Top Ten Places to Explore in Kathmandu
Sitting on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley is the fascinating Swayambhunath, otherwise known as The Monkey Temple. On the way up the three hundred and sixty five steps to the summit, the ubiquitous monkeys that give the temple it's name are very much in evidence The temple complex consists of one large stupa set amongst smaller stupas, shrines, stalls, cafes and shops - a mini Buddhist village. The main stupa is surrounded by prayer wheels, which pilgrims spin in a clockwise direction as they pass and leaping monkeys are never far away. The Buddhist chant of 'Om Mani Padme Hum' resonates through the air, as you cast your gaze over the city.
Thamel, the travellers ghetto, is a maze of streets bursting with with shops selling everything from trinkets and t-shirts to trekking gear. Street vendors peddling tiger balm and Nepali stringed instruments called serangis stroll through the area. There are an array of restaurants serving food from all over the world, many of them having roof top dining areas. Bars with live music and Everest beer compete for custom. Sometimes when you've been travelling a long time, a 'Thamel' is just what you need!
3. Durbar Square
In the heart of Kathmandu, Durbar Square is a great place to people watch from the high steps of a temple. Surrounded by a labyrinth of alleyways, impressive traditional style Nepalese buildings and shrines are located throughout the square. Vibrantly dressed sadhus will let you take their photographs for a few rupees. In a tiny courtyard, the Living Goddess, Kumari, makes occasional appearances on her balcony. Elsewhere, pigeons scatter as small children run amongst them, locals sell fruit and vegetables or worship at a colourful shrine.
4. Garden Of Dreams
Adjacent to Thamel, The Garden Of Dreams is an oasis of calm amidst the crazy streets of Kathmandu. Outside there are belching car exhausts, crowds, beggars and noise. Inside, hidden behind high walls is peace and tranquillity. A manicured garden of hidden courtyards, ponds, statues, shrubs, fountains and trees provide respite from the chaos. Overlooking the lotus pond, there is an upmarket cafe serving drinks and great food. A surprising area of serenity in the middle of a chaotic metropolis.
The strange and somewhat unsettling Pashupatinath is where Hindus cremate their dead and scatter the ashes in the nearby sacred river Bagmati. Pilgrims, ash covered sadhus, cows and humans disguised as Hindu gods wander around the temple grounds and adjacent streets. On the other side of the river, travelling holy men find shelter in individual intricately carved stone structures. Monkeys leap from wall to wall startling unsuspecting passersby. Meanwhile, the smoke rises from a funeral pyre next to the polluted river. You never know what you may see next - it is certainly an intriguing place to visit.
Patan's Durbar Square and its adjacent museum provide a fascinating insight into Buddhist and Hindu culture. The third century monuments and temples display exquisite carvings, and as with all of the squares in the Kathmandu Valley it is a perfect place to people watch. The museum is contemporary and slick and contains an abundance of exhibits and comprehensive explanations of the significance of them. It also boasts a cafe in a peaceful setting.
In Thamel, but worthy of a mention of its own, Pilgrims is a Kathmandu institution. A bookshop specialising in all things spiritual, it is easy to spend hours browsing in this wonderful and sprawling shop. Apart from books, they have an unusual stock of postcards and knick knacks including prayer flags and handmade note paper. At the rear of the shop is an excellent cafe called called 'Feed and Read' where they serve delicious momos and you can even have a beer.
Like an open museum, Bhaktapur's Durbar Square is a jumble of palaces, temples and monasteries. Many of the ancient buildings display fine examples of Nepalese art work in stone, metal and wood. Wandering the square is like stepping back in time and if luck is on your side you may even catch a festival or ceremony steeped in history. As with many areas of the city, one of the best ways to take in the view is from a high-in-the-sky roof top restaurant.
9.The Royal Palace Narayahiti
Scene of the horrific massacre of the Nepalese royal family in 2001, when Eton educated Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed his parents, brother, sister and five other members of the family. Since Nepal has become a republic, the palace has opened it's doors to the public. Frozen in time, a sixties and seventies theme is evident in everything from the architecture to memorabilia. It's an eclectic and surreal place, complete with an abandoned garden in a state of disrepair. There are markers showing which members of the royal family were shot and where. Not your usual royal palace.
One of the largest and most beautiful stupa's in the world, Bodhnath is a centre for Tibetan Buddhism. At the base of the impressive stupa is a circle of shops selling Buddhist paraphernalia, restaurants and monasteries. Novice monks and nuns from all over the world stroll between classes as prayer flags flutter overhead. A rooftop restaurant is a perfect place to sit and watch the proceedings as hypotic chants emanate from the monasteries.
Top Ten Travel Experiences
1. Whalewatching Off The Coast Of Maui, Hawaii
Seeing whales at close quarters and hearing their song was a disarmingly emotional experience! We never fail to be amazed at seeing wildlife in it's natural environment, but for some inexplicable reason, the whales had an overwhelming impact. We were lucky enough to see several whales breaching and listen to them on the hydrophone. It was an extraordinary day.
2. Road from Manali to Leh, India
The most horrendous, but beautiful road trip we have ever taken! A crazy pot smoking driver, deadly mountain switchbacks, driving rain, altitude sickness, travel sickness......we could go on! Also, one of the most spectacular roads in the world. We drove through the night, but as dawn broke, the desolate beauty of it all became apparent - stunning rock formations, snow capped mountains, waterfalls and desert vistas. At the end of it all, we were battered and shattered, but what a trip!
3. Inca Trail, Peru
This was the most physically challenging experience of our travels, but also one of the most memorable. After four days hiking on the ancient trail through the mountains, we reached mystical Machu Picchu. There were times when it was difficult to appreciate everything the trail and its surroundings had to offer due to the physical effort involved. However tough it was at the time, we are so glad we did it!
4. Staying With Firewalkers, Beqa, Fiji
Staying with a family of firewalkers in a tiny village on the island of Beqa was a unique experience. On arrival, we had to go and visit the chief in order to be given 'freedom of the village'. We took some cava along with us (the slightly narcotic vegetable root, not the bubbly version!) as a gift, which is standard in Fiji, and sat on the floor of his hut while he conducted the welcome ceremony. The family's home was modest - a small cement structure with a corrugated roof, an outside kitchen and no electricity, yet they were so kind and hospitable. For three days we lived with them, laughed with them and learnt about one another. On our last night, they threw a party for us where we learned to dance 'Fijian style' and the children sang for us. On the day we left, the whole village came out to wave our small boat off. A very special travel memory.
5. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Occasionally on your travels you are disappointed with something that is 'iconic' or supposedly a 'wonder'. This was not the case with the Angkor Wat complex - it lived up to expectations and more. For two days, we explored the ancient ruins set amidst lush jungle with our trusty tuk tuk driver, and fell completely under Angkor's spell. From the mysterious and atmospheric Ta Phrom to the grandeur of the Bayon temple, every ruin has it's own unique character. Angkor feels like an adventure movie come to life and it's easy to understand why 'Tomb Raider' was filmed there. It's somewhere you simply can't resist using superlatives to describe, but it's that kind of place. Awesome.
6. Whitewater River Rafting - Bali, Indonesia/Arequipa, Peru/ Idaho, USA.
We have been whitewater river rafting in Indonesia, Peru and the United States, and it's a blast! Each time we have been, the conditions have been different from heavy tropical downpours to dry heat. It is great fun - the anticipation and preparation before you hit the rapids, and then trying not to fall out when you do! The rivers are usually in places of great natural beauty as well, which just adds to the appeal of it. For us, it's the biggest buzz, and we plan to raft as many rivers as we can, all over the world!
7. Green Tortoise Bus Trip, U.S.A
Green Tortoise is a 'alternative' budget bus company based in San Francisco. They run trips in their converted big green buses in the U.SA. and Mexico. A journey on a Green Tortoise bus is an experience, as I found out when I did one of their trips through the south west. The buses have mattresses in them and either travel through the night or set up camp, usually somewhere beautiful such as the desert or a forest. Everyone shares in the cooking, and then the party round the campfire kicks off. Sometimes, we stopped off by a lake where skinny dipping was optional! Fellow travellers were from the USA, Ireland, Germany and Israel. We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spent the night by the Colorado river, slept in the Valley Of The Gods, rejuvenated ourselves in Utah Hot Springs and explored Zion National Park. The vibe was laid back, tolerant and fun. A very cool road trip!
8. Camping On Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Our friends Kay and Grant joined us in Hawaii when we were on our round the world trip. We camped on several beaches in Hawaii (until our tent was stolen!) and Polihale was our first night camping. We drove over rough track for about half an hour to reach the secluded, but sweeping and vast sands of Polihale, where we set up our tents and unloaded our supplies. We put some music on a mini speaker, drank wine, ate nachos and watched the sun sink into the ocean. Later, we lay on our backs and watched meteorites shooting across the clear night sky. It was a combination of the beauty of Polihale and sharing it with our friends that made it such a memorable and special time.
9. Snorkelling Moorea, French Polynesia
Snorkelling off a tiny island near Moorea was an awe inspiring experience. It was my first time and the colours, varieties and sheer number of fish was amazing. The coral was pristine, unlike in many parts of the world these days. Since then, we have snorkelled in many places, but nothing will compare with that first time in Moorea.
10. Staying In A Fort In India
Staying at a fort in India was a magical experience. We took a jeep up the winding hill to the gates of the magnificent fort where we were greeted by Indian musicians. We explored the nooks, crannies, courtyards and lovely mosaics of the fort. Our room was adjacent to a lawn where wicker chairs looked over the nearby town. That night, we dined under the stars. A unique night in an extraordinary place.
Top Ten Fun Nights (And Days) Partying!
1. El Mirador Hotel, Paracas, Peru
A cuba libre fuelled night at an amusing retro hotel with our pals Anton, Simon and Grant. T spent some of the evening playing football with Peruvian boys. A fun night.
2. Mask Bar, Big Island, Hawaii, USA
Drunken karaoke with friends Kay and Grant. Kay's rendition of 'American Pie' was a winner and Grant's 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay' brought the house down. Grant was mistaken for Jude Law.
3. Ku's Birthday, New Orleans, Kathmandu, Nepal
A fab birthday drinking Black and White Russians by an open fire in an atmospheric bar.
4. Haena Beach, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Tequila, reef walking (in the dark) and phone calls home were involved in this memorable night!
5. Rocky Point, Mexico
Partying with students from Arizona State University in a rambling bar by the ocean and sleeping on the beach was one of many adventure experienced in one weekend in Mexico.
6. Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
Our last night in our beach cabana - the staff cooked us a huge and delicious meal which we ate under the stars, sharing a bottle arak with them.
7. Cozy Bar, Marrakech, Morocco
An afternoon drinking session in the best bar in Marrakech with our friends Anton and Ian. As you can see from the photograph, it turned into quite a lively afternoon!
8. Jasper, Canada
Long Island Iced Teas with our parents, who had come out to visit us in Canada when we were on our way round the world. Our Mothers got a little tipsy and started flirting with the barman.
9. Paris, France
A lovely night out with our friend 'Naughty' in Paris. Fine cuisine al fresco, followed by drinks in a friendly bar where the manager seemed like a long lost friend!
10. Byron Bay, Australia
Sitting on the porch of our cabin with our friend Francesca and Ros. We prepared our own food and drank lots of great Australian wine.
Top Ten Weird And Wonderful
1. Mata Cave Temple is one strange and bizarre place. Irreverent, admittedly, but it is more like a fairground fun house than a house of worship. Making our way through the temple we passed through pools of water, vibrantly decorated chambers and gaudy shrines dedicated to a variety of gods and goddesses. We crawled through caves and climbed up and down winding stairways. And what were the pilgrims snapping photographs of? The strange westerners who had come to take a look at the temple.
2. On a bus trip through the Peruvian desert, our bus came to a halt. A straggly haired bearded character in a trance like state, looking like an extra from 'Mad Max' walked out of the desert in leathers, inadvertently exposing himself. The driver hopped off the bus, gave the guy a ready meal, and off we went.
3. By complete coincidence, meeting and sharing the cost of a car hire to explore the island of Tahiti with a stranger, only to discover that he was the nephew of a work colleague back home!
4. Staying in a brothel in Bangkok, but not realising it was a brothel until several hours after check-in. Easily done!
5. Driving out to the desert near Nazca, Peru in a cool vintage American car to see open tombs with skeletons in varying states of decay. Most of them had hair carefully placed on their skulls.
6. While waiting for a bus, chatting to a man without legs who moved along using his arms in Hospet, India. When the bus arrived, we said our goodbyes and off we went. Stopping at another town about an hour later, we saw the same man waving to us when we looked out of the bus window!
7. Following a body being carried through the streets of Varanasi to the river Ganges for cremation. We knew our guest house was by the river, but lost our way in the labyrinth of alleyways. We figured that following the body would help us find the river and it did!
8. Having been on a group hike in a Borneo jungle, one of the girls sat down eagerly anticipating a tasty packed lunch. She placed the lunch box next to her and a monkey immediately grabbed it, jumped up a nearby tree and proceeded to open the box and eat the contents. The girl stood under the tree furiously gesticulating and shouting at the monkey! Funny.
9. In Pashupatinath, Nepal we wandered by the sacred river amongst the cows, pilgrims, ash covered sadhus and humans disguised as Hindu deities. As we watched a funeral pyre being lit from the other side of the river the monkey god Hanuman, in full regalia, crept up behind T. He spoke in a loud and throaty voice through some sort of microphone startling her. Meanwhile real monkeys ran and jumped around us. A bizarre place.
10. While in Rarotonga, The Cook Islands, we stayed at the guest house of Piri The Coconut King. Piri is a well known local character who at the age of seventy clambered up coconut trees at full speed and put on shows demonstrating his prowess. While asleep in our room one night, a tropical storm started. The door to our room flew open and the hooded figure of the tiny Piri appeared at the foot of our beds - he had come to check that we were alright and not too much rain was getting into our room!
Top Ten Travel Moments
1. Holding a wombat. (Australia)
2. Seeing orangutans in the wild. (Borneo)
3. Finding a $100 bill in a casino. (Las Vegas, USA)
4. Seeing Sydney Opera house for the first time. (Sydney, Australia)
5. Sunset at Anini Beach. (Kauai, Hawaii, USA)
6. Hearing the muezzins call to prayer from a cave overlooking the spectacular scenery.
7. Arriving in New York City for the first time ever. (New York City, USA)
8. Seeing The Treasury appearing through the rocks. (Petra, Jordan)
9. Parascending (The Seychelles)
10. Seeing a leopard in the wild. (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)