Kathmandu, Nepal - Stein Travel
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Kathmandu

Presided over by snow-covered mountains, the Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by verdant agricultural hills scattered with traditional villages and brick houses, rich in ancient holy temples and shrines used by both Buddhists and Hindu worshippers reflecting a great wealth of culture and tradition. Most of Nepal's ethnic groups are represented in the Valley, particularly in Kathmandu itself, but it is the Newars who are the original inhabitants responsible for development and the splendid art and architecture in the cities.

The Valley is the cultural, political and commercial centre of Nepal and encompasses three cities: Kathmandu the capital; Patan, which has been enveloped by the growing Kathmandu outskirts; and the medieval city of Bhaktapur. For the unprepared visitor, the capital city of Kathmandu can trigger a sensory overload - it is a heaving city of both intriguing and unpleasant smells, incessant noise and pollution, and sights that etch themselves on the memory. Cows wander the streets of the old city, stepping between steaming piles of rubbish and hooting taxis, and narrow alleyways overflow with spices, vegetables and handicraft shops. Throngs of people thread their way along bustling cobblestone streets lined with structures from an ancient architectural heritage, which lead onto open squares surrounded by temples of all shapes and sizes. The largest city in Nepal and the nation's historical centre, Kathmandu throws together a blend of the country's varied population and boasts a distinctive, age-old religious influence visible in the daily life of its inhabitants.

Fascinating as this city is however, many people choose to stay outside Kathmandu in one of the Valley towns or mountain resorts and restrict their visit to day trips; or they base themselves in the tourist-orientated Thamel district of the city that offers modern bakeries, smart hotels and upmarket restaurants, along with pushy handicraft and cannabis sellers.

Information & Facts

Climate

The Kathmandu Valley has a mild climate most of the year, situated at an altitude of 4, 297 feet (1, 310m). Summer temperatures range from 67-81°F (19-27°C), and in winter temperatures are between 36 and 68°F (2-20°C). During the rainy monsoon season between June and August, there is an average rainfall of between 7.8-14.7 inches (20-37cm) in Kathmandu. May and June can be very hot and humid until the monsoon rains bring relief. In spring (March to April) and autumn (October to November) the temperatures are pleasant with occasional short bursts of rain, while November to February are dry, but can be very cold, especially at night.

Getting Around

The public bus system in Kathmandu is perhaps best not attempted, unless by the seasoned traveller, as buses tend to be crowded and unreliable, leaving only when buses are full to bursting. Taxis are available and are usually found outside hotels and shopping centres. Passengers should ensure the meter is switched on, although fixed prices can be negotiated for sightseeing. Auto rickshaws ( tempos) are a good option and usually operate on fixed routes, while pedal rickshaws are best used only for short trips. Bicycles and motorcycles can be hired, but pollution and heavy traffic make this a less preferential option. Bicycle theft is also common. Self-drive car hire is not available and cars come with a driver, but this is usually an expensive option and traffic is invariably heavy, making it slow going. It is perhaps best to negotiate the city on foot.

Language

Nepali is the official language. English is spoken in all major tourist areas.

Money

The official currency is the Nepali Rupee (NPR), which is divided into 100 paisa. As change can be a problem it is recommended that visitors have a supply of small notes handy. Tourist activities are often quoted in US Dollars and it is advisable to carry new dollar bills in varied denominations. Both Euro and US dollar travellers cheques are widely accepted in tourist areas and can be cashed easily in most banks and major hotels throughout the country. There are ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards are accepted in many tourist hotels, shops, restaurants and travel agencies. Banks and moneychangers are present in all tourist places and in the major cities; all receipts from foreign exchange transactions should be kept so rupees can be exchanged back into foreign currencies on departure. Cash is needed when trekking.

Night Life

Most of the nightlife in Kathmandu is based in Thamel and on Freak Street, and there are also quite a few bars to be found near Pulchowk in Patan. Music is not allowed to be played after 10pm but many bars and clubs stay open till later than this. There is nightlife information in the Kathmandu Post and The Himalayan Times. Popular bars in Kathmandu include Tom & Jerry's Bar and the Tamas Spa Lounge in Thamel, and the Absolute Bar in Patan. Tongue and Tales as well as Celtic Menang also have glowing reputations. Underground Bar in Thamel, and the Galaxy Discotheque in Hotel Everest, are Kathmandu's most trendy club venues. Nightclubs in Kathmandu generally have a cover charge. Live music can be heard at the Reggae Bar and G's Terrace, while New Orleans Café is good for jazz. Popular casinos include Casino Nepal at the Soaltee Crowne Plaza Hotel, as well as casinos at Yak & Yeti, Hotel de l'Annapurna and Everest Hotel. For movies, try the Kathmandu Mini Vision in the Kathmandu Plaza.

Shopping

Shopping in Kathmandu offers a variety of goods ranging from authentic local handicrafts to religious souvenirs. In Kathmandu, there are shops in the Patan and Bhaktapur areas that trade in bronze and copper goods such as Buddha idols, while Pokhara is good for Gorkha insignia banners, flags and medals, as well as Newari artefacts such as wooden statues and figurines. There are also many shops in Kathmandu selling hand-woven cotton fabric and clothing. Nepalese souvenirs include Tibetan carpets, thangkas and paubhas (scroll paintings), Terai baskets and traditional rice paper. Kashmiri shawls, Tibetan robes and embroidered kaftans are also very popular, and there is a lot of religious paraphernalia for sale at Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. However, the most sought-after treasures are the rare lime-green tourmaline gems.

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