A Girl's Guide to Nepal
april 9, 2020
Maybe it’s the intense increase in elevation… but I swear my soul felt buoyant in Nepal. I have an inkling it had more to do with the palpable energy and history of this sacred land than the 2000 feet between me and sea level. I only had 4 days in this fascinating country, of which I’ve dreamt about for years. With my work trip to India in mid-January, the timing was perfect to make the surreal ice-topped mountains of my slumbers swirl into reality. This little taste of the nation was steeped in activities centered in health and mindfulness. My friend Brian and I split up activity and booking responsibilities. I was elated with his choice of staying at Hotel Mulberry upon our arrival in Kathmandu, which featured stunning views of the city and a rooftop infinity pool. We were tickled with a complimentary upgrade to the Executive Suite.
We arrived late, around 10pm on a Friday, but we still had an itch to get our first glimpse of Kathmandu, so we bundled up and went out in search for Momos, Nepalese dumplings. We found ourselves seated atop floor cushions in a rooftop pub overlooking the busy Friday night foot traffic three floors below. The bar, aptly named the Fat Monk, featured an acoustic musician, who serenaded us with a mix of Nepalese and American classics as we washed down our Momos with Everest beer.
The next morning we were up bright and early for a delicious breakfast spread at Hotel Mulberry, then we went out to explore Kathmandu by day. We started in the serene Garden of Dreams where we spent some leisurely moments watching chipmunks and dipping into new purchases from Tibet Book Store.
From there we wandered to Ason Bazaar, where we perused the delightfully colorful stalls selling everything from fresh fruit, to sparkly shoes, knock off American brands, bushels of wool, copper pots, roasting meat, and more - truly a sensory explosion.
Here we also met Raj, a young artist who offered to show us around the city. He seemed friendly and harmless as he led us to a temple and guided us through a traditional blessing ritual, which involved rotating a candle 7 times in front of our chest, wiping red chalk on our foreheads, and sprinkling golden-orange flowers on our crowns. Afterwards, he beckoned us to follow as he led the way to other notable temples, giving us cultural and historical references along the way. I was especially pleased with the tantric carvings he pointed out on the back of one temple, which I would have unknowingly missed otherwise.
From there he led us to his art school, where we were uncomfortably pressured into buying some art. Apparently this is a common scam for locals to prey on tourists - they play tour guide, and then insist on selling local art featuring Hindu deities or mystic mandalas. All in all, it’s the best kind of scam I’ve ever fallen prey for in my travels. I trotted back to the hotel with a small painting of the Goddess Tara, which is now hung in my living room in Los Angeles.
After a busy week of work in India and tired legs from the morning wandering Kathmandu, we decided some relaxation and rejuvenation was in order! Brian and I both booked spa treatments at our hotel and spent the rest of the day in bliss. I was especially pleased with the affordability of the traditional ayurvedic treatments. We both had massages and I also got a facial and a mani/pedi -the total for both of us was under $100!
That evening was Chinese New Year, so we found a hot pot restaurant to ring in the year of the Rat. We read our fortunes over steaming bowls of spicy veggies and fish, dreaming about lunar phases to come over a starry Nepalese night. We went to bed early, for a big adventure to come in the morning.
On Sunday we packed our bags and headed to the ancient temple city of Bhaktapur. About 1 hour from Kathmandu, we were transported to the “city of devotees”. This village is known for its beautifully preserved and restored palace, temples, and old city center. The sight of ornate wood carvings, metal sculptures, and sweeping eastern architecture is something out of a story book. Incredibly, you can even climb on and enter some of the temples, which makes them feel that much more magical. We wandered about the city and purchased some souvenirs, including a tantra book, singing bowls, and metal figurines. Then we had a light lunch of momos with lemon and ginger tea before we continued our journey to Dhulikhel.
Dhulikhel is a mountain village with expansive views of the Himalayas, 2 hours outside Kathmandu. I chose this village particularly for Dwarika’s Resort. This wellness compound features yoga, meditation, art classes, breathwork, ayurvedic consultations, crystal healing, and a Himalayan salt room - all included in your stay! Not to mention the incredible infinity pool, hot tub, and sauna. It was one of the most unique hotel experiences I’ve ever had - truly incomparable. I think we both could have really benefited from a week to zen out at Dwarika, but unfortunately we only had one night. We made the best of it, cramming our days with the extracurriculars, noshing on the holistic foods offered at the three restaurants on site, and even soaking in the hot tub until the very last second when our driver arrived to take us back to Kathmandu.
On our last night in Nepal, we decided to return to old faithful: The Fat Monk. We indulged in our last bit of momos and more Everest beer as we lamented the end of the trip. The next morning I got up early and hiked the Monkey Temple, aka Swayambhu Stupa. This religious site, dating back to 460 A.D., sits atop a hill overlooking the city and is populated by friendly stray dogs, very insistent street vendors, and a ton of indifferent monkeys. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by Durbar square, the old city center with more gilded temples. Even in the early morning, it was a bit more touristy than my preferred Ason Bazaar.
When I got back to the hotel, I joined Brian for a quick breakfast before I hurriedly packed my suitcase and jaunted into a cab headed to the International Airport. It was absurd for me to feel sad leaving when the next leg of my travels would take me to Thailand, Singapore, and then one of my favorite places on Earth, South Africa, but somehow I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to Nepal. So I’ll see her again soon - and next time I’m making it my mission to complete a serious trek, go on a tiger safari, and spend some time giving back to this soulful sliver of the universe.