Ive been lucky enough to travel in Nepal on numerous occasions. My first trip was many years ago as an 18 year old backpacker, with plenty of time and no money, I survived in the hostels of Kathmandu and trekking the Annapurna Circuit staying with local villagers. Since then I’ve lived in Nepal for three seasons as a Mountain Guide, I’ve honeymooned there and been on many research trips for the Nepal Handbook, a Footprint Publishers guide of which I am the author.
I’m often contacted by readers of the guide with specific questions and am happy to help when I can. Some are detailed questions about trekking and climbing routes, others more general about sights, accommodation and restaurants. I thought it might be useful to answer some of the most frequent questions in case it helps anyone planning their own trip to this wonderful Himalayan country.
Where is your favourite place to stay?
I have several favorites, all in different places. When I’m in the Kathmandu valley I stay in Patan. The valley is home to three main cities/towns – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. When I first visited in the 1980’s they were separate places with rice fields between. Now they have all merged into one. Patan is located to the south of Kathmandu, south of the Bagwati river. The old town here is quieter than that of the capital, with traditional architecture, shrines and small temples jostling with modern signs and buildings into a chaos of colour, people and smells. In the heart of this is The Old Inn, a traditional Newari building that has been converted into a lovely hotel. The doors and some ceilings are very low (I’m 6 ft 3 so have to stoop as I enter and climb the stairs) but the rooms are airy, traditionally furnished and quiet. Its a stone throw to Patan’s Durbar Square and has a lovely courtyard restaurant to relax in.
If I’m working in the valley and want a weekend break I head to the tiny mountain village of Nuwakot and stay at the Famous Farm. Another traditional building converted into a hotel, complete with courtyard to eat in and lovely gardens. Its a superb bolthole with lovely walks to enjoy during the day. The village was actually the capital of Nepal for a few years when Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal in the 1740’s for the first time. After capturing Nuwakot – a small, independent Kingdom at the time – he used it as a base to attack the Kathmandu valley. Indeed it was in this small village, still with his Palace at its heart (albeit damaged during the last earthquake), that the first emissaries from Britain came to visit him.
If I’m in the Pokhara Valley I try to stay at the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge. Individual cabins of local stone and thatch, beautiful gardens with a pool and lots of secluded seating areas and perhaps the best view in Nepal. The whole Annapurna Himal is there in front of you, allowing you to watch sunrise to sunset from the comfort of your private veranda. The hospitality is superb and the bird life stunning.
What is your favourite Restaurant?
In Patan I love the Cafe at the Patan Museum. You enter via the museum entrance (you don’t need a ticket, just go through). The cafe is situated in one of the old courtyards, tables are al fresco, shaded by old trees with views of the Palace. The food is excellent but its a wonderful place just to sit, drink coffee or drink beer and watch the world go by.
In Kathmandu I like Dharikas just to the west of the Gardens of Dreams in Kathmandu. The entrance takes you through a large wall into a walled garden. In the summer you sit out here, in winter go inside the traditional building and sit by wood-burners. Its run by a lovely Tibetan family and the traditional Momo’s – a type of dumpling – are the best.
Whats your favourite attraction in the Kathmandu Valley?
They all have a uniqueness that makes it impossible to say which is best. Swayambhunath oozes history and atmosphere, Bodnath is the heart of the
Tibetan Community and is a great place to sit and watch the pilgrims and monks. Pashupati is a dazzling mix of colour, smells and smoke as the cremations burn the devout.
My favourite place is somewhere that is little visited. The town of Panauti sits in the south east of the valley, where the old trading route climbed out of the valley and head towards Tibet and East India. The modern town is a mess of concrete, plastic and fumes, but cross the suspension bridge into the old town and you find a small corner of the valley that feels unchanged and a thousand years away from the pollution of Kathmandu. No vehicles other than the occasional moped. Hindu Temples, Buddhist shrines, porter rests, stupas, cremation grounds all standing site by site with traditional buildings and houses.
Its a sacred place, a three river confluence revered in Hinduism as the most sacred of places at it echos Shiva’s trident. In true Nepalese style only two rivers meet here – a place surrounded by temples and cremation platforms, but a third sacred river also exists but cannot be seen.
I also enjoy visiting the Shiva Temple in Northern Patan, near to the Northern of the four Ashok Stupas. Its a vibrant place, stalls and shops jostling outside to selling marigold flowers and other offerings to worshipers. Inside there are fortune tellers sitting of coloured rugs , offering and prayers being constantly offers and stalls to get food and refreshments. There is plenty of space to sit and watch the world of worship go on all around you.
Best place to see Tigers?
Most people go to Chitwan National Park and it gives you a great opportunity of seeing One-horned rhino and possibly a tiger crossing a river or leaving pad marks in the mud. There are some great camps and lodges around the Park, so this is where to go if you don’;t have much time. If you do, go to Bardia National Park. Its harder to get to, the accommodation is more basic but the experience is wilder, a true feel of the jungle.
Robert Ferguson is a Trustee of the Real World Conservation Trust, who run Explorers Against Extinction and Sketch For Survival. He is the author of The Nepal Handbook, published by Footprint Guides.