Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Itinerary.

Swayambhunath Stupa (Temple), Kathmandu

As with all my trips, planning begins with research and there's no better place to start than the web. In surfing, I came across several travel blogs and websites that had conflicting information about the safety of travelling in Nepal - there were numerous reports of violence by Maoist rebels. Even the US State Department website had a travel advisory posted for Nepal. My heart sank with each bad "report". But I really wanted to go to Nepal so I felt compelled to get an "insider's" view of the security situation before deciding whether or not to cancel out.

One of the benefits of working where I do is that we have staff posted in 90 countries so my next step was to email to our ResRep in Nepal. I mentioned my security concerns and I also had questions about moving about the city and getting Nepali currency which I had read is not available for purchase outside the country. To my relief, Alex responded back with a positive response about the security situation. He also graciously answered my questions about making my way through the Kathmandu Valley cities on foot and how to go about getting Nepali rupees. We've exchanged a few more emails since then and he has also extended an invitation to stop by his office while I'm in Kathmandu. He seems very nice so I've decided that I will indeed pay him a visit.
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Julee,
It's nice that you are planning to travel to Nepal. From a safety standpoint, there should be no problem, especially in the KTM valley. Occasionally there are strikes and so-called bandhs, during which it is not advisable to go by motorized transport (young thugs tend to stop cars without diplomatic license plates then); otherwise there should be no problem. Sometimes there are also demonstrations; just avoid the crowds. But your hotel should be able to tell you either the evening before or in the morning whether something like that is announced. For a woman traveler, I would advise extra precaution in the evenings, and avoidance of dark alleys/streets or such like. In Thamel, though, the main streets should be safe even at night as there are many shops and restaurants, and also many foreigners.

Moving around in each of the three cities is easy on foot (or with a bicycle rickshaw); between cities, I am sure the hotel or one of the many travel agencies can arrange transportation, or you can also just take a taxi (tell them to bring you to the Durbar square in each city). They are not expensive (but also not metered, agree on the price beforehand) -- within the city it should enerously be around 2-300 rupees (3-5$); between KTM and Bhaktapur probably Rs 600-1000 (I haven't done that trip by taxi myself). Patan is merged with KTM, and the trip should like one within KTM city. I can also recommend the Lonely Planet guidebook.
On the rupees, I don't know, but there is an ATM at the airport, where you credit union card works, and there are ATMs also in the city. Don't forget to keep Rs 1,695 if you leave by plane (airport tax).
I hope this helps -- if you have more questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Regards, and have an nice trip,
Alex

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Woohoo! I'm headed to Nepal. So where will I be travelling to? Well, I would have loved to travel into Nepal's countryside but since I only have 3 1/2 days in the Kathmandu Valley before I join up with the tour group and head to Lhasa, Tibet, I decided to concentrate on visiting the main cities in the Kathmandu Valley - Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Several months back, I was checking out the Nepal webpages on Frommers.com and they had listed full day walking tours of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Fortunately, I printed out the pages because, for some reason, they are no longer posted on Frommers.com. Each walking tour is concentrated on the Durbar Square area of each city and covers the major sites in and around the Square as well as has recommendations on cafés and restaurants along the walk in case you need to take a break.

From what I've read, the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu does not have street names or signs so doing a walking tour is going to be a challenge - I'm just hoping that the buildings and temples don't all start to look the same after a while. I have a feeling I'll be using my digital camera to snap photos of landmarks that I will use as "bread crumbs" to navigate my way back to the starting point!

Durbar Square, Kathmandu





On one of the days in Kathmandu, I plan to made side trips to visit Swayambhunath (also known as the "Monkey Temple" named in honor of the monkeys that have made it their home) and Boudhanath stupas. I've been told that one should join the pilgrims and circumambulate (in a clockwise direction) the stupas. I'll decide on this when I see what the crowd does - don't want to insult anyone!
Patan is a neigboring city and according to most of what I've read, is a quick auto-rickshaw ride away from Kathmandu. Though at one point in history, Patan was a separate kingdom. Of the three cities in the Kathmandu Valley, this is supposedly the most well preserved - I'm hoping to see some pretty awesome palaces and temples.
Durbar Square, Patan














Like the other two cities, Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but in support of the on-going preservation efforts, an entrance fee is required. Comparatively speaking, it is the city that has a "historic" feel to it with much of its architecture dating from the end of the 17th century.
Durbar Square, Bhaktapur













As I continue to read up on the Kathmandu Valley, I get more and more mesmerized by the images that I'm seeing and the words of those who've travelled there before me. I can't believe that I'll soon get to experience it for real!