Kathmandu Stories and Tips

Exploring the Kathmandu Valley

A womans work... Photo, Kathmandu, Nepal

Not Trekking in Nepal
by Dave Underwood

Talk to anyone about a trip to Nepal and the focus turns to treks through exhilarating mountain panoramas and visions of exhausting uphill battles, smelly feet and thermal underwear. True, Nepal claims eight of the world's ten highest mountains and is a "Mecca for trekkers". But it also shelters a cultural landscape as diverse as any on the planet. A landscape often overlooked by the casual visitor.

A Third World country in the 21st century, much of Nepal still resists the 20th century. A melting pot of more than a dozen ethnic groups speaking fifty languages devote themselves, in harmony, to two of the world's major religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. Their legacy is an incredible architectural and artistic history displayed with pageantry and colour in year-round festivals.

The nation's capital, Kathmandu, sits at the centre of a fertile valley measuring barely thirty-by-thirty kilometres and ranging in altitude from 1,500 to 3,000 metres. Outside the city the landscape gives way to terraced farmland and a smorgasbord of medieval villages and ancient sites where time stands still.

Its size, accessibility and abundant attractions makes the Kathmandu Valley an ideal destination for those wanting to explore Nepal's cultural riches. And the best way to do it is on foot. There are even some walks to keep the trekkers happy!

Nepalese believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, even if there are five hills in the way. Your greatest ally is a reliable contour map - it shows you what you're in for. Here's how we used it to plan our walks:
1. Mark the places to visit, identifying those within walking distance of each other.
2. Link destinations to form walking tours, taking note of the contours. These show the altitude change during the walk and any hills you'll encounter. Plan your walks to minimise the uphill bits - it's much more fun!
3. Use different towns as convenient accommodation bases. This allows time to explore the communities and meet people at a relaxed pace.

Expect contrasts and experiences to challenge your senses when you're exploring. Here are a few tips to make you better prepared:
1. Nepal's history is built on trading. The country is covered in footpaths and there is always more than one way to reach your destination. Ask directions if you're not sure, locals love to help.
2. Allow time for diversions. Don't expect to walk more than 15 kilometres in a day.
3. You won't experience altitude related breathing difficulties on valley walks.
4. Pollution is a problem. For the clearest views, best conditions and countless festivals, visit in the months immediately following the monsoon - around October to December. The valley becomes a dust bowl as the dry season progresses, and travellers with respiratory problems will experience difficulty.
5. Consider using local guides. They'll show you sights you may otherwise miss and often include an entertaining history lesson. $10-20 a day is an accepted rate.
6. Begging children are everywhere, usually asking for money, books or pens. If you want to help, visit local community institutions like hospitals, schools and orphanages, and make a donation. You will sometimes be given an impromptu tour and meet the person in charge. These experiences can provide the most rewarding memories.
7. Use a water purifier and pump straight into a collapsible plastic water bottle. It's easy, convenient, cost effective and responsible. Nepal has no recycling facilities, so buying water in plastic bottles doesn't help.

The Kathmandu Valley spoils travellers with a bounty of cultural riches in an environment largely unaffected by mass tourism. Grab a map and plan your journey - there are some suggestions in this journal to get you started. With a little luck you might even have time left for a trek!


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