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In our case, “other stuff” essentially means Kathmandu, to prepare for our Gokyo Lakes trek and again afterward to soak up the heat and food binge, and Bhaktapur, to unwind for a day or two before our flight out of the country. This has been our pattern since the beginning and we’ve seen little cause to deviate.
First off, even though Kathmandu is very famous and sounds really exotic and everything, make no mistake, it’s a pretty rough place. The air pollution is horrendous, and it gets worse every time we return. Traffic is absurd to the point that the 15 km journey out to Bhaktapur – basically a suburb – takes around an hour. Everything in Kathmandu feels chaotic, dirty and loud. There is also a ton of history, vivid crowds and fascinating street life. And way, way too many smells.
However, what Kathmandu does really well, and the backpacker area of Thamel specifically, is provide everything you need before and after your trek. In the 48 hours we had between arrival and embarking on our epically awful jeep journey to Phaplu we easily managed to check everything off our list:
Logistics (private jeep/meet porter/flight tickets)
Purchases (guidebook/long underwear/big mitts/fleece pants/fleece jacket/trekking poles)
Money (7 different ATM withdrawals to stock up enough cash for the trek/small bills from the bank)
Rentals (thick, warm 4-season sleeping bags)
Snacks (Snickers/Bounty/peanut butter/nuts/M&Ms)
Essentials (Kleenex/toilet paper/padlock/Diamox/throat lozenges/wet wipes/cold pills)
Plus, we went for pizza, pasta and Thai food in anticipation of 3 weeks of fried noodles/rice, charged up our phones and e-readers and downloaded some Netflix shows for those cold, dark afternoons.
Then, when we got back, we a) showered profusely, b) caught up on internet happenings and c) ate, ate and ate some more. We took a short trip to Pashupatinath to see people engaging in the sacred ritual of burning their deceased before unceremoniously sweeping the remains into the river. Then we hightailed it to Bhaktapur.
Bhaktapur is a classic, old city full of picturesque temples, ancient squares and sacred architecture where time stands still, unfortunately, not always in the best way. When we visited Bhaktapur a few months after the big earthquake of 2015, the damage was startling. Huge piles of rubble, buildings reduced to stacks of bricks, walls precariously propped up by wooden beams. It was sad to see. But at least we knew that, of all the tourist attractions in Nepal, Bhaktapur was in the best position to repair and restore to its former glory, thanks to the $US10 entrance fee they charge just to visit their ancient Durbar Square (a UNESCO Heritage Site), an amount that has since increased to $US15, and could reasonably be considered exorbitant relative to other attractions in Nepal.
Yet, when we arrived we were shocked to find many of the same piles of rubble sitting unchanged from our last visit. The same UNESCO heritage walls held up by the same 8×8 beams. The same stacks of bricks, untouched. The only noticeable changes that we could see were the gaudy strings of Christmas lights adorning many of the restaurants and at least twice as many motorbikes defiling the “vehicle-free zone” that has always been Bhaktapur’s most enticing feature. In the 4 years since Bhaktapur was ravaged by the earthquake millions of tourist dollars have flowed in – which I assume means there are some local politicians with some pretty pimped out vacation homes around there somewhere… Nonetheless, Bhaktapur is still the kind of place where we can spend hours wandering aimlessly, endlessly fascinated by the sights, sounds and livestock.
And there you have it, another great visit in the books. Thanks for an unforgettable trek, Nepal, see you when we see you.
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