Dusty and medieval Nepal: Exploring Patan, Nagarkot and Kathmandu

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What’s remained of Durbar Square

Sometime in June, Matteo asked if I’d like to join him in Nepal for a few days, and I had just returned from Mount Kinabalu with the crew. I was tempted, because it was on my to-go list, but I had to think about my leave days (or lack-of) and try to re-jig my travel plans. Haha, all of that was thrown out of the window as I decided to fly in a day earlier, and leave earlier before his trip ends.

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Hotel Shanker, built in 1894 A.D.

I arrived in Kathmandu on a Sunday, and checked myself in Hotel Shanker, a former palace located in Lazimpat area, used by monarchs back in its heydays. I absolutely adored its facade; it could very well be pulled off for a scene in a Wes Anderson film. The weather in mid-week July was awfully wet, and I wasn’t prepared.

I hired a cab to take me to Patan Square, a quieter less touristy spot (compared to Kathmandu Durbar Square), and spent the whole day there. A good point to start exploring is the colourful Patan Gate. Beside the gate, was a charming ol’ bookstore which I didn’t enter, come to think about it.

As soon as I alighted from the cab, I could see how dusty the city is; I read somewhere the country uses up to 70% of coal usage, so that explains it.

I felt relatively safe just walking around here; people were nice to point out directions when I asked, and kids were delighted when I joined in for an impromptu badminton match. I found the main square, paid for admission fees of 1,000 Nepali rupees (which also allowed for access to the museum and temples).

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A pair of lion (?) tiger (?) monster (?) mates guarding the entrance of the temple.

The Golden Temple is pretty fascinating; it reminded me of the temple I witnessed in Chiang Mai, although smaller in comparison. There are small doors leading you inside, into cosy living rooms, meditation halls and more.

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After walking out of the main attraction, I casually got lost along the small roads in the square. There were small shops selling paper crafts, to tea leaves and clothing. I followed an art teacher, who took time narrating some of the temple’s history to me right back at the square, to his art shop on a second floor of a building, where I purchased a mandala art. I have way lots of paintings accumulated from my travels, that I’ve yet to frame. That would be my interior design project when I move to a new place after October.

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The next day, I took off to the airport to pick up Matteo. I thought it would be funny to hold up a paper sign with his name on it, marked ‘Hotel X’. He put on his sunglasses and blindly walked pass me until I yelled out at him.

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After checking in Kathmandu Guest House, we went straight to Durbar Square, where most of the ancient ruins were demolished during the 2013 earthquake.

I pulled out a photo-length article from The Guardian to compare the catastrophe of then, and the effects it had now to the buildings. It was a huge drastic change. The ancient towers used to be metres higher, and what’s left were just the base; some front facades of buildings had large cracks, and some towers came down. Couldn’t imagine the horror back then.

By noon we went to explore Swayambunath Stupa, which boasts of 365 steps leading up to a temple atop a hill. 365 steps to represent a day in a year, the locals say. The sight up there? It was breathtaking; monkeys were roaming freely; eagles soaring high amongst the giant surrounding trees.

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After a day’s excitement, we retreat back to the hotel to prepare for a day’s trip up north, to Nagarkot. I had pre-booked a cab to drive us up 32km to this area where I had envision myself just sitting at Peaceful Cottage’s cafe, admiring the Himalayan range. Because of my short travel time in Nepal, I couldn’t take the time off to head to Pokhara Lake, where I heard it’s beautiful.

Friends even thought I was going trekking, but my retort was, ‘what! After Mount Kinabalu! No lah, I didn’t plan for Annapurna Base camp, maybe next year?’

After 1.5hours up to Nagarkot, surpassing paddy fields, small huts, villages, the road trip just reminded me of Langkawi and her serene beauty. It had rained, I was getting worried. Then there was fog enveloping our car, all the way up to the hilltop, which was 2000m high.

And after we walked up a bit to the guesthouse, my heart sank. You could not see a thing at all. Dangit weather Gods, you really know how to fuck up my plan. Here’s a comparison of a photo taken from the guesthouse’s Tripadvisor page, and my view as below.

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Screenshot from Peaceful Cottage on a clear day

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Still, the fog surrounding the balcony of Peaceful Cottage was hauntingly beautiful. What matters was, the sense of adventure we had.

After doing all the bits of exploring, we stayed back in Thamel area to check out the small shops, haggle a bit during carpet-shopping, and checked out local Nepalese food, which I totally couldn’t get enough of.

If you ever are in search of authentic local food, may I suggest this restaurant named Muktinath Kitchen. The set meals were so filling, and the flavours were just bursting in my mouth with delight.

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