I’ve visited Nepal in June because I attended a PATA (Pacific Travel Association) conference, which goal was to gather travel journalists, correspondents and bloggers in one place and present them all the opportunities offered by this country, so that they could spread this info and inspire tourists to visit Nepal. However, this symposium went a lot deeper. After the earthquakes in 2015, when the capital city of Nepal – Katmandu – and its vicinity were almost entirely leveled to the ground, this country has been struggling not only with rebuilding everything but also with abrupt loss of tourists, who, due to this tragedy, no longer considered Nepal as an attractive place to visit, simply in fear of their own health and lives.
Luckily, since 2015 there have been no earthquake shakes of such power but the truth is brutal – after three years the capital city still looks like a ramshackle shambles. Everywhere there are reconstruction works, rebuilding, the streets are still full of debris and a beautiful and valuable architectonic legacy of temples and palaces is merely reminiscence.
Of course, the Nepalese are trying to rebuild everything but it’s not very effective, because they simply lack of means (the cash injections, sent by other countries are almost empty, because corruption is a huge problem in this country), because of low-technology solutions (I’ve often seen Nepalese working at construction side, manually forming bricks of clay, which was worked with their bare feet) and of poor management.
Nepal struggles with lots of socio-economic problems but it does not change the fact that this country is full of incredibly helpful and warm people, always smiling widely. And as it too often is the case, the average people have little influence on their rulers and just strive to cope with everyday life in a ruined city, loss of the relatives, livelihood or property. What stroke me most and played upon my heartstrings during my stay in Nepal was their attitude towards life and their fate. In private discussions the Nepalese never expressed grief nor grudge, grievance or gall (and those are absolutely understandable emotions of a person who was struck with such unimaginable tragedy). Many of those, with whom I’ve talked, lost their family members and friends in the earthquake but their eyes are full of hope, faith and hope for better future and tremendous determination to live a full life with smile upon their faces. For me, it was a lesson of humility, maturity and another proof that we, human beings, are able to bear and endure much more than we might think and that will to live is an extremely powerful thing.
The places we visit don’t always offer us simple advantages of admiring the architecture, wildlife or savoring local food. Sometimes travels teach us and allow the world to open our eyes again, verify our approach to reality and bring the faith in people back into our minds.
My journey to Nepal was such an experience to me.
My journey to Nepal was such an experience to me.
Although the beautiful architecture is almost completely gone, Nepal was given so much gifts from Mother Nature (ironically, because she has deprived them of so much). Nepal, situated between India and Bhtuan, is the Himalaya outpost, a real diamond in crown of natural wonders and it really can take your breath away with its landscapes.
My plans for the first week of my stay included rafting and leaving the crowded capital city, while after the symposium I decided to explore Nepal on my own and have a better look at the everyday life of its citizens.
Katmandu and Nepal are generally not the easiest place to travel. There are a lot of cultural and social aspects you should be prepared for beforehand; otherwise you might be shocked when you come to that place (read about things you should know about before coming to Nepal). One of them are for sure freakish, unimaginable traffic jams. They are mostly a result of lack of traffic organization, chaos and what I’ve written before – continuous reconstructions and rebuilding. The sign “road is under construction” can be seen almost anywhere and rings in your head like a mantra.
So, you have to face an issue – how to manage moving around in these conditions and to derive as much positive aspects of your trip to Nepal as you can. All is the matter of choosing the right mean of transportation. Well, there is not much to choose from. There are coaches, running between the cities but it takes the whole eternity, because it is the slowest mean of transportation, which often gets stuck in mountain turns and breaks down even more often. You can try a car with hired driver or a paid trip. The advantage of this option is that you have air-conditioning and you don’t have to worry about transportation anymore, because the driver would take from point A to point B. And it’s most convenient for sure.
There is also another solution – motorcycle. Of course not for everyone, because some simply hate it or can’t drive it but for me motorcycle beats any other mean of transport in Nepal.
How is it to motorcycle in Nepal?
I won’t even try to conceal the truth. It’s damn hard – traffic jams, pollution, lack of roads and absolutely insane traffic with no rules or regulations. Nevertheless, in my opinion it’s still the best way, because in a car you are stuck in traffic jams for eternity. And couches? Don’t even get me started. Only a motorcycle is able to squeeze between other vehicles, overtake them and then speed up. And you can park it anywhere.
In such conditions, this seems to me as the only vehicle that gives you the freedom, lets you feel the exceptional Nepalese spaces and allows you to freely admire the landscapes (of course when you leave the traffic jams behind your rear wheel).
My friend, Alex Chacón, with whom I’ve drove around Nepal and who is a super-experienced driver summed it up in one sentence: Nepal is not the best place to learn how to ride a motorcycle, if it’s not one of the worst for this purpose.
Well, it’s hard to disagree, because you really have to be a skilled driver to drive on Nepalese roads and escape unharmed the street fight for survival.
The ride is full of challenges, potholes and dust. Sometimes a cow barges in on the road (which, as you shall know, is a sacred animal in Buddhist countries, so it should not have even a one hair on its snout harmed) or another motorcycle jumps out of nowhere (why they always appear out of nowhere?!). But in the same time it’s so much fun and if you love adventures, this is definitely one of the best you can get.
Depending on motorcycle and the motor size, the prices vary from 600 to 2500 Rs. (8-35 USD) daily. The most common motorcycles are Pulsars (180/220 cc) and Royal Enfields (350 cc). If you rent a motorcycle for longer than a week you should definitely count on a discount. The average rent prices are as follows: 110-125 cm3 (scooter) = Rs. 600 150 cc (Pulsar) = Rs. 700 180 cc (Pulsar) = Rs. 800 220 cc (Pulsar) = Rs. 1000 350 cc (Enfield) = Rs. 2500
Where to rent?
The rent-a-bike might seem a little neglected from outside, so you should definitely sniff around to find the best one. Look for the motorcycles, which are maintained well and cared for and you absolutely have to request a test drive if you want to rent it for a longer period. I’ve rented a motorcycle at Rental Brothers and there were no problems with it whatsoever.
What documents you should have
Passport with Nepalese visa or 2000 USD of a cash deposit. And an international driver’s license.
The motorcycle renting companies do not provide any insurance. If you meet with an accident, you are responsible to pay for the charges and cover the costs. So you definitely have to obtain a good insurance!
Around Katmandu valley and along any main highway there are gas stations. The current price of gas is ca. 110 Rs. /liter.
What you should remember
You should definitely wear a helmet and a protective mask, because the amount of dust and car exhausts in the air is so high that it’s hard to breathe. You should also think about sunglasses or goggles, because they protect your eyes from the dust as well.
One-day trips around Katmandu
Katmandu and the attractions in the vicinity are perfect for short, one-day excursions. Take a look at my list of places, which are worth visiting while in capital city of Nepal.
Tibetan Kopan Monastery
The Tibetan Kopan Monastery is situated near Boudhanath in outskirts of Katmandu. It’s really hard to get there, the rocky and bumpy road winds uphill, so prepare yourselves – it will be a shaky one. But it’s worth to go through it, because this place is indeed remarkable.
The name of the monastery comes from the name of the hill, on which it was built. Kopan comprises of two separate buildings: the monastery at the top of the Kopan Hill and the nearby Nunnery monastery at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling (usually called Kopan monastery). It was founded in 1979 by Llama Yeshe, in order to assure the spiritual and practical education, modeled after the life of Tibetan monks.
But what is most interesting, this place is famous of Buddhist courses anyone can enroll for. They are a way of spiritual renewal. During these courses you would live in the monastery, take part in the classes on Buddhism and meditate. Many people also take a vow of silence for the courses, so the monastery is usually enveloped in almost complete silence, which is occasionally interrupted with birdsong or whistling wind. This place is magical and seems perfect if you need peace, a place to thing your problems through or separate from the outside world.
This village, 32 km east of Katmandu, is situated 2195 meters above sea level. It is considered one of the most picturesque sights in the area. All of that thanks to a beautiful view on Himalaya Mountains during dawn, including Mount Everest and other East Nepal mountain peaks, covered in snow. It’s a very good place to admire the Langtang massif. In the west the view envelopes Dhaulagiri and stretches as far as to Kanchenjunga in the east. On a clear day you can see Mount Everest (Sagarmatha, 8848m), Manaslu (8463m), Ganesh Himal (7111m) and Langtang (7246m). Most of the visitors come to Nagarkot in the afternoon, stay at the hotel and jump out of the beds at dawn, just to see the famous sunrise over Himalaya.
The trip to Nagarkot in period between October and March guarantees marvelous view but July-September period is a time of monsoons, what impacts the field of vision. During my stay, at the beginning of June, the monsoon season was slowly developing (I know, earlier than usual) and the sky was covered with clouds and once a day it rained heavily. So, I haven’t seen the famous view of Himalayas. However, the trip itself, with green hills, passing small villages and beautiful panoramic spaces, made this day one of the most pleasant in Nepal.
Patan is a medium-sized town, in direct vicinity of Katmandu, separated from it with a river. Because of the unique, traditional architecture, the Durbar Square (the main square of the city) and around 800 stupas and temples, hidden in narrow streets of the oldest part of the city, Patan is definitely obligatory to see and in my opinion it is a really magical place with breathtaking buildings.
This is another obligatory point on my “must see” list. Bhaktapur is a small city, which thrived in 12th century and a former capital city of Nepal. It is situated in the Katmandu Valley, 12 kilometers from the capital city This city is crowded with tourists because of its unique climate, marvelous traditional architecture and numerous temples, Royal Palace, Durbar Square and workshops, in which you can get a glimpse of Nepalese work (I sat an hour in one workshop, watching one of them paint paintings in an extremely detailed Tibetan technique – amazing!).
But you have to remember that after the earthquake many buildings collapsed or are heavily damages and everywhere there are reconstruction works, buildings are supported with stakes and streets are filled with debris. It does not change the fact that this place is very interesting and it’s abuzz with activity, there are lots of craft dealers and you can feel the climate of Nepalese streets.
Monkey Temple Swyambhu
The Swyambhu Temple is usually called by the tourists a “Monkey Temple” (because of the monkeys that live there but – to be honest with you – I saw only one). It is situated in the north-western part of the Katmandu Valley. Being founded on a top of a hill, it grants a great view on the valley. A very impressive golden stupa is one of the oldest in Nepal and „Swayambhu” literally means “existing on its own”. According to a transcript, it was built by king Manadeva and till the 13th century it was a very important Buddhist center.
You can reach it by motorcycle. At the foot of the hill there is a small parking lot but to get to the top you have to climb stone stairs.
Let me know, if you’ve been to Nepal or you are planning trip there and what are your favorite places there, we should definitely widen this list! :)
Till next time, travelers!