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Trip Report Kathie Returns to Katmandu 2008

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I was last in Nepal in 1994. My memories of that trip are a study in contrasts: the amazing amalgam of Hinduism and Buddhism, the worst quality tap water in the world, the sense of time travel it invokes from medieval Baktapur to the heyday of hippiedom in Thamel, the smiling, open welcome of the Nepalese people, the sad observations of one of the poorest countries in the world. I found Nepal endlessly fascinating... the experience both dense and intense.

Nepal has been through a lot since my last visit: the massacre of the royal family by the Crown Prince in 2000, the crowning of the unpopular brother of the dead king, the Maoist insurgency that killed so many and terrorized so many more, the truce between the government and the insurgents that led to an election and deposed the reviled king. As stability has returned to Nepal, travelers are returning to this fascinating country. Nepal’s economy has always counted on the influx of travelers, and the long spell of travelers staying away during the political chaos meant increased hardship for the Nepalese people. I looked forward to a new experience of Nepal, of having the opportunity to see how Nepal has changed over those tumultuous 14 years since my last visit.

Recommended reading: Before I went to Nepal for the first time I read “Shopping for Buddhas” by Jeff Greenwald. It’s a classic travel book and gives a “slice of life” of Kathmandu in the late 1980s as well as a story of attachment and learning non-attachment, a Buddhist precept. I bought the book for Cheryl to read before we went and she really enjoyed it, and I also re-read it. If you are headed to Nepal, I highly recommend it. The best guidebook I found for Nepal is the Lonely Planet guide.

Practicalities of Arrival and Departure: We flew into Kathmandu from Bangkok on Thai Air. We were fortunate to get the last pair of Business Class seats on the right side of the plane, so we were able to see the Himalayas as we neared Kathmandu. Upon departure, ask for seats on the left side of the plane for the mountain view. The flight was full, and apparently regularly runs full. Thai Air will soon add an additional flight three days a week.

The Kathmandu airport has no jetways, so you descend the steps to the tarmac and walk to the terminal. We opted to get visas on arrival, facilitated by having downloaded the visa application form from the web. If you do so, make sure you find the current form, as the first half dozen or so google entries were for a defunct form. You can tell the current form by the visa options, as Nepal has added the option of a 15 day visa for US$25. Our completed visa forms, a passport photo and $25 each got us a Nepal visa. The line was not long and the formalities were relatively quick.

There is a departure tax of 1695 rupees per person, which must be paid in the local currency. As you make your way through passport control and various security checks, there are two times when you will be patted down. There are separate lines at some security checks for men and women, but there are always women security guard to perform the pat downs of female travelers and male security guards to do the pat downs of male travelers.

We had chosen to stay at the Hyatt, and knew they would have someone there to meet us. We received many offers of taxis, but when we said the Hyatt was meeting us, a couple of the touts pointed us to the Hyatt van in the parking lot. We took money out of an ATM on the outside of the airport and were ready for Kathmandu.

Hotel: We chose the Hyatt as an oasis in the chaos of Kathmandu Valley. It has received great reviews from many travelers and it has the advantage of being walking distance from Boudnath, the largest Tibetan Buddhist Stupa in Nepal, and Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu site in Nepal and the site of the cremation ghats.

The hotel has large grounds, beautifully landscaped with nice patios and terraces, a large swimming pool and a smaller one plus a whirlpool. We opted for a deluxe room on the Club floor. The room was spacious with a seating area and a desk. Club privileges included daily breakfast either in the club or at the vast buffet in the café, nightly canapés and cocktails, round trip airport transfers and free access to the spa facilities – steam, sauna and Jacuzzi. There is free use of a computer in the Club Lounge. If you have your own laptop, there is a charge for wi-fi. The connection is rather slow.

The food at the Hyatt was excellent. We happened to be there during “Jazzmandu” and went to a fabulous Jazz brunch – great food, live jazz.

I was surprised to note how many people we met were on a group tour. In the morning, we would often see luggage lined up in the lobby and a bus waiting out front. Twice during our stay large groups of Germans checked in en masse to the Regency Club. They were loud and boisterous and, frankly, a pain in the ass. We made a quick visit to the Yak and Yeti and they also had many tour groups staying there. Several guides or drivers were surprised to hear that we were traveling independently.

High season rates for two persons range from $150 per night for a regular twin/king to $200 for a Regency Club Deluxe King (about 30% larger than a regular room).

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