Oh Kathmandu, you are so beautiful!. It is touristy, overcrowded, and intoxicated place in the world. That is the reason why it attracts so many people from around the globe.
Such things, which make Kathmandu a crazy place or a freak show, are the same reasons why people love it. If you wish to spend 36 hours in Kathmandu, you will surely experience the magic at some point or another.
Unlike many cities of the western world, Kathmandu is a city of a specialty!
Apologies to my westerners, but Kathmandu has the skyline, crowds, and vibe worthy of calling itself a city. It also boasts the highest number of world heritage sites within the area of 51 square km.
Don’t get us wrong, though! Kathmandu, a classic ‘city of temples,’ inherits struggles similar to any other major city of the world.
So don’t be judge mental and go through the 36 hours of a joyride for enriching and illuminating experience.
The international airport — TIA (Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu) — is just 5.3 km away from the central area of Kathmandu. Congested hours on the main road may run from around 3 PM and continues till 8 PM, forcing to get stuck in an hour or two. Avoid it anyway — a late-night arrival is good, mid-morning is better, early morning is probably the best.
Visitors of most nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival, by air or by land. Fill in some forms, move your passport, flash some cash, and cross over with no problems.
Renting a car or taking a taxi is always an option, but they tend to be the most expensive. Unless you’re carrying a lot of luggage, we won’t recommend it either. However, if this is your first trip to Nepal, you may have a hard time getting around the city on public buses.
You can reach Thamel, the tourist hub, by airport taxi, metered taxi, public bus or by hotel pick-up. It will take around 20 mins to get to Thamel. As we mentioned earlier, the time may change depending on the traffic conditions.
Give yourself an excellent half-day to explore Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Although it’s quite crowded, walking through the streets of Thamel is a fascinating experience. Tourist zones like Thamel are the best to get on foot. There are often lots of attractive side streets and buildings.
Walking through the touristy parts of Thamel brings you close to some excellent restaurants, shops, and cafes to discover. Nepali Handicrafts are displayed in most of the shops but not so expensive. Also, the temples along the way and the Hindu worshippers are subjects for lovely photographs.
Get lost in a labyrinth of energetic streets at Ason, the oldest traditional market. Drink a glass of local Chhyang (Rice-wine) to beat the heat. Hop on a rickshaw, buy souvenirs on the local stores, and try some momo (you’ll never want to miss one).
Fifteen minutes of walk from Ason will take you to the ticket counter of Basantapur Durbar Square. This historic site is well worth every penny of the steep US$10 entry fee charged to international visitors.
Upon entering, you’ll come across an exciting history lesson displayed on stone inscriptions by the gate of Taleju Temple. After you’ve learned some interesting local trivia — such as a nine-storied landmark built as a royal palace by King Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1770, follow the signs pointing towards ‘Kumari Ghar’, the shelter of the living goddess before first menstruation.
Kumari also referred to as ‘The Living Goddess’ dwells in three-story brick building richly decorated with wood-carved reliefs of gods and symbols. This holy temple is renowned for its magnificent carvings as well as its divine inhabitant.
Head down further south and explore the richness of ‘Freak Street’. Once known as the weed capital and a must-visit, the last destination of the hippie-trail, the street is a plethora of information about the glorious past. Visit Snowman Cafe at the first corner and ask the owner who has been in charge of the venue for the last 70 years.
The paintings and graffiti in and around the cafe offer ultimate selfie backdrops!
Slip along the sidewalks for coffee and pastries at The Himalayan Java at the Dabali. This place prepares its coffee thoughtfully and in addition to serving espresso, it also offers tea, Nepalese style! The buzzing atmosphere and bistro-style tables decorate the rooftop of this venue.
Caffeinated, let’s get over to bike rental and hire a motorbike/scooter. Should you not ride a bike, you can also opt for a bus from the old bus park. The bus park lies on the outskirts of Basantapur, 10 minutes walk from the cafe.
From here, you will reach Nagarkot in 2-3 hours, depending on the traffic situation.
Nagarkot boasts of tranquil hills, stunning sunset and an experience that is unadulterated in the most real sense of the term. If you like you can have sundowners on the patio as the slowly sinking sun turns the sky a kaleidoscope of colors.
After you’ve touched your feel, it’s time to fill up the stomach at an authentic Nepalese restaurant. Ask for Dal Bhaat, which is a regular meal of Nepalese people, and you get free refills as well.
Head to a resort, check-in the one overlooking the mountains and bonne nuit!
You will start the day with good morning tea. Ask for Selroti, local bread, and some potato-beans curry to dip it in. The curry is often prepared with fiery, punchy red spices. So, be polite and ask for ‘less spicy’ or ‘no spice’ for the watered-down version.
Open the curtains and welcome the rising sun on the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.
You will then get off the bed and head down the street. Try some local desert of Lakhamari, a Newari sweet.
Now, you will get on the bus/scooter and ride back an hour to the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur Durbar Square offers you the dynamic vistas of Nepal’s ancient architecture. Click the photographs of the tallest temple of Nepal, Nyatapola, and 55-windowed Palace.
You will walk through the narrow ‘gully’ that leads to inner parts of the city. These endless alleys are usually a couple of feet full. Reach pottery square and learn the old fashioned way of making pots. The potter may let you try one for a minimal fee.
Hungry? Grab a pot of Juju Dhau (King Curd) from a street-side vendor. It is a thick, creamy, sweetened yogurt served in a clay pot, made in the city of Bhaktapur. It’s made with buffalo milk, so it’s much creamier than regular cow-milk yogurt.
A must-try when visiting Bhaktapur!
It’s mid-day, and we still have some hours left.
You will hit the road straight down towards ring road for half an hour to reach Swayambhunath. Swayambhu, meaning ‘Self-Created’ is one of the oldest Buddhist Monasteries in the world.
The sight of vast, round, white dome of the stupa, decorated by two big Buddha eyes wisely looking out over the peaceful valley, overlooking a giant vajra (thunderbolt scepter), is the most magnificent!
Spend an hour and get hypnotized on the beauty of the grand monument and the panoramic views. Walk down the stairs and head to White Rabbit Restaurant and order ‘Laping’, a Tibetan kind of food. This spicy delicacy is a treat you can tear hardly yourself away from!
By the time you’re done, you will pack up and head straight to the airport. Walk over to The Himalayan Java Cafe inside the departure section and order your favorite drink. It’s the perfect way to end my 36 hours in Kathmandu, and a tremendous pre-departure treat.
There you have it – Kathmandu in 36 hours. There are so many ways to explore the City of temples, but this is the best way to do it when you only have 36 hours in Nepal.