A week ago I was going from shop to shop in the Thamel district of Kathmandu trying to find a good deal on a North Face knock-off sleeveless vest. The fact that I was wearing a genuine North Face soft-shell jacket didn’t seem to prevent me from getting a good deal! That’s right, I was in Nepal. After watching The North Face’s recent ad campaign where they state, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” I was inspired, and a long weekend to celebrate the UAE National day was all the encouragement I needed. I was lucky, again, to join Escape Travels on this short adventure to Kathmandu and Nagarkot in Nepal. It was a great start to the winter holiday season.
As Thanksgiving was beginning in the United States, I was enjoying an interesting buffet at the Rotana hotel here in Al Ain with one of my friends. Interesting because it is the first time I’ve had Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie and with sushi. But it was lovely, and nice to be able to celebrate not only Thanksgiving but also a five day weekend. Yes, five days!
On Wednesday, 27 November, it was announced that Dubai had been selected as the site for Expo 2020. Shortly after the announcement, the Sheikh announced that all schools would be closed in celebration of the selection and that gave us teachers, students and administration a five-day weekend. Five days because Sunday and Monday were already decided as holidays to celebrate UAE National Day which occurs on 2 December. So, on 29 November, I boarded a plane direct to Kathmandu.
After arriving, and being greeted with a garland of marigolds, we were taken to our hotel in Thamel, Holy Himalaya Hotel. That evening the entire Escape Travels group, just shy of 60 people, boarded two person rickshaws and headed out for dinner. We were quite the sight. Rumor has it, we even made the local paper due to the sheer number of rickshaws.
After a good dinner and a chance to get to know some of my fellow travelers we returned by foot to the hotel, where I had a good night’s rest in preparation for my religious sites tour the following day.
Saturday morning we toured two major religious sites in Kathmandu, first a Hindu site then a Buddhist. The first sight was Pashupatinath Temple and the holy river, where we saw traditional death rituals. The rituals include burning the dead along the bank of the river then disposing of the ashes into the river and returning a year later to pray and provide offerings.
After Pashupatinath we walked through some old temples and religious sites nearby, then headed to our next stop Boudhanath Stupa. This is the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal and it is beautiful. We walked around the stupa and learned about some of the history. It is a beautiful place. We enjoyed lunch on a rooftop overlooking the stupa, and even got our first views of the Himalayas.
After lunch we did some sightseeing in Kathmandu’s old royal palace area known as Durbar Square. My favorite part of Durbar Square was seeing the local people selling fruit and veg on the street. Not in booths, but on tarps on the side of the street. Just regular life happening in the middle of a very busy city. After this bit of sightseeing we did some shopping, and I did get my down vest, in hot pink.
The next morning, we set off for Nagarkot and the best (most complete) view of the Himalayas. We stopped in Nepal’s two other royal cities, Patan and Bhaktapur and did some more sightseeing. That night the group enjoyed a nice dinner, a birthday celebration and some great live music by one of the group organizers. And of course, some star gazing from the top of the roof!
A wake-up call at 5:45am pulled me out of my warm bed into a very chilly morning. But dang, it was worth it. To watch the sun rise onto the mountains was amazing. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The sky and mountains changed colors so frequently, it was mesmerizing. I think I took nearly 100 photos in about 45 minutes, and not one can really do justice to what I saw.
After a breakfast to warm up, we were off again, to hike down from our hotel through the town of Nagarkot and its surrounds. It was beautiful as well. At nearly every turn there was an amazing view of the mountains. The Nepalese people we met along the way were kind, greeting us with “namaste” and willing to pose for photographs. After our hike we visited the local school, which after seeing 50 students in one classroom, I vowed to never complain about class size again!
Visiting Nepal even for this short time was wonderful. A seed has been planted, I hope to return someday to do some real trekking in those amazing mountains!