My travel diaries in Nepal
Written on Nov. 18, 2017 (night) :
The online procedure leading to obtain a landing visa at the Kathmandu airport (TIA) actually works and with HKSAR passport it’s free….
The site is http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa. The first advantage of this online application is that you don’t need to surrender a real photo but you just need to submit an electronic one (jpg etc.). But I did need to fight a bit with the online form before I figured out what I should state and got rid of all the errors.
Though their instruction indicates that you’d get an email after the online process completes, I never got that email even after two trials — just like many people have stated online. Instead, you just need to save/print the page appeared after the process was complete, which contained your graphical photo and submission ID etc.
In principle, there is a visa fee except for a small no. of countries. Because of the Chinese connection, HKSAR passport holders can get free visa. ( Actually, today I can’t use my US passport anyway as it’s going to be expired in less than 6 months. …Yeah , I have been a US citizen for almost 10 years !! )
If you haven’t applied something online nor gone to a consulate to get a visa, you have to wait in line to use some machines (or fill in by hand) and then you have to line up to pay, which may all be time-consuming. The Chinese girl in https://m.mafengwo.cn/i/6598298.html?static_url=true describes her Nepalese trip in extreme details including the immigration process at TIA. I went to the left-most counters (V1& V2) as the Chinese girl told us to do. These two counters are for passport holders who don’t need to pay for visa — there was a sign ~ “Gratis visa”. Almost nobody was in these two counters.
The online instructions say that we need to print a copy of the passport but the immigration officer didn’t want to take it. He just wanted that online printout with my passport. He gave me a month’s stay at the end. Checking the fees, the landing visa for 15 days is US$25 and US$40 for 30 days. Since it’s free with my HKSAR passport, I don’t care whether he gave me 30 days or 15 days. 🙂
So, this choice of online application beforehand with HKSAR passport saves me the time for queuing up in a couple lines, a photo, $25 and/or a trip to a consulate.
This time, my bag may be the lightest ever. And without needing to wait for any luggage from the carousel, I came out of the arrival terminal early before the person from the hotel (who was supposed to transport me to the hotel) showed up. Even when I found the hotel guy eventually, I had to wait for another lady going to the same “Kathmandu Eco Hotel”. The guy I met first turned out not to be a driver but just someone who arranged us to get on a van. Before he closed the van door, he wanted tips. The old lady (British?) and I both said that we didn’t have any local currency and didn’t offer any tips. That guy was obviously not pleased with us. He certainly would have accepted US$ as tips but I wanted to optimize my happiness rather than his 🙂 The old lady had visited Nepal for many times and I was happy to follow the experienced 🙂
For whatever reason, this Kathmandu Eco Hotel put me in another hotel just 10 m away from theirs, Hotel Shreesu, for one night. The room turns out to be very modern and clean. I wonder whether my room tomorrow will be as nice.
Written on Nov. 19, 2017:
( It’s as I had guessed. The room in Hotel Shreesu is better than that in Kathmandu Eco Hotel. The former room is much modern and it has lift and a bigger TV with a lot more channels including some English ones such BBC/CNN while the latter doesn’t. )
Thamel, where my hotel is, is a good place to wander as some streets and lanes are blocked off from traffic. The rest of Central Kathmandu is just chaotic as cars, motorcycles and human beings are competing for the same narrow space and many roads are unpaved and bumpy (not sure how much was due to the earthquake in 2015). Cars and motorcycles can seemingly get into every road no matter how narrow it’s. I don’t see anyway that I could walk relaxingly and feel comfortable. Often I’ve had the thought of kicking at those cars and motorcycles. Of course, the heavy pollution and the smell of gasoline doesn’t help.
The entrance fee to Durbar Square is Rs. 1000, almost US$10. ( The ATMs all seemed to want to charge something like Rs. 500 and so I just exchanged my dollars. The exchange rate in banks is only marginally better like $1 = Rs. 103.xx compared to $1= Rs. 102.xx in currency exchange shops. ). I did go to the Site Office to change (free of charge) the one-day ticket to a visitor pass which is valid for as long as your visa lasts. You need to show passport and surrender a small photo — the staff was not very strict and I gave an old passport photo which the staff cut into smaller piece to fit into the pass.
I’ve found it difficult to appreciate those Hindu temples. As far as I can see from the descriptions posted on the boards there, the main Hanuman Dhoka (former royal palace) seems to be under serious restoration works apparently by the Mainland Chinese govt. ( This may explain why Chinese tourists can enjoy free-of-charge visa. ) The tourists entering Hanuman Dhoka could only wander around one square (and read the “Chinese propaganda”) and are still not allowed to enter the rest/majority of this former palace. When the guard was not paying attention, I entered a side door and went in and out quickly and saw something more interesting than just the square and the walls of the palace under restoration. [ According to Lonely Planet/10th edition, the map on p.73, they should be Mohankali Chowk and Sundari Chowk. ]
Not helping the local drivers’ pockets, I walked almost 3 km (one way) to Swayambhunath and back. After all filthy roads and dirty traffic, one’d see the Buddhist stupa at the top of a 50 m (?) hill. The hikers are entertained or annoyed by hundreds of monkeys there, running and jumping around (outnumbering the dogs). This explain s why it’s called “Monkey Temple”.
The reward for the non-religious hikers is of course the stunning view of Kathmandu. Apart from being at the top of a hill, is this Buddhist temple really that extraordinary ?! In fact, I didn’t spend too many minutes up there and quickly walked down and went back.
Kathmandu with all the narrow paths is like a maze. One thing I learnt (again) today is that I can’t / shouldn’t really depend on “Google Maps” all the time. Because by doing so, I just followed the Apps’ instructions and quickly lost any sense of direction. With GPS turned on, the phone would lose battery quickly and then without knowing where North or East is, you are really lost in the narrow and uncomfortable roads and human/engineering traffics. This morning when I suddenly felt lost and phone was low on battery, I asked a random lady for direction, in spite of communication difficulty, her finger pointing allowed me to where North was and from then on, I just re-gathered my sense of direction and only checked with Google very occasionally to see and confirm where I was. This has been a much better approach.
Dumpling is called “momo” in Nepal. I went to Yangling (Tibetan) Restaurant (which has ranked highly in TripAdvisor.com) and ordered pork steamed momos (10 of them) — Rs. 180 only and soda (Rs. 70). The new location of this restaurant (in Kaldhara, outside Thamel), along an unpaved road didn’t instill much confidence when I finally found it. The momos didn’t taste nearly as good as any Chinese dumpling that I have eaten, though of course I am quite biased here. It’s not spicy but its flavor gave a hint of spice. I have found it hard to finish all 10 momos. The soda was not sweet and was probably close to S.Pellegrino (but with a strange flavor). I also didn’t like it. I guess these were all new tastes to me and it’d take a lot of time to get used to.
Every day or night here, I need to climb 4 floors of staircases in my hotel (here the street level is G or 0 as the first level up is 1) to reach my room. Somehow, I have found it difficult to climb up quickly. I don’t think I have been always so tired or deteriorated physically so quickly. It should have something to do with the fact that Kathmandu is ~1400 m above sea level and hypoxia kicks in. So, I can’t expect myself to almost run 4 floors of staircases as I often did. Even just walking at the same level may get me into a fatigue state sooner than I usually do.
Written on Nov. 20, 2017:
Today I have walked a long way from my hotel in Thamel to Pashupatinath and then even a bit further (northeast), Bodhnath. Some areas outside central Kathmandu may look slightly better and are slightly more bearable than central Kathmandu (around Durbar Square). Though partly it may be that I have also got used to the horrible roads and traffic, indeed many roads are wider and some other roads are quieter, when one is away from central Kathmandu.
The most exotic experience today was the visit to the Pashupatinath Temple （Hindu） which is 4.5 km from my hotel and I walked for more than one hour to reach. Chinese online seem to call it the “corpse burning temple”. The entrance fee of Rs. 1000 (as expensive as that for Durbar Square) is a bit of a rip-off as only Hindus can enter this temple and other Hindu temples around. I was stupid enough to ask a question and was told to buy a ticket. There is a nonzero chance that one could sneak in without paying the fee. Because the ticket checking is far from diligence and was totally “government work”.
Though I couldn’t enter the big Pashupatinath Temple from the main entrance, I climbed the hills surrounding the Temple and saw quite a bit of it. In fact, one could enter through a side door or two. From those doors, I saw everything in the courtyards outside the main temple.
But the most interesting part is of course the burning scene outside the temple. Walking towards the Bagmati River where the burning took place, people approached you only to volunteer their guide service (only Rs. 100 or 200) and nobody asked to check my ticket. I got quite close to the actual burning and asked a guy whether they were burning was an animal and he replied firmly that it’s a human corpse. I then walked over the bridge to “appreciate” the corpse burning across the Bagmati River. I took pictures for the same corpse burning from both sides. A little while later, I noticed a hand coming out of the straw covering the body and the fire was probably too strong for people to try to put the hand back to the burning straw.
I was just observing with curiosity. Nothing seemed elegant to me but just nasty and even a bit obnoxious. I am typically not fond of ceremonies, esp. those after death. But from another angle, it’s similar to incineration but this is just open-air 😁
Walking away from the burning scene, there were rows of shrines and a few temples before one found roads with traffic across the Bagmati River again. For another half hour or so, I reached the Bodhnath Stupa (Tibetan Buddhist). I expected the entrance fee to be Rs. 200 but the sign indicated Rs. 400. Feeling not very pleased, I decided to experiment the “evil” idea I had had for some time. I walked casually past the staff sitting at the entrance, with eye fixated at my phone. Not too surprisingly, I was not challenged and I have avoided the entrance fee ! Which was the most exhilarating element in this Bodhnath visit 😀
I was allowed to climb up the first level of the stupa and walk around. I also climbed the opposite Guru Lhakhang Gompa and took a couple more pictures. After a long lunch in one of the restaurants circling the stupa, I left and walked the 6-7 km back to Thamel.
With a tired body, probably after another one and a half hours’ walk, I visited the Garden of Dreams, close to my hotel in Thamel. It seems to be the best place in Kathmandu and the entrance fee was only Rs. 200. It was first built by a British and later taken over by an Austrian company. It’s so serene, charming and elegant and clean that you’d forget about the the dirty world outside. It can be a small corner of Versailles or Summer Palace in Beijing (the most western portion?) or Schönbrunn in Vienna or even Drottningholm outside Stockholm. I could relax myself, wandering and sitting in various spots and reading a little of my Kindle book. I happened to spend almost two hours inside this lovely garden, more than the previous two religious locations.
Maybe, I have been brain-washed by the western civilization too much. My aesthetic assessment or most comfortable spot in my brain seems to be those of western style ?! But seemingly without traffic light, Nepalese vehicles can still move around the city or the entire country. And of course, without democracy, 1.4 billion people (elsewhere !) seem still to be able to live proudly and haven’t overthrown their govt. … Ah, today, I came across a mechanic sawing a steel exhaust pipe with all kinds of sparks but he wore no glove nor safety glasses at all. See ?! Just like democracy, safety is also unnecessary, hahaha 😀
Written on Nov. 21, 2017:
I finally saw the Kumari (living goddess) this morning in Kumari Bahal of Durbar Square of Kathmandu. The old Kumari was recently replaced by the current one about 1 month ago and she is only 3 years old. ( Kumari is replaced when she has her first menstruation 😄 )
I was able to go back to the Durbar Square (without paying for a new ticket) by making use of the Visitor’s Pass that I got 2 days ago. I was told that she would show up at about 10 am. I went back before 9:45 am. She didn’t show and experienced guides said that she’d show when there was a reasonably large crowd. I almost gave up but her mother (?)finally held her up over the window at about 10:25 am. After probably only 20 seconds or so, her appearance was cut short as her mother shouted and grabbed her away because she seemed to notice somebody was secretly taking a picture which was not allowed. The other time slot that one might see her is said to be around 4 pm.
The final afternoon was dedicated to Patan, south of Kathmandu. I walked almost 6 km to reach there. I was hoping that things may change slightly for the better. Nevertheless, the area around Durbar Square of Patan is just as overcrowded as that of Kathmandu. The air pollution, horrible roads and traffic are about the same, unfortunately.
In the Durbar Square of Patan, they now sell combined ticket of Patan Museum and the palaces (namely Mul Chowk and Sunday Chowk) at Rs. 1000. Chinese seem to have lost the privilege of paying less.
The Durbar Square in Patan is smaller than that in Kathmandu. Fortunately, the Patan Museum and the two “Chowks” seemed to be fully opened to the public which made it more interesting than just temples (as it’s essentially the case in Kathmandu).
In the Sundari Chowk, I found a carved sunken water tank, called “Tusha Hiti” (according to “Lonely Planet/10th edition”, p.141), they looked very similar to me to those that I saw in Hanuman Dhoka.
Lonely Planet put a “star” for the Golden Temple and so I paid Rs. 50 to enter. There are so many Buddhist temples in the world and it’s difficult for this one to stand out. The gilded metal made it look golden and they are not really made of gold. Too bad 🙂
After visiting this Buddhist temple, I didn’t feel like visiting other temples (of any religion). I was running short of Nepalese rupees. There was one foreign currency exchange shop opposite to the Durbar Square. I was curious and walked along Mangal Bazar towards Pulchowk. But I’ve found no more exchange shop. Though I’ve found a bank and entered, the staff told me that they had officially closed and told me to go back to Durbar Square to change money. That’s what I did at the end. After a dinner, I looked for a taxi to go to the airport. When I asked the first taxi driver how much it’d cost to go to the airport, he asked me how much I was willing to pay. I said Rs. 500 and he said it’s impossible and he wanted Rs. 700. I didn’t like him and go away. I walked back to the Durbar Square taxi stand, I asked a younger driver and he wanted Rs. 600. Though I tried to bargain for Rs. 500, he said that it’s at night (actually it’s probably just past 6:30 pm or so) etc. Though I might tried harder and got to Rs. 500, I suddenly felt that it’s not that meaningful to save another US$1 when that $1 seems more important to those drivers than myself. And so I just accepted the Rs. 600 offer and took his ride through a path with less traffic but horrible and bumpy to the airport.
Sitting at the Tribhuvan airport, I’ve not started to miss Nepal yet. The most peculiar Nepalese feature is probably its time zone of GMT+5:45, which is even more awkward than India’s GMT+5:30. They don’t seem to be thinking for the tourists.
Last year about this time, I visited Dubai which has combined ultra modern and rich elements with the historical past and poor aspects. Kathmandu is far from being called “modern”. I haven’t reached Mount Everest and its other wild natural aspects. In my opinion, Mount Everest is “very rare” 😁 whereas the undesirable roads and traffic (with cars, motorcycles, people, dogs, monkeys …) are probably what the vast majority of Nepalese are in contact with every day, rather than Mount Everest.
— the mobile data speed in Kathmandu/Patan is only close to the level of that in Luang Prabang of Laos when I visited in 2014. It’s mostly H (3G) and occasionally E (provided by “NCell).
— the security at the airport likes to do body search both at arrival and departure. They did it quite quickly but rudely and when their hands running through my body reached the waist and about forcefully, it gave me tic(s). When passing the security, they have separate lines for ladies and gentlemen 😁