ever imagine related to smoking (everything except marijuana that is).

On the banks of the river that runs through Kathmandu lies Pashupatinath and for those with the stomach to view a cremation it is one of the most interesting places to visit. A word for the wise, most south Asians will be able to enter the area without paying the Rs 500 other foreigners are asked to pay. Act like you belong there and just walk in, don't stop to ask any questions because then you will have to fork out the money. While there it is also best to hire a guide, s/he will be able to show you around and explain the significance of the area. At any given time of day there are a few cremations taking place and while they allow you to take picture I felt it was in bad taste. The area is also infested with monkeys, so be aware, don't agitate them or else the evening could end with a visit to the clinic for rabies shots. Pashupatinath has a collection of over 100 small temples and aside from watching the ritual of cremation one will also most likely come face to face with a Hindi Sadhu. Be aware they are often touts as well and as soon as you take a picture with them or of them they will demand money, that situation is easiest to deal with if one has a guide. In the evenings classical music is played on the banks of the river and for those inclined to stay it may be worth their while.

Aside from the above mentioned places there are myriad of other places of interest to visit in Kathmandu, such as Patan where there is another if smaller Durbar Square and is known for the Tibetan refugees who produce high quality products such as clothes and other curio items. There is also the Monkey Temple, based on top of a hill it offers great views of the valley. Kathmandu is also well known for its gambling scene, with about a dozen Casino's it is a great place to try one's luck. The famous Yak and Yeti Hotel have the stupendously named Casino Royale which stays open 24 hours a day seven days of the week. Casinos are strictly off limits for Nepali's so be prepared to gamble in a Casino full of Indian's with the odd European hanging around. It is also interesting to note that the currency for gambling is the Indian Rupee, I still have not figured that idea out yet. For a completely tourist oriented city, there is no real nightlife in Kathmandu. There are a few clubs that stay open past 12, but most of the bars and pubs close by 11:30. that is why the casinos offer one an interesting opportunity to stay up past 12 and enjoy oneself till the wee hours.

A traditional Thangka

While places do not stay open too late in Kathmandu, there are literally hundreds of bars, pubs and restaurants to enliven one's evenings. Just across the Kathmandu Guest House there is a popular bar called Tom and Jerry's. With happy hour from 5 to 8 it is the perfect place to go for a drink before dinner. With pool tables, good cocktails and sport always on the television it has become quite a popular tourist hangout. Down the road from there is an Irish pub that is well frequented by the Brits, and right beside that is New Orleans, yet another place for a good drink, some great music and fantastic desserts. The Reggae Bar is also a good place to check out if that is your type of music.

The Thamel area is also a great place to grab a meal, with pretty much every other building being a bar or a restaurant, the choices are endless. Sure there are a few tourist traps and while the prices can at times be a little on the high side, all one needs to do is compare them to those in Dhaka. In my mind the best place to eat in Kathmandu is the Everest Steak House. With enormous portions and great tender meat it is the prefect place to fill one's stomach. With single serving steaks ranging from Rs 350 to 500 they often serve more than one will ever be able to consume. It is also one of the few places that understand what 'medium rare' means. Their Chateaubriand is not to be missed for Rs 900 the massive steak served with a monster plate of fries, beautifully boiled spinach and sautéed mushrooms. For those who want to be really adventurous there is the Chateaubriand that serves four people and costs Rs 1650, seemingly they will serve up the entire cow. Their house steak sauces and homemade mustard sauce add just the right touch to the meal. Close to it the Yak Lodge restaurant serves up traditional Tibetan food with a few good continental dishes. With steak and chicken sizzlers costing Rs 150 it is definitely a good place for a meal. Their momo are also quite enjoyable. If one is really in the mood to be experimental then one can always try the hot Tibetan beer, which as it turns out is more of an acquired taste. Aside from lunch and dinner there are also numerous places to grab a full English breakfast at under Rs 200, truly a great way to start the day.

Besides the food there is also a lot of shopping to be done in Kathmandu. From all things Tibetan to the novelty items such as singing bowls. Prayer wheels are a dime a dozen as are yak skin shawls and quilts. Interestingly there is also a large Kashmiri population there as well, and those shops are stuffed with the finest quality leather goods. While carpets are usually quite expensive a good leather jacket can be tailor made for just above $50. Kathmandu is also a great place to pick up silver jewellery, but while prices start high one has to beat them down to pay the real price. A great gift to bring back is often a piece of Thangka artwork, typical scenes include the life cycle and circular prayers relating to health, wealth and such. They are quite stunning and usually worth every penny one pays for them.

All in all there is a lot to experience, eat and buy in Kathmandu, all one really needs to do is set out by foot and explore the valley. Just remember that when someone says he is offering you the lowest possible price or the best rate, he is usually lying. Keep that in mind.



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