Kathmandu – Nepal – Information


OCTOBER 2019:



OVERVIEW:

We have just spent a month in Georgia.

We ended up in Tbilisi to catch a flight from there to Nepal …


PLEASE NOTE:

The currency in Nepal is the Nepalese Rupee (or the ‘NPR’). I will refer to them as N$s. At the time of writing, the wholesale exchange rates were:

US$1EU€1GB£1
N$115N$127N$147

Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.


GETTING THERE:

There are no direct flights from Georgia to Nepal.

TBILISI:

Getting to Tbilisi International Airport is easy and cheap. Public buses (#37 or #137) leave from the Bus Station in front of the Station Square Metro Station every 20-30 minutes. Take the escalator exit (not the stair exit). Walk out of the Metro Station and turn left. Look for a (more modern style) blue bus at the farthest end of the Bus Station. These buses wind through Rustaveli Avenue, Liberty Square, and Avlabari (to name a few) and pick up people from several set bus stops along the way. It picks up locals that are going to locations en route to the Airport. It can get full. IMHO, if you can get on a Metro it is easier to get on at Station Square. The bus is not full there, so you can put your luggage in the luggage area and get a seat nearby.Getting to Tbilisi Airport Map

A Metro Train to Station Square costs a flat rate GEL0.50 / US$0.17c from anywhere. The bus to the airport is the same price. If you don’t have a Metro Card, there is a ticketing machine on the bus that takes coins only (no change given). It takes the bus about 1 hour to drive the 15-ish km distance from Station Square to the Airport.

TBILISI AIRPORT / QATAR AIRLINES:

Tbilisi International Airport is modern and efficient. I was catching a night fight on Qatar Airlines with a stop-over in Doha. The flight left Tbilisi at 9:50pm. I found the flight on EXPEDIA. The one-way price was US$340. I used Qatar’s online web check-in facility … so, I already had my electronic boarding passes. I was given paper boarding passes at the check-in counter and a luggage receipt (I needed these later, read on). Check-in was fast and my flight to Doha left on time.

Doha International Airport is very modern and my connection to Kathmandu was easy and left on time at 2:50am. We landed in Kathmandu Airport at 10:30am local time. Please note that Nepal has a very weird timezone. You put your clocks forward 5 hours and 45 minutes from UTC time! If you have a World Digital Watch, like me, it was a bit painful 🙂

KATHMANDU AIRPORT:

You hear horror stories about the process in Kathmandu International Airport.Kathmandu City Map

The process is:

  1. Go to the suite of eVisa Kiosks on the right as you enter the Arrivals Hall. Queue. Here you will find Arrival Cards. Fill in your Arrival Card as you enter your Visa Requirement details into the Kiosk machine. You will need to know your hotel address in Kathmandu / Nepal;
  2. Most online blogs are now out of date. You DO NOT need to bring a 1.5 x 1.5 inch passport photo. The Kiosk machine takes your photo at the end of the eVisa process. The machine prints you a receipt;
  3. Go to the Bank / Visa Payment counters on the left of the Arrival Hall. Queue. Pay your eVisa Fee. A 30 day Visa is US$50. A 90 day is US$125. They take several different major currencies. I advise you to have cash. If you have to exchange money or use a credit card they will charge you a US$5 fee for the privilege. Get your Visa payment receipt;
  4. Go to the Immigration counters. Queue. If you have your Arrival Card, Visa Application Receipt, Visa Payment Receipt, and Passport you will get your Visa.

Once you have your Visa, turn left and go downstairs to Baggage Claim. By now, it has been so long that, your bags have probably been taken off of the carousel and put to the side somewhere. Locate them and go through Customs. Make sure that you still have your boarding pass with attached luggage receipt … Customs staff will check these against your luggage sticker on exit. It took me over 1.5 hours to complete this process.

GETTING MONEY / ATMs:

Most people need to get some money. I advise NOT to use the Money Exchanges at the airport; they provide poor rates of exchange. Exit Arrivals and turn right. You will find 2 ATMs about 50 metres away. When I was there, I was only able to use the Fast Cash option which dispensed a maximum of N$20,000 / US$175. The ATMs have an English option.

GETTING A MOBILE SIMCARD:

The 2 market leaders in Nepal are NTC and Ncell. Both have kiosks in the Arrivals Lounge. NTC has the best overall coverage in the country but Ncell is close behind. Prices are similar. The sign up process is complicated (see, below) and takes 15-30 minutes per person. There was a queue at the airport, so I decided to get my new SIMcard later in Thamel (see, below).

TAXI:

You can catch a public bus for peanuts but, there is no direct bus to the main Tourist Area of Thamel. To get to Thamel, you have to catch a bus to Ratna Park and walk from there (about 1-2 kms).

I was tired after the over-night flight so I decided to catch a taxi from the airport. You can use one of the airport controlled ‘fixed price’ taxis for about N$1,000 or you can walk outside and negotiate a better price with a metered taxi. I did the latter. I paid N$700 / US$6. Thamel is only 6-7 kms from the airport but, with the bad traffic, allow 30 minutes.

SUMMARY:

If you arrive informed and prepared, you shouldn’t have too much trouble … just allow for how long it all takes.


ABOUT:

Kathmandu is the capital and largest city of Nepal, with a population of around one million.Kathmandu Country Map

The Pahari name Kathmandu comes from the Kasthamandap temple that stood in Durbar Square. In Sanskrit, Kastha means “Wood” and Maṇḍapa means “Pavilion”.

Kathmandu, also known as the “City of Temples”, stands at an elevation of approximately 1,400 metres (4,600 feet) above sea level in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley in central Nepal. The city was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Nepal and hosts palaces, mansions, and gardens of the Nepalese aristocracy. Today, it is the seat of government of the Nepalese republic established in 2008.

Kathmandu has a Hindu and Buddhist majority. Religious and cultural festivities form a major part of the lives of its residents.Kathmandu - Panorama

Tourism is an important part of the economy; in 2013, Kathmandu was ranked third among the top ten upcoming travel destinations in the world by TripAdvisor … and ranked first in Asia.

Very few historical records exist for the period before medieval times. A statue, found in Maligaon, has been dated at 185 AD. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of ancient civilizations. The excavation of Dhando Chaitya uncovered a brick with an inscription in Brahmi script. Archaeologists believe it is two thousand years old.


PHOTO GALLERY:

The main tourist area is Thamel. Thamel is crowded and busy. As far as drivers are concerned, pedestrians are just another obstacle on the road. There are few footpaths. I advise you to walk on the right-hand side of the road so that you can see on-coming traffic … but the roads are chaotic, so this is no guarantee of your safety. That said, the Nepalese are pretty adept at avoiding humans.

Vehicles are restricted from entering the centre of Thamel … which results in some-sort-of ‘more pedestrian friendly’ area … but, you still need to watch out for yourself.

The centre of Thamel comes alive at night when all of the tourists come out to play.

SUMMARY:

Thamel reminds me of District 1 in Saigon, Vietnam. It is a lively ‘tourist hub’.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find in the Thamel Area at short notice in late October:

BOOKING.COM:

Kathmandu Booking 1 Kathmandu Booking 2

HOTELS.COM:

Kathmandu Hotels

PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS competes with BOOKING by selling their hotel allocations well in advance. They do so by offering discounts. At short notice, they tend to have few options left.

AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:

Kathmandu AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look). However, these types of accommodation options are not popular in Kathmandu / Nepal.

SUMMARY:

GRANDPAckers will easily find accommodation within our price range. Start looking months in advance to get the best prices on HOTELS. Look on BOOKING for last minute deals. Target a maximum of US$15 / night including Breakfast and US$10 / night without Breakfast.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I used GOIBIBO to book a Double Room in the Hotel Happy Home. The price was N$990 / US$9 per night for 7 nights. This price included Breakfast. I requested a room with a balcony – and got one.

The hotel is located in the south western part of Thamel.

SUMMARY:

It was excellent value for money in a great location.


WHERE TO STAY:

Most tourists come to Thamel for a good reason … outside of the Thamel area the streets can get very shoddy.Kathmandu - Surrounds - 1 Kathmandu - Surrounds - 2

Thamel, itself, is very small. You can walk end to end in 15 minutes (excluding traffic). Don’t worry about the exact location of your hotel within Thamel … just scour the reviews to make sure that you are happy with the property and that it is not located on a noisy street or next to a bar / disco.

SUGGESTION: The northern end of Thamel has the highest concentration of budget restaurants. If you plan to catch a bus to Pokhara, it is also nearer to the Pokhara Chitawon Bus Pickup location.Pokhara Chitawon Bus Pickup Map


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com

Hotels Logo Big


EAT & DRINK:

Most of the cuisines found in Kathmandu are non-vegetarian. However, the practice of vegetarianism is not uncommon, and vegetarian cuisines can be found throughout the city. Consumption of beef is very uncommon and considered taboo in many places. Buff (meat of water buffalo) is very common. Consumption of pork was considered taboo until a few decades ago. The chief lunch / snack for locals and visitors is mostly Momo or Chowmein.

The staple food of most people in Kathmandu is Dal Bhat. This consists of rice and lentil soup, generally served with a curry, a popadom, achar, and (usually) Yogurt and Chutney.

Momo, a type of dumpling, is also very popular with many street vendors and restaurants selling it. There are several variants including buffalo, chicken, and vegetable.

International chain restaurants are rare, but some outlets of Pizza Hut and KFC have recently opened.

Here is a typical mid-range menu:IMG_20191021_180829

PLEASE NOTE: In the corner shops, there are often Tourist Prices and Nepalese Prices. If you don’t know the latter, they will try and charge you the former. A typical example is a 1L bottle of water: Nepalese price N$20, Tourist Price N$40.

CHEAP EATS:

If you like Asian food, you can eat very cheaply. I love this type of food and I am thinking about going Vegetarian whilst I am here 🙂 I found myself comparing Vegetarian Dal Bhat in different restaurants 🙂

Sunflower N$295 (N$385 for a 650ml beer):Kathmandu - Sunflower - Vege Dal Bhat NPR295

VEG MO MO N$300 +10% enforced tip:Kathmandu - VEG MO MO - Vege Dal Bhat NPR300

SPIZE N$375:Kathmandu - Spize - Vege Dal Bhat NPR375

NEWA MOMO N$150:Kathmandu - Newa Momo - Vege Dal Bhat NRP150

MERO NEPALI N$300 +13.5% tax:Kathmandu - Mero Nepali - Veg Dal Bhat NPR340

Dal Bhat is usually ‘bottomless’ … You can get more rice and lentil soup free … just eat until you are full.

In summary: The Newa Momo was the cheapest, but the VEG MO MO was the best value for money. You can eat simply in a local restaurant for as little as N$150 / US$1.25. For N$350 / US$3 you can eat in a more western style restaurant and, usually, get a better meal.

DRINK:

Kathmandu has a larger proportion of tea drinkers than coffee drinkers. Tea is widely served but is extremely weak by western standards. It is richer and contains tea leaves boiled with milk, sugar and spices.

Alcohol is widely drunk, and there are numerous local variants of alcoholic beverages. Ailaa and thwon (alcohol made from rice) are the alcoholic beverages of Kathmandu and it is found in all of the local bhattis (alcohol serving eateries). The price should be about N$500 / litre. Chhyaang, tongba (fermented millet or barley), and rakshi are alcoholic beverages from other parts of Nepal which are found in Kathmandu.Kathmandu - Siddhidas Marg 1

Shops and bars in Kathmandu widely sell western and Nepali beers.

A local 650ml local bottled Namaste beer in a Thamel corner shop will cost about N$330. Get to the edge of Thamel and you can buy 3 for the price of 2 (N$220 each). Expect to pay N$400-N$500 in a cheap ‘typical’ cafe. You can find ‘Happy Hours’ for as low as N$299.

A 750ml bottle of local rum will set you back N$1,500. A 2.25L bottle of Coke / Pepsi costs N$320.

In summary: Western-style alcohol is relatively expensive in Nepal. If you want an alcoholic drink with your meal, the price more than doubles.


TRANSPORT:

A standard taxi between Thamel and the Airport costs N$600-N$900 depending on your negotiating skills.Kathmandu - Fighting Bulls on Street

SUGGESTION: If you are planning to bus out from Thamel to somewhere like Pokhara, you will pay premium prices in the Thamel Travel Agents. For example, they will quote N$1,000 for the standard tourist bus to Pokhara. Just walk to a Travel Agent at the Pokhara Chitawon Bus Stop and you will pay N$700 for the same.


MONEY:

There are plenty of Money Changers in the Thamel area.Kathmandu - Siddhidas Marg 2

You won’t find many banks, but there are plenty of ATMs.


INTERNET / WIFI:

Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range.

There are 3 main prepaid providers in Nepal: NTC, Ncell, and Smart Cell. The first 2 are recommended if you plan to get out into the countryside.

NCELL:

I walked into an ‘NTC Store’ in Thamel to buy an NTC 28 day Tourist SIM. He persuaded me to buy the 30 day Ncell Tourist SIM instead. 30 days suited me better anyway. He advised that Ncell was better because he could activate it immediately and I could walk out of the shop with a SIM, a Plan, and everything working. He told me that, if I bought an NTC SIM, I would have to wait upto 24 hours for the SIM to be activated and, then, return to the shop to buy and activate my Plan later.Kathmandu - Typical Street Temple

The Ncell price was N$250 (FANDOM said N$99) for the SIMcard and N$650 for a 30 day 3GB Plan (FANDOM said N$453). I paid significantly more than advised by FANDOM. In countries like Nepal, it is sometimes hard to know if you have been ripped off … and, you never really know if you are in an ‘official store’ or not 🙂

Anyway, the Plan included 60 SMSs and 40 minutes talk time. I was also left with a balance of N$38. I signed up during a Promotion period so I also got an additional 3GBs of 4G data, and 300MBs free for the first 3 days. Whether or not you can get a 4G signal depends on whether or nor the operating frequency of you smartphone is compatible with the network – I bought mine in Ecuador, I never managed to get a 4G signal.

To get the SIMcard I needed my passport (which they scanned) and a passport photo. The man in the store filled in the detailed application form for me. He, then, took my thumbprints to finalise the form. I guess that there is a very good reason for the service providers to protect you so stringently from SIMcard theft / fraud 🙂

I walked out of the store with a working phone and immediately downloaded the Ncell Nepal Mobile App. The App has an English option. With the App, you get easy access to your Plan status. You also get ‘App-only’ special offers and discounts. 


HEALTH & SAFETY:

In Central America and Eastern Europe I let my Travel Insurance lapse. I didn’t feel that I needed insurance when I was there. However, there was no way that I was going to tour Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka for 9 months without Travel Insurance! When you are ‘on the road’ there are very few Travel Insurance companies that will insure you (as most require you to start from your home country).Kathmandu - Siddhidas Marg 2

I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$565. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.

There is no need to feel unsafe here but, as usual, don’t make yourself an easy target.

There are a lot of smokers here (more so than you will find in Western Europe) – not a surprise when a pack of 20 costs as little as N$80. Smoking is common in bars and restaurants.


WHEN TO GO

Kathmandu Valley is in the Warm Temperate Zone where the climate is fairly temperate. Portions of the city with lower elevations have a humid subtropical climate, while portions of the city with higher elevations generally have a subtropical highland climate.Kathmandu Climate Chart

The city generally has a climate with warm days followed by cool nights and mornings. Rainfall is mostly monsoon-based (June to August).

The best time to come is October through April.


WHAT TO DO:

Kathmandu museums and art galleries include:

  • The National Museum;
  • The Natural History Museum;
  • Hanumandhoka Palace Complex;
  • The Kaiser Library;
  • The National Art Gallery;
  • The NEF-ART (Nepal Fine Art) Gallery;
  • The Nepal Art Council Gallery;
  • Narayanhity Palace Museum; and
  • The Taragaon Museum.

Kathmandu is home to seven world heritage sites:

  • The Stupas of Swayambhunath;
  • The Stupas of Baudhanath;
  • The Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka;
  • Patan (aka Lalipur);
  • Bhaktapur;
  • The temples of Pashupati; and
  • The temples of Changu Narayan.

Many historic areas of Kathmandu were severely damaged by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015. Some of the buildings have been restored and some are in the process of reconstruction.

SWAYAMBHU TEMPLE:

Swayambhu is a Buddhist stupa atop an hillock at the northwestern part of the city. This is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. Although the site is considered Buddhist, it is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus.

This is an easy 30 minute walk from central Thamel. Entry is N$200.

Allow 2 hours in the temple complex.

DURBAR SQUARE:

The literal meaning of Durbar Square is “place of palaces”. The complex has 50 temples and is distributed in two quadrangles. The outer quadrangle has the Kasthamandap, Kumari Ghar, and Shiva-Parvati Temple; the inner quadrangle has the Hanuman Dhoka palace. The squares were severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake.Kathmandu - Durbar Square - Pamphlet 1

Hanuman Dhoka is a complex of structures with the Royal Palace of the Malla kings and of the Shah dynasty. It is spread over five acres. The eastern wing, with ten courtyards, is the oldest part, dating to the mid-16th century. It was expanded by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century with many temples. The royal family lived in this palace until 1886 when they moved to Narayanhiti Palace.Kathmandu - Durbar Square - Pamphlet 2

Kumari Ghar is a palace next to Durbar Square where a Royal Kumari resides. Kumari, or Kumari Devi, is the tradition of worshipping young pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy or devi in South Asian countries. Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepali name for Durga) until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body.

Kasthamandap is a three-storeyed temple enshrining an image of Gorakhnath. It was built in the 16th century. It was built under the reign of King Laxmi Narsingha Malla. Kasthamandap stands at the intersection of two ancient trade routes linking India and Tibet. It was originally built as a rest house for travellers.

Most of Durbar Square is in ruins or under renovation. It is not the experience that it used to be. Entry for foreigners is a whopping N$1,000. Effectively, Foreigners are funding the restoration. You get a 1 day pass … but there isn’t much left that you can access or see. You can extend the 1-day pass to a multi-day pass for free, just go to the Site Office with a passport photo and your passport. If you don’t have your passport, they will give you one more (named) day free.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.

SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:

Kathmandu GRANDPAcking Costs

MY COSTS:

My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there;
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard. My accommodation was N$990 / US$9 per night.

I purchased an Ncell SIMcard for N$250 / US$2.25 and a 1 month Plan that included 3GB, some texts, and some local call time for N$650 / US$5.75. A total of N$900 / US$8.

I have allocated 7 days of my 30 day visa cost. At N$181 / US$1.50 per day, this totaled N$1,268 / US$12.

I spent an average of N$532 / US$5 per day on meals and water.

My COE worked out to be about N$1,603 / US$15 per day.

COST OF LIVING (COL):

I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard.

Living Costs: I averaged about N$568 / US$5 per night on drinks.

Entertainment: I spent N$1,200 / US$11 on entertainment.

Shopping: I spent N$855 / US$8 on shopping.

In / Out Costs:  I spent N$700 / US$6 on transport from the airport.

My total COL was about N$2,444 / US$22 per day. This was 45% of my daily budget.

COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).

COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

Accommodation: I have booked you into something short term (2 nights) at N$1,500 / US$14 per night including Breakfast. This will give you enough time to ask around and get a long-term rate. You should be able to get a long-term rate of N$1,100 / US$10 per night including Breakfast. Note that an equivalent Breakfast in a cheap restaurant will cost about N$250 / US$2.25 each … so getting Breakfast included is beneficial.

Transportation: I have budgeted a return bus trip on a local bus each week to somewhere within 50kms.

Communications & Fees: I have budgeted an Ncell SIMcard and 30 day Package. I have included your two 30-day visas.

Food & Water: Your budget averages about N$1,320 / US$12 per day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants. This includes sharing one 650ml local beer at Dinner time. This includes water purchased in 5 Gallon bottles.

Your COE is about N$2,799 / US$26 per day. This is 51% of your daily budget.

COST OF LIVING (COL):

This leaves you about N$2,677 / US$25 per day to LIVE on. This should be plenty … depending on your drinking habits 🙂


CONCLUSION:

Kathmandu is a popular ‘Digital Nomad’ location … at these costs, it is easy to see why.

GRANDPAckers who enjoy city living could easily find themselves enjoying what Thamel has to offer.


RETIREMENT:

Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES.

TTFN


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