January 18 - Patan Durbar
Started my first full day in Nepal with a bacon, egg, and cheese, a donut, and a coffee. Then, I met up with Zoe and took a cab to Patan Durbar Square. We grabbed a thali lunch at Cafe Swotha (a real swanky joint) and then toured the Patan museum. After a little people watching, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Shristi's (Zoe's friend's) apartment in Patan and ended the day with some tonkatsu ramen.
A few first impressions of Kathmandu:
The food here beats Cambridge by a longshot both in taste and price. A plate of momos is like $1 here (compare to $15 in Cambridge).
Pollution and dust are rampant in the Kathmandu Valley, especially in January. Had to grab an inhaler from a side-of-the-road pharmacy. Luckily, no prescription or insurance needed.
The drivers and motorcyclists are maniacs. Lane markers mean nothing and nobody wears seatbelts. Also, every car is a Maruti Suzuki Alto.
January 19 - Boudhanath
Zoe and I spent the afternoon at Boudhanath, a stupa in northeastern Kathmandu that was built, according to some sources, as early as the 5th century CE. These days, Boudhanath stupa is surrounded by an eclectic mix of Tibetan Buddhist temples, souvenir stalls, and boba shops. After walking a few laps around the stupa, we got a rildhuk and tongba dinner from a back-alley Sherpa restaurant (I don't think I like tongba).
What was playing during my inDrive ride home:
January 20 - Narayanhiti and Thamel
First stop of the day was the Narayanhiti Palace Museum, the palace built by Mahendra in 1963 that served as the royal residence until Gyanendra moved out in 2008 (a whole two years after Parliament told him to bounce). The main building was used to host visiting heads of states (including Queen Elizabeth II and Jiang Zemin among others), and served mostly ceremonial functions. The smaller cottages, Tribhuvan Sadan and Shree Sadan, were more interesting to walk through. Looking through Prince Nirajan and Princess Shruti's rooms at Shree Sadan, you'd think they were any other 80's kids with CD players and casio keyboards. Near Shree Sadan, you can also visit the royal garage which housed a Daimler Benz gifted to Tribhuvan by Hitler. After the museum, I stopped by the Garden of Dreams, although I wouldn't especially recommend a visit unless you feel like dropping 400 rupees to look at some fountains.
Later, Zoe and I grabbed a couple beers in Thamel, the neighborhood for nightlife in Kathmandu. Lots of tourists stay in Thamel before leaving Kathmandu to trek, and it really shows in the amount of hydroflasks and thangka paintings being sold in the neighborhood. Pretty much every bar or club we stopped at had a live band playing a mixed setlist of English and Nepali pop/rock hits.
January 21 - Kaalo
Saturday afternoon was spent sitting around a fire with some of Zoe's friends at Kaalo, an underground art space in Patan. Unfortunately, at some point a fleck of burning firewood landed on me and burned a hole in my favorite chinos :(
After grabbing some teriyaki for dinner, we met up again with a few of Zoe's Kaalo-tangential friends for chhaang near Banglamukhi Temple in Patan. The place we went to offered us a private room with floor pillows and kept the group stocked on chhaang, tongba, and clean ashtrays. The owners eventually wanted to close shop, so we made a quick stop for snacks (white rabbit candies and aloo bhujia) and snuck back into Kaalo, where Zoe and her friend Ryan took turns playing some original tunes.
N.B. White chhaang is pretty tasty. Brown chhaang was a little harder to stomach.
Some Nepali music recommendations (courtesy of Ryan):
January 22 - Kirtipur
On Sunday, I finally got to meet Zoe's bandmate, Prince, and his dad, Shyam, at their home in Kirtipur, a neighborhood on the southwestern outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. Zoe had to stop by to pick up her guitar and plan an American tour for her and Prince's Nepali folk/bluegrass fusion band, Manaslu Blue. Along the way, we stopped to visit some temples and appreciate some panoramic views of the valley.
Manaslu Blue in action:
January 25 - Swayambhunath
After two days of remote work, I went back to being a tourist. I spent the afternoon strolling the ancient temple complex at Swayambhunath. Once I got past all the vendors hawking Buddha-themed tchotchkes, I had a nice time exploring and monkey-watching. Sadly, the green spaces around Swayambhunath are full of litter from visitors tossing leftover snacks (and wrappers) to the monkeys. Still, I found the area to be one of the nicer parts of Kathmandu, especially if you're looking for sweeping views and monkey photo ops.
A saga of hunger, determination, ingenuity:
January 26 - Food/Drink/Music
No tourist sites to report on today. I only left Jhamsikhel in the late afternoon to meet up with Zoe, Shyam, and Shyam's friend, Hari, for dinner. Shyam took us to a Newa restaurant in Patan for chhaang, beaten rice, potatoes, split peas, and around five different types of buff (according to Shyam, there are ninety-nine ways to cook buff, or water buffalo, in Newa cuisine). At some point during our dinner, the topic of my family being Italian came up, at which point Shyam and Hari decided it would be appropriate to belt Bella Ciao.
After dinner, Zoe and I headed to Beers and Cheers in Jhamsikhel to listen to some of Zoe's friends from Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory jam on stage. We got there early and wound up sitting through two (excellent) hours of conservatory vocal exam performances. That night I had the worst bar nachos of my life. I think they were just microwaved tortilla chips with shredded cheese and marinara sauce.
January 27 - Bhaktapur
I finally made my way to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the preferred durbar for most of the Nepalis and ex-pats I've asked. Of the two durbar squares I've visited, I actually found Patan to be a little more hip and a little less touristy than Bhaktapur. [Visibly non-SAARC] tourists can expect to pay an 1800 rupee (~15 USD) fee just to enter Bhaktapur Durbar, at which point they'll be swarmed by tour guides. Still, I enjoyed walking through the courtyards and taking in the temple architecture, although I probably needed a guide to fully appreciate what I was looking at.
Later that night, Zoe and I met up with two of her Fulbright friends at Pimbahal in Patan. I wound up following Zoe's friends' local friends to Barc and Karma, two speakeasies in Tripureshwor, and then Plan B, a club in Thamel.
Did you know: People really dress up to go out in some parts of Kathmandu. Think business formal.
January 30 - Shivapuri
Last day of the trip! Since I never made it out to Pokhara or Chitwan in the whole two weeks I was in Nepal, I decided to spend my last day hiking outside the city. I took a cab to Budhanilkanth on the northeastern outskirts of the valley and trekked up to the main gate of Shivapuri National Park. The ticket agent made me hire a guide (apparently you're not allowed to hike alone), so I had to fork over a grand total of 3500 rupees just to enter the park (yikes). My guide led me on a 3 hour hike up to Bishnudwar Temple, which is located at the origin of the Bishnumati River. Once we got to the temple, he asked if I smoked and just rolled a joint. Apparently, a lot of Nepali Hindus smoke religiously. On the walk back, he just talked about his favorite Jet Li movies and told me I should read the Bhagavad Gita.