I booked my trip to Nepal very spontaneously. I had a couple of weeks time to travel, was interested in too many places and then heard that my friend Sarah has planned to go to Nepal. So I decided to join her on this adventure, and although this country hasn’t been top of my list to visit I couldn’t be more happy that I went. We had the best time and Nepal is the most enchanting place you could imagine. It’s nature is breathtaking and while trekking the Annapurna area I was constantly amazed by the beautiful scenery, the majestic mountains, the lovely villages and welcoming locals we met and found an inner peace which is hard to describe in words. But I truly lost my heart while visiting the atmospheric Bhaktapur and the endless temples and stupas in Kathmandu. The country is so rich in culture and history and although the earthquake in 2015 damaged a lot, it hasn’t lost any of it’s magic. So when you plan your next travels, put Nepal on top of your list!
Kathmandu is a fascinating place. It’s bustling, intoxicating and exhausting. It’s easy to get a sensory overload of all the sights, smells and sounds but it’s still an amazing place and make sure you plan enough time to spend here. Thamel is an area in central Kathmandu where basically every tourist stays. The streets are full with hotels, shops, cafes and restaurants and it’s easy to walk to the most sights from there or take a short taxi ride. It’s great to get lost in the backstreets of the old town and discover endless temples, shrines and sculptures at the least expected places.
To see – Swayambhunath – one of my favorite places! The temple is mobbed by monkeys and is on top of a hill, overseeing Kathmandu and is also called the monkey temple. Taxis from Thamel costs around 250 rupees, I walked there early in the morning which is an easy route and doesn’t take more than 30 minutes. When walking, you’ll approach the temple via the eastern stairway (and not the tourist bus park) which is an atmospheric stairway with lots of monkeys, statues and little shrines. On top of the hill, there is the Swayambhunath Stupa (always walk around clockwise!) which is so pretty and impressive. The eyes you can see on the picture are Buddha’s eyes, overlooking the Kathmandu valley in all directions. I spend around an hour on top of the hill, walking around the stupa, sitting on a stone and just watch the locals who spin the prayer wheels which you can find around the stupa. It’s a magical place and has a very peaceful atmosphere.
Bodhnath Stupa (Boudha) – Bodhnath is a bit outside central Kathmandu and the best way to get there is by taxi. On pictures it looks quite similar to the monkey temple but it still felt very different. The stupa is Asia’s largest ones and there are many pilgrims and Tibetan monks. I felt like diving in into the Buddhist life and similar to the atmosphere at the monkey temple, it felt so peaceful and calm. We took our time to walk around the stupa several times.
Pashupatinath – there is a nice walk from Bodhnath to Pashupatinath which will take 20 minutes through villages and farmland. So from the largest Buddhist temple to the most important Hindu temple, it’s such a difference! One nice guy offered us to be our guide which I would recommend because he explained a lot about the different places and rituals. The temple is located next to the holy Bagmati River and there are cremations hold, also while we were there we experienced a funeral and a cremation on a wooden pyre. There is a lot of spiritual energy ‘in the air’ and I’m glad we visited this place (entrance fee is quite high with 1000 rupees) but I felt relieved when we left.
Durbar Square – is probably the place to see in Kathmandu. The square is where the city’s kings were once crowned and is home to many majestic buildings and palaces. Somehow, it wasn’t my place. I would recommend to go early in the morning or late afternoon, I went there after I visited the monkey temple and it was a super hot day, I had some problems with my credit card and was generally a bit stressed out. There were constantly people offering their service as a guide, which is normal, but there they wouldn’t accept a no and wouldn’t stop following me around. So instead of just enjoying the impressive buildings, I was more busy with repeating why I don’t want a guide. And there were a million pigeons which stressed me out even more. Well, enough complained. Whenever I come back to Nepal, I’ll give it another chance.
Bhaktapur – my highlight! Bhaktapur is a city in the Kathmandu valley and we had a driver for an afternoon who took us the 30 min ride to Bhaktapur and after that to the Changu Narayan Temple. The drive will take you through a beautiful scenery and we were wondering if we are in the Tuscany or still in Nepal. Just arrived in Bhaktapur, same procedure as everywhere, people offering you their service as guide. We happily took one as it’s just easier to find all the spots in the city and he gave us lots of useful information. To be honest, I can’t repeat much what he explained, I was so busy taking pics of all the beautiful sights, buildings and the city life. The damage of the earthquake was very much to see in Bhaktapur, many temples, gates and houses were destroyed and rebuilding them will take many more years. The air in the city is nicely refreshing and it doesn’t have the pollution and traffic of Kathmandu. I found it also easy to connect with the people in Bhaktapur, they are welcoming and lovely all over Nepal but in the mountain villages they can be quite shy and most times too busy in Kathmandu. For me, it’s definitely a must-go when you plan to visit Nepal!
Changu Narayan Temple – it seems like not many visitors find their way to this village and temple anymore as it got badly hit by the earthquake. The temple is open to visitors but the damage is clear to see and very sad. Nevertheless I would suggest to visit when you are in this area, as the entrance fee helps the rebuilding and we also bought some shirts from the local shops to support them as well. It’s just a few dollars for us, but for them it can make a big difference.
To stay – there are plenty of guest houses and hotels for every budget. We stayed at different places, Khangsar Guest House was the first one, a room was 13$/night. Well, it’s probably what you can expect for 13$, at least the shower was warm and we had a room on the top floor which you should always try to get as it’s bit less noisy. We stayed in another middle class hotel which I wouldn’t recommend and as Sarah left one day before me, I treated myself to a nice hotel for my last night and it’s worth it! I spent 50$ on the Apsara Boutique Hotel which is also very central in Thamel.
To eat – Thamel is a food heaven! You can get anything you could think of, from traditional nepalese food to Thai and Japanese cuisine, Sushi, Pizza, Pasta, Burritos and most amazing middle Eastern dishes. The prices range from 200-500 rupees per dish, which is around 2-5$. These are the prices for food in restaurants, cheaper options are probably available but with spending the extra dollar you can make sure to not get a tummy bug 😉 Beer is surprisingly ‘expensive’, it can easily happen that you spend more on a bottle of beer than on your food. But they have some locals ones which taste great! These places were my favorites:
Momo Hut – momos are little dumplings filled with different vegetables and meat (by the way, it was super easy to eat vegetarian in Nepal and even vegan was most times never a problem!). In this place they had the best variety of vegetables momos and also some delicious dessert ones filled with chocolate.
Yangling Tibetan Retaurant – from the outside its pretty unspectacular but it was one of the cheapest and still best places we went to. Try the Thenthuk soup! Yum!
Or2K – probably my favorite place! It’s an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant with the best mint lemonade in town! The seating is on cushions on the floor. Go for the Nepalese Dal Bhat, their great salads or the Middle Eastern platter to share (which seems to be the most popular dish)
Furusato – an amazing Japanese restaurant with great (vegan) Sushi and bento boxes! It’s a bit hidden in a valley.
Yin Yang Restaurant – went here on the first evening and got surprised with one of the best and authentic Thai food! The curry is amazing!
Pumpernickel Bakery – whenever you crave bread and pastries, that’s the place to go!
French Bakery – one of the best coffee and such a lovely owner. It is a bit outside the buzzy streets but still very easy to find. I had some french toasts and they were heavenly!
H2O Cafe n Pub – spend our last evening here with some good live music and cold beer. Don’t expect long nights in Nepal, it gets very empty on the streets after 10 pm.
Pokhara is such a relaxed town, right next to a lake and surrounded by mountains. We spend some days before and after our trek in Pokhara and it was great to relax and restore energy. We stayed in the Peace Eye Guest House which I can only recommend! They have nice rooms, a great vegetarian restaurant and very lovely and helpful staff. A night is around 20$/room. Getting to Pokhara is also very easy, several buses leave from Kathmandu. The journey is around 8 hrs, make sure you pay the dollar extra for an A/C bus, it’s worth it.
We found a small yoga studio “Osho Divine Zone” close to our Guest House and did some yoga and meditation classes there. I really enjoyed the yoga, the meditation was one hour active meditation and let’s say it was an experience 😉
After our trek we decided to treat ourselves to a Spa and Pool day and so we went to the Atihi Resort which will let non-guest use their pool for a small fee too. Sarah had a trekker healing massage and I went for a deep tissue one and both were amazing.
Places to eat – like in Kathmandu, there are so many options. Just to mention my favorites: Natssul for Korean cuisine, am/pm organic cafe for sandwiches, smoothie bowls and snacks, the Moon Dance restaurant for all kind of dishes and the Juicery Cafe for cold pressed juices and healthy food.
World Peace Pagoda – lovely Sunita, our guide for the trek, came to Pokhara with us from Kathmandu and so we spend the day before starting the trek with her. We took a boat across the lake and climb up a forest trail to see the beautiful World Peace Pagoda and a nice view over Pokhara (clouds, go away!) and it was a great test-trek before the big one started. We took another way down to pass by the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave and Devi’s Falls (a waterfall) but both were a bit disappointing.
Pokhara is also full with cashmere shops! It is definitely worth it to buy some scarfs or blankets over there as the quality is great and the prices are reasonable compared to all you get in Europe. I can recommend the Love Love Pashima Store, the owner Amor is such a lovely guy and the products are of great quality.
Trekking – an extended Poon Hill trek
Preparation – Sarah planned to do the trek on her own and so she found a female guide Sunita. Having a guide and a porter, or a porter guide, is very common when trekking in Nepal. You can see many independent trekkers too, and the trek we did is one which can easily done by yourself but I was happy we had a Sunita as she explained so much and did a great job. So when we knew we are going to be two people on the trek, we also decided to get a porter, Suppa. Suppa was also more of a second guide as he knew the area very well and he was good fun. So here we are, our litte trekking group.
Gear to bring – before Nepal I wasn’t into hiking or trekking and basically didn’t have any gear. Most important, invest in some good hiking boots. I think thats the key, I never had any blisters or problems and the trail gets quite rocky. So please get some good shoes when you plan to do a trip. Take clothes for hot days and cold nights, it gets quite chilly at night! I just had a couple of sports tights, many shirts, tops, fleece jackets and a warmer jacket. Take a poncho or rain jacket as well. I also bought a stick in Pokhara which is not necessary but helps a lot while walking down hill (you can get any gear very cheap in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but most of its are cheap China copies, for a stick thats fine but for shoes I wouldn’t recommend to buy them out there). A cap is also very important as the sun can get very hot and the only thing I didn’t have but would bring next time is a travel sleeping sheet, no big sleeping bag but just a cover sheet as the beds in the guest houses are not always the cleanest. Sarah and Sunita had decided on a route which will take 5-6 days so we knew we will go on top of Poon Hill and trek more around this area. You will need trekking permits for the Annapurna trekking area, they are around 20$, bring a passport pic and best is to sort them out in Kathmandu or Pokhara, just find a local travel agency, they will take care. One last general comment, you can’t buy plastic bottles on the trek but every guest house has purified and safe drinking water. Bring some bottles with you which can be refilled and used during the whole time. I think that’s a great initiative to reduce waste on the trek. I probably would have used 10-15 bottles during the days and would have produced a lot of plastic waste.
Day 1 – Nayapul (1070m) to Ulleri (2010m)
We took a taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul where the Poon Hill and Annapurna Basecamp Treks start. Very excited and full of energy we started our little adventure and the first half of today’s trek was relaxing, walking through villages, seeing the daily life of farmers, meeting children and many dogs and horses. We passed bridges, the weather was nice and we reached our lunch stop in Tikehedhunga after a couple of hours. Everything went smooth, and then the stone stairs came after lunch. I remember that I was reading in another blog that there are more than 3000 of these stairs and as we didn’t know how far away Ulleri was, I thought we have to climb all stairs in one day. The weather had changed and a big storm and rain was just behind us. So we walked up the stairs as fast as we could and although it was tough, I enjoyed it. We had to hide from the rain in a little shed and when Sunita catched up with us, she surprised us that we are only 3 minutes away from Ulleri and our first night in a teahouse! We arrived around 3pm and had the first experience with electricity cuts. Basically the electricity is cut every day from 8am to 7pm, which means you probably never have a warm shower if you don’t pay 1$ and use the showers heated with gas. The room charges are low, 4$-5$ /night and room. In general, all menus in the Annapurna area are approved by a committee which means the prices and offers are everywhere the same, limiting the competition between the guest houses. The menu offers a big variety; fried rice and noodles, curry, pizza, pasta and so on. We had the feeling we tried every dish at the end of our trek. Most times, your porter/guide sleeps and eats ‘for free’ in the houses as they brought you as a paying guest. You won’t spend more than 20$/ per person / day on the trek, including all meals, water and the room. But take some more just in case. The afternoons in the teahouse are chilled out, bring some good books with you. Most times they have a oven in the dining room which keeps you warm from late afternoon on.
Day 2 – Ulleri (2010m) to Ghorepani (2874m)
We woke up at 5.30 with the sunrise and the view outside our window was breathtaking, blue sky and big mountains. We basically never slept longer than 5.30, if its not the chicken which wakes you up, its the sun or some village people discussing very important things at this time. But we didn’t mind and got quite easily in the habit of going to bed early and waking up with the sunrise. After a lovely breakfast (huge portion of porridge with fruits) and a little sunbath on the rooftop, we tackled the remaining stone stairs (45 minutes more of them) and made our way to Ghorepani. The trek was beautiful through a forest and next to little streams and the sun was shining brightly. We reached Ghorepani already at 12 o’clock which left us with a free afternoon. We were really excited about the next day, and had a big portion of pasta to be prepared for the early morning trek up Poon Hill.
Day 3 – Ghorepani (2874m) to Poonhill (3210m) to Tadapani (2700m) to Ghurjung (2000m)
What a day! We woke up at 3.30 and started to walk up Poon Hill at 4. It was the hardest bit of the whole trek, maybe it was the extra altitude we had to do, it was the early morning or our legs were just a bit heavy from the last two days. But it was so worth it. Watching the sunrise in such a scenery was an unforgettable moment! We made it! This would be the highest point of our trek and we were already thinking if we could have done more and aimed for a longer and higher trek. But first breakfast back at the guesthouse.
We didn’t know at this point that this day will be our longest day of more than 8 hrs trekking. We planned to stay the night at Tadapani but agreed if we reach the village around lunch time, we’ll try and walk more as the free afternoons can be nice, but we’d rather walk longer and see more. The nature was very different to the last days and we found ourselves first in kind of an alpine forest which turned into a jungle. It was one of my favorite days considering the nature we saw. So we reached Tadapani as expected around lunch time and decided to continue walking after fueling up with a big plate of fried rice. As we had to walk down hill, we thought it will be easy. It was late afternoon until we finally reached Ghurjung which is not a main “village” on the Annapurna trek but was actually our best stay! The view was just stunning, very clean beds and a lovely host. We went to bed around 8.30, being exhausted by our long day.
Day 4 – Ghurjung (2000m) to Jhinu Hot Spring (2100m) to Landruk (1565m)
We planned to go to the Hot Spring in Jhinu today and it was the perfect day, as the sun was shining and we had a clear blue sky. The walk was beautiful again, more easy than the last days as it was mostly down hill. The Hot Springs were good fun although the water was too hot to be refreshing with these hot temperatures. Our last stop was Landruk today and we decided that tomorrow will be the last day of our trek. We initially planned 6 days but as we walked longer than planned on some days, there was not much more to see. So we decided to go back to Pokhara and spend some more time there.
Day 5 – Landruk (1565m) to Phedi/Dhampus (1170m)
Time was flying and we couldn’t believe its our last day already! The trail wasn’t as pretty as the other days because we walked some streets as we had reached an altitude where jeeps and cars were driving but the last bit in Dhampus was leading us through rice fields and I loved this bit. It started raining and we ended our tour as we started it, with raincoats and ponchos but full of great memories! The whole trek was a huge meditation for me, it was great to let thoughts flow while being out in the nature. A big thank you to Sunita and Suppa for making this trip so wonderful!
If you are still reading, I also thank you as this got much more longer than I intended it to be! If you have any questions or comments, let me know! And now I can only repeat what I said at the beginning, please travel to Nepal, it’s an amazing place and you will come back filled with peace and happiness! Namaste, Sarah xxx