We went to the Kathmandu Valley for a Spring break trip in 2015. I guess Nepal is one of those childhood places that sounds impossibly exotic, and the reality is that in many ways it is. But equally true is that it’s another place where you see the kids hanging out with other kids and you realise you could be anywhere.
As we only had a week or so we stuck to places near the airport, a lesson learned from a trip to Sri Lanka where we tried to travel too far on horribly small roads and ended up getting hot under the collar.
We were originally going to book two days in Bhaktapur before moving on, but after a day there we changed our plans and decided to come back and finish the holiday up there as well.
The guide books often seem to recommend staying in places like Bhaktapur for a day and to be honest that’s more than enough to see the sites. BUT if you stay a bit longer and let the place soak in a bit then you get loads more out of it, friendships and sense of how a place works and eye for some of the details.
We stayed a cheap and cheerful backpacker hostel in Durbar Square where it all happens in Bhaktapur. The boys made friends within about 10 minutes and spent their time running around the square with their new mates, I wonder how many other tourists were thinking how well dressed some of those Nepali street kids were…
What did surprise me about the kids was how polite and trustworthy they seemed, which I guess says something about my own prejudice. When my boys gave them some toy cars we had brought from home they went and found something to give them back, and when Danny needed help rolling up his sleeves there was another little chap only a couple of years older than him to help him do it.
Of course the cast wasn’t limited to these kids, there was lots more on offer in the square to keep us entertained…my new mates included the resident Sadhu, some Bollywood actors shooting on location in Bhaktapur and assorted backpackers and hippies, one who we ended up travelling with.
We also managed to go for the odd walk around town, which has some serious shopping opportunities not to mention photo opportunities, if this place was in Europe you wouldn’t be able to move for tourists, yet here in Nepal it’s busy but by no means heaving.
We took a guided tour one day to discover the wonders of the history and symbolism of what we were saying, but even twenty years of teaching non-native speakers didn’t prepare me for our guides impenetrable pronunciation or the fact that half way through I realised that I didn’t care how many incarnations Shiva had. Mind you I never would have known why they called that square Pottery Square…
At night the whole town is dead, which is fine with a couple of kids in tow but which may not be what you’re looking for if you don’t have kids. We had decided to have a device free week so evenings were for a game of cards and early to bed.
Also from a kid friendly point of view remember that Bhaktapur is close to the airport , is traffic free and has kid friendly food options. So the little angels can run around without getting run over (at least in the main squares) and then tuck into grilled chicken and chips.
It’s also worth checking out when the Chariot pulling is on, we were there to see them being built put didn’t see the event itself, which judging by the size of the things would be well worth it. Oh and as you can see they double up nicely as a playground.
Bhaktapur to Nagarkot took about one hour in the minivan we shared with our new mate Carly and set us back about US$12. We knew it would be a bit chillier than Bhaktapur but we didn’t expect it to be quite as cold or wet as it was, and by the end of the first day we were about ready to throw in the towel.
But luckily once again the warm Nepali welcome saved the day and we were able to fill what turned out to be the only wet day with some fire building, drum bashing and Nepalese Tiger Moving game playing.
The Eco Home guesthouse is just outside Nargarkot which is basically a one street ‘village’ with businesses that cater for the tourists. Like our guesthouse in Bhaktapur it had both Western and Nepali food and was nicely decorated, although like everywhere we stayed in Nepal the beds were ROCK HARD.
Our hosts were really gracious and helped us plan what we wanted to do, which in our case meant a school visit and a country hike. The school visit was to a local school sponsored by Eco Home, who seem to sponsor everything from water tanks to family goats. We spent a morning at the school playing games and chatting with the students and teachers.
There are lots of volunteering opportunities in Nepal and we would definitely do more next time. I felt like the teaches would have benefited from much more than the couple of hours we spent on discussing teaching approaches, but hopefully they got something out of it.
Our country walk proved to be a tough but worthwhile slog through villages and woods.
It was a fine day and with our excellent guide arranged by Eco Home we set off with our cheese sandwiches and cameras at the ready…
The walk really was a great contrast with the time we had spent in town, there were lots of people, chickens, dogs and goats to interact with (and run away from), as well as a massive Buddha.
Despite all these attractions the kids started flagging around the 5 kilometre mark, so I whipped out my chocolate eggs and bribed them into walking, at least to the next egg.
Still there were only about 8 eggs in the bag so our luck ran out around kilometre 8 and Lorena and the boys found a road and taxi back to the guesthouse while I carried on with Carly to complete the 16 kilometre walk to a temple we were too knackered to see when we finally got to it…
The rest of our time at Nagarkot was spent doing smaller self-guided walks through the local woods or into town. We were also lucky enough to get some views of the Himalayas, but this just left me wanting to see more.
Next we took off with our Eco Home driver for Boudha a suburb of Kathmandu known as Little Tibet. We hadn’t booked anywhere so we had a stroll around until we came to Rokpa Guest House tucked up a side alley off the main square. If you have a look at the link you can see that the Guest House is there to help maintain the orphanage next door which has 57 kids and a fantastic job they do too.
We went over to the orphanage for more hennaring and playing games. I got my arse kicked playing chess by just about everybody and then had a kickabout where I was the only one who couldn’t do 50 keepie uppies. Nothing like Nepalese orphans to make you feel inadequate.
After the visit we hired two of the older kids to give us a tour of the city, which is amazing.
Boudha is another film set, the massive Stupa combined with the Tibetan monks and Tibetans in national dress really do make it feel like you’re in 7 Years in Tibet.
We did what everybody does, wander around the Stupa, swivel the prayer wheels and marvel at the spectacle.
On our second day there was a full moon so we had a full on Puja complete with sounds of those whopping great Tibetan horns drifting into the guesthouse gardens. The only downside was that it was a bit busy but it was such a peaceful atmosphere you never really felt overwhelmed.
I did another side trip with Carly this time to see a Hindu cremation site that we thought might not be cool for the kids. On reflection it wasn’t the best place for kids, but not so much for it being upsetting, but just a bit boring, although the monkeys would have gone some way to ameliorating this.
I suppose I was expecting something a bit more National Geographic and even chaotic, but Pashupatinath was actually quite orderly and well-kept. The place is a temple complex where only Hindus can enter into the most scared part of the complex and check out the well hung golden bull.
It seemed a good idea to get a guide, to avoid wandering around not knowing what we were looking at, so that’s what we did.He gave us an hour or so guided tour, which was enough given that my interest in Hindu cosmology is not exactly red hot. Still he showed us some interesting Kama Sutra doorways (glad the boys weren’t there for that either) and explained the cremation process.
There were also some funky Sadhus about the place, but I’m a one Sadhu kinda guy so I didn’t make too many overtures.
After Pashupatinath and Boudha it was back to Bhaktapur for another night before I flew back to Abu Dhabi. Lorena and the kids stayed on another couple of nights (some of us had to get back to work).
This time we stayed in Shiva Guesthouse 2 which was not as atmospheric as number 1 but did have a little square for a game of cricket just outside and the owners kids were happy to oblige with a game.
Would I go back to Nepal? For sure, there is loads to see and the people are great. The thought of too many hours on horrible roads doesn’t exactly fill me with glee though and I know Lorena found some of the poverty hard to come to terms with, which in turn makes you consider your own part in it as a tourist. Also if you’re not sure about travelling to Nepal with kids then don’t be concerned, take plenty of hand sanitizer and dive in.
Danny’s Nepal Picture
We just saw on the TV the terrible earthquake that has struck Nepal. The lovely town of Bhaktapur has been hit badly as has Khatmandu and many other parts of the country. It has made us stop and think about all the kind people we met and to hope that they have not been affected too badly. Our Nepalese friend from Abu Dhabi whose wife we visited in Bhaktapur has had his house flattened and at the time I write this is beside himself with worry about his elderly father and young nephew who are spening the night out in th eopen because of the fear of more aftershcoks and because their home has been destroyed. Anyway, take a look at these photos and send a bit of cash if you can to one these organisations.