Nepal | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 26, 2015
  • Updated: 8:47am

Nepal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2002, 12:00am

According to the Foreign Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk), the state of emergency declared in November last year has lapsed and it is uncertain whether it will be reimposed. The FCO does not advise against travel to Nepal, but tourists should monitor events carefully.


Getting around


It's easy and very cheap to navigate Nepal using the bus system, but I would be wary of taking them for all your journeys if you suffer from vertigo or motion sickness. Wherever you travel, at some stage there will be mountains, with roads hugging steep slopes and big drops on the other side. The roads are also prone to landslides. That said, you get a spectacular view of the landscape from a bus window that looks down a 100-metre drop.


Activities


Those who want to do a basic trek in Nepal should consider the Annapurna Circuit instead of the ubiquitous trek to Everest, or even going as far as base camp. We thoroughly enjoyed our five-night trek in the Annapurna, and our sirdar (head guide) told us the mountain range offered a far more beautiful vista than Everest. He also said the Everest treks can get so crowded the tourists are practically brawling as they try to keep their photos free of other people.


I recommend the Royal Chitwan National Park for wildlife. There are several lodges that provide basic accommodation and the opportunity to take elephant rides around the park at sunset and sunrise. During our visit, we saw a rhinoceros and fresh tiger prints, but no tiger.


Get out of Kathmandu and see Bhaktapur. Less than an hour away by taxi (haggle with the driver to agree a fare), Bhaktapur is a World Heritage-listed ancient city that is still very much lived in. Allow at least two to three hours to take in all the sculptures, temples and museums as well as the everyday life going on around you.


The Stupa at the Monkey Temple, so named because of the monkeys that gather there, is a great place to get an aerial view of Kathmandu.


Other than Kathmandu, the second-most beautiful place to visit is Pokhara, famous for its lake and mountains. It's quite laid-back compared to Kathmandu, with lots of rooftop dining in the hotels and restaurants, giving beautiful views of Phewa Lake where you can go boating. In the middle of the lake is a temple that a lot of pilgrims visit by canoe. A half-day boat ride costs about US$5 (HK$39) and there are lots of places where you can hire motorbikes and mountain bikes to explore on. A six- to seven-hour bus ride from Kathmandu costs about US$3, or you can take a 30-minute flight for about US$85. If you take a plane, try to get a seat on the right side to see the mountains.


I was a trek group leader for five years and would strongly recommend trekking to experience the country. There are so many lodges along the most popular trails that it makes sense to use their facilities, rather than camp in their yards. While these 'tea houses' are not luxurious, they are uniquely Nepali. Most are family-run and extensions of the family home, so staying in them gives a deep insight into the lives of the hardy mountain people. Accommodation and facilities are basic but clean, the food plain but nourishing and the atmosphere cosy and congenial. They're worth staying in as you support the local economy and a night's stay costs about US$1.50.


There are rivers, suitable for both first-time and seasoned rafters, which take you through heart-stopping white water and past some of the country's prettiest scenery and least-visited villages and temples. Camping on the beach at night is fascinating and you can join groups in Kathmandu or Pokhara for about US$20 a day. Even if you can't swim you can raft in one of the smaller rivers - I can't swim but I rafted about 20 times in Trisuli which is known as the learner's river.


Kathmandu is a small place but you can easily spend a few weeks there visiting monasteries and temples, looking at the old architecture or shopping around the streets of Thamel. Durbar Square is the main historical complex where you get a chance to see Kumari Mata, the Living Goddess. Life is slow and you can sit or explore for hours.


Dining


Yeok Teck Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant, owned by a Malaysian Chinese family, has a somewhat enterprising menu. Oyster chicken, ginger fish, sweet and sour prawns, golden roasted duck and shark's fin soup are just some of the yummy vegetarian dishes on offer. The unpretentious decor and homely ambience - quirky plastic placemats, Canto-pop music, bonsai-style statuettes - and the fact that the owners can often be seen slurping away on steaming bowls of noodles along with their customers, has made this off-the-beaten-track eatery a favourite with all (Bhanimandal, Ekantakuna, Lalitpur, Ward 4, Kathmandu. Tel: [977 1] 548930).


Roadhouse Cafe in the heart of the backpacker's paradise, Thamel, has recently been revamped, resulting in a smart interior with ammonite stones from the banks of the Kali Gandaki, rustic Mediterranean accents and subtle Oriental touches. It's frequented by the young hip set and traveller types, and pizzas baked in the wood-fired oven are popular, especially the Road House Special - your basic meat-fest pizza (tel: [977 1] 260187).


Style guru Kunal Lama, who used to own Kathmandu's only fine dining restaurant, Simply Shutters, has just opened Cafe Mitra which serves cosmopolitan cuisine and cocktails. The ambience is very cutting-edge with work by contemporary Nepalese artists on the coral walls changing every month, and a Zen garden (Kwapukhu, Thamel, Kathmandu. Tel: [977 1] 259015).


A good meal in a reasonable restaurant costs only about US$3. Some of the big restaurants such as Bhancha Ghar have ethnic dance performances and serve amazing traditional meals with Rakshi, a Nepalese liquor (otherwise known as rocket fuel) for about US$15 (Kamaladi, Kathmandu. Tel: [977 1] 225172).


Nightlife


Rox Restaurant & Bar at the plush Hyatt Regency has been open for about a year and continues to pull in the crowds. Despite full-on army checks on vehicles at night, the young, happening, Pajero-driving crowd can't get enough of club nights at the Rox. Diplomats and divas dance to a medley of cover versions, belted out by live band Teesta, and after 11pm resident DJ Neil spins fast and furious beats until late (Taragaon, Boudha, Kathmandu. Tel: [977 1] 491234; kathmandu.regency.hyatt.com).


If you're into high-altitude jazz, cheap beer and steaming momos (traditional Tibetan meat/veggie dumplings), Upstairs is definitely for you. Popular with both the expat and local crowd - writers, producers, musicians, journalists, development and embassy workers pack this tiny one-room beat-fest every Saturday night, drowning their sorrows to the sassy sounds of Cadenza, the local jazz giants. The music is loud and the bar-cum-restaurant gets smoky and so crowded you have to sit cross-legged on the floor (Lazimpat, Kathmandu. Tel: [977 1] 410436).


There are a few good pubs in Thamel for those who like to party. The best is Rum Doodles Restaurant & Bar (tel: [977 1] 414336) where all the mountaineers come after their expeditions to sign their names and celebrate. A close second is Tom & Jerry (tel: [977 1] 416917).


General


Avoid the monsoon season (May to September) and try to go after the end of September to avoid a lingering wet season. Otherwise the mountains will be covered by clouds and leeches.


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