Southern Asia – Nepal – part 2 of 3

I’m writing these posts together to share my experience of travelling to Nepal for the first time. It’s an amazing place, people are friendly, it’s relatively easy to travel, and the mountains……wow!

My main focus was trekking the Himalaya’s, but there was also some other cultural exploration.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series (you can read part 1 here) and focuses on arrival to country, where to stay, and organising my first trek.

If you enjoy it, share it!

**********     Pre-arrival     **********   

All international flights arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), which is in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

Before arriving, I’d suggest having somewhere booked for your first few nights – especially if you’ve not got anything organised trekking wise – this can take the sting out of things a little bit.

I decided to stay 3 nights to give myself chance to adjust to what I expected to be the madness of a big city in south Asia. And I was right – Kathmandu is crazy!

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Kathmandu also serves as a starting point for some of the main treks, and as a hub for transiting through to other areas of the country (either by bus or flight). The main tourist area is known as Thamel, and it is touristy, but it’s well geared up as such.

Another benefit of having accommodation arranged, is that you can arrange a taxi with them to collect you from the airport which take you direct to where you are staying.

I used to avoid doing this (preferring to figure things out on the ground) but, for the sake of a few pounds, I’ve found it helps ease your way in to things.

If you’re coming here to trek, most tourists stay in Thamel. It’s worth bearing in mind it’s a rabbit-warren of crowded alleys, shop keepers, and traffic. Good luck finding your accommodation!

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Anybody see Thamel…

**********     Arrival into Nepal     **********   

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Be prepared! I’m just kidding – it’s not that bad – but this article helped me transit smoothly through immigration and arrivals.

I won’t repeat what’s already written, other than summarise you need to fill in immigration forms (coming from the UK), and there’s a visa fee to pay (depending on how long you wish to stay).

There are electronic machines upon entering the arrivals hall to help ‘speed-up’ the process. These sometimes work, and these sometimes don’t. It’s also worth being mindful of the different queues for different parts of the arrival process.

In terms of changing money and getting sim cards, there are options at the airport. As I’d booked a taxi to my hotel / hostel, I opted to arrange these kinds of things once in Thamel.

**********     Thamel, and organising the first trek    **********   

Once I’d made my way through immigration I was hit with a combination of noise, dust, fumes, traffic, and people. Welcome to South Asia!

I found my taxi, and quickly had my bag taken from me by a smiling helper. I thought he was with the taxi driver – but no – he just wanted to make a few rupees by carrying my bag less than 100 metres.

I felt bad I didn’t have any money to give him, and I didn’t blame him for trying. This is how it is here – but there is no obligation.

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Rush hour….

I’d expected Kathmandu to be busy, but this was something else. I’d timed my arrival with rush hour. Lanes mean nothing. It’s all about gaps, edging forward, and horns.

My taxi driver knew the way to the hotel, but I’d also downloaded an off-line map app called maps.me to get my bearings.

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Anybody see Hotel The Doors ?

I have no affiliation to maps.me but I’d recommend using it for travelling. It’s (generally) accurate, plus you can download maps to use off-line. Helpful when you have no internet connection and get lost. Which happens in Thamel. A lot.

For this adventure I booked with Hotel The Doors. It’s located on the edge of Thamel, reasonably priced, and the staff were super friendly and helpful.

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Hotel The Doors

The hotel was clean, and perfectly situated on the edge of the tourist centre. I was able to arrange a (legitimate) sim card with them once I’d arrived, as well as exchange money for a good rate.

Once I’d settled in, they gave me advice on treks. With hindsight, this is where I realised I could have been a little more prepared!

Whilst I’d arrived with an idea of which region to trek (see my first post) I’d not finalised anything. And now, along with the culture shock, I found the amount choice to be overwhelming!

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Endless choice of treks and hikes

Following a recommendation from another traveller, I went to speak to a trekking company to get advice. They were called Himalayan Scenery and located close to where I was staying.

They were professional, knowledgable, and used to dealing with bewildered tourists like myself.

Options were discussed, and I settled on a short, 3-day trek starting at the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park which went through local villages, took in views of Mount Everest, visited temples, and looped round to the starting point.

It cost almost €200 for a guide, food, accommodation, national park fees, and all transport arranged. This wasn’t the cheapest way to trek, but I knew it would prove a good way to get back into the travel after living in the comfort of the UK for so long.

All I had to do was turn up, walk, and just keep smiling.

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**********     The first trek    **********   

My guide Amar collected me from my hotel, and we took a taxi to a jeep, and then a jeep to the north of the city.

The roads are mixed quality in Nepal. You can be travelling along a well sealed tarmac highway, which suddenly turns into a dusty potholed street – hence the need for a jeep.

From my experience, most of the longer treks start with a ride in a jeep to a starting point. Prices vary. One way to keep costs down is share with other travellers. There are also buses. Good luck with those.

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Days were about 4/5 hours walking. The first took us through low level alpine (known as jungle) to the area of Bagmati. My guide Amar Magar was friendly, professional, and interested.

To see the extent of the damage to hotels done by the earthquake in 2015 was a harrowing reality check. This was one of many villages affected.

Accommodation was simple but good, if a little surreal to be staying in a building opposite one leaning at 45 degree! I stayed in the blue hotel (top right photo below, to the left of the picture).

The food was simple but tasty. And the views –  so much for the promise of sunrise over the distant peak of Mount Everest….

The trek continued for 2 more days as we worked our way through villages.

We also picked up some other guests travelling through Nepal – a classical Harp teacher from Muscat, and an electrical engineer from Spain. Travel continues to baffle me with it’s idiosyncrasies! 

The final day was spent exploring temples and getting a closer look at a local festival before returning to Thamel.

**********     Final thoughts   **********   

I found this short trek a good way to ease into my time in Nepal and get back into travel mode. Because I wasn’t short on time, I knew I had scope for a longer trek next. I’m also not averse to solo travel, but meeting up with others added to the experience.

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the cheapest way to organise things (it’s also not the most expensive) but it was hassle free and a good introduction to life here – both trekking and culturally.

I believe these are some of the benefits for hiring a guide. Not only are you being guided, you are learning whilst contributing to the local economy. It’s a win-win. I think it’s also worth remembering Nepal is a poor country, and tourism is a key source of income.

Thanks for Amar for his help. I’d recommend both him and Himalayan Scenery.

Next post – a short flight to Pokhara, and a 10-day trek in the Annapurna conservation area.

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