Best cities for digital nomads and expats

A Nomad's Guide to Kathmandu

Dharma for Two in Kathmandu

Sadhu holy man in Kathmandu

Getting there
If you're a swami and can lower your heart rate to survive in the oxygen-free environment, there are plenty of astral planes that will whisk you to Kathmandu. However, the rest of us mortals must content ourselves with a cheap flight on one of the discount airlines. From North America, Air India and Qatar Airways offer the best fares from most major cities. From Europe, if you're looking for an ultra-low fare, your best bet is to book a flight on Wizz Air to Dubai and connect with a regional carrier such as Nepal Airlines or IndiGo. From Asia, there are a number of carriers that offer bargain-priced flights to Nepal, including Thai Airways, Nepal Airlines, and Batik Airlines. Air Asia also flies there, but after they canceled our flights during the pandemic and then refused to refund us, we no longer recommend them (they've also been hovering on the edge of bankruptcy).
Where to stay
There are numerous accommodation options in and around Kathmandu to fit every budget. However, if you want to stay in a pleasant, safe area that is close to the sights, I recommend the Thamel area. Lily Flower and I stayed at the Hotel Bihani just two blocks from the busy Thamel Marg pedestrian road. The newer hotel features clean, reasonably priced rooms (typically under $20 a night) with a mini fridge, coffeemaker, and private balcony. The location, however, is the main selling point - just a short walk from the dozens of dining and entertainment establishments located on the side streets behind Thamel Marg.


Where to work
The first morning we spent in Kathmandu, I discovered a coffee shop and made it the base of my operations. Sugar and Spice, which is located right on the busy Thamel Marg road, offers a cozy atmosphere, fast Wi-Fi, and a nice selection of refreshments and menu items. Best of all, it's open 24/7! As I never felt the need to go elsewhere, it's the only one I can attest to from personal experience. I did however hear several coffee aficionados swear by Himalayan Arabica Beans, although as someone who likes his coffee like he likes his women (dark and unadulterated), I never felt the need to check it out myself.
Three mind-blowing excursions you can do in a day
Pashupatinath Temple
Funeral procession at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu
Women watching a funeral at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu
I’m going to start this out with an obvious disclaimer. Pashupatinath isn’t Kathmandu Disneyland. If you’re looking for a feel-good theme park experience with costumed characters and staged attractions, you won’t find it here. However, if you're looking for a first-hand encounter with the religion and culture of the Nepalis, you’ve come to the right place. You will need to have an open mind and the fortitude to examine life’s great questions (some Vicks or Neutrolen under your nose wouldn’t hurt either). Although the main temple (with the bull outside the door) is reserved for practicing Hindus, the rest of the grounds are open to the rest of us heathens.
Once Lily Flower and I entered the complex and made our way toward the river, we were instantly assaulted by the acrid stench of burning flesh mixed with the sweet smell of human sweat. The milling crowds along the riverbank were thick as molasses as several funerals were in progress and relatives were gathered to pay their last respects. Since Hindus believe that the body is a prison for the soul, loved ones are cremated to free them from their mortal ties and grant them mukti or freedom in the afterlife.
Once you cross the bridge, you’ll see dozens of men with orange and red face paint and ostentatious costumes that would put a New Guinea highlander to shame. These are the sadhu or holy men, who allegedly follow a path of spiritual discipline in order to achieve moksa or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Apparently, however, this liberation doesn’t obviate the need for a little cold, hard cash from time to time, as if you want any photos, you’ll need to hand over a $20 bill to these virtuous mavericks. A small price to pay for good karma!
After our encounter with the corporation of holy men, we climbed several hundred stairs up to a wooded enclave above the temple. While admiring the view of the temple complex and river below, we heard the loud chittering of a troop of monkeys. As Pashupatinath is a major habitat for rhesus macaques, you can see dozens of them wandering around. As the sun began to set, casting pallid shadows along the riverbank, we quietly made our way back to the entrance. The brutal heat of the summer afternoon had subsided and the crowds along the riverbank had thinned out, but the reverence of the day’s events remained with us.
Thamel Marg
Colorful tuktuk in Kathmandu
Yak wool scarves for sale in Kathmandu shop
Thamel Marg is a pedestrian thoroughfare that runs from Leknath Marg in the north end of the city to the stately Natyeshwar Temple and Dharma Dhaatu Stupa in the heart of the city.
Whether Kathmandu is your final destination or just a brief stop on the way to climbing the Himalayas, paragliding in Pokhara, or viewing wildlife in Chitwan, you should definitely make time to visit this busy shopping street. This is the place to go to find bargains galore on outdoor gear, woolen winterwear, gurkha knives, and so much more. As an added bonus, the road also happens to lead you to several noteworthy sights along the way.
If you’re looking for an authentic kukri or gurkha knife, I recommend visiting Real Gorkha Knives by the Studio 16 Hotel, which has a great selection of hand-crafted knives and weapons. With a little haggling, Lily Flower was able to find a perfectly balanced inlaid throwing knife. Although it was summertime, we couldn’t resist the gorgeous hand-knitted scarves and sweaters made of yak wool. One of the best places to shop for these is at Fair Circle, just past the Hotel Lahana. If you’re gearing up for a trek in the Himalayas, you’ll find plenty of outdoor gear stores scattered up and down Thamel Marg. However, as in many other Asian countries, counterfeits of popular brands such as North Face and Patagonia abound, and it pays to stick with an established shop. Since it was the low season, we were able to find a smoking deal on a pair of down jackets at Ocean Trekking Gear at Narsing Chowk on Thamel Marg (close to the Bed & Breakfast Thamel).
If you get hungry or thirsty while shopping, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars all up and down Thamel Marg. Visit Cafe Mitra, across from the Chengdu Hotel, to enjoy hearty, traditional Nepalese fare in a pleasant outdoor courtyard or take the Hiranya Galli side street to Hotel Nepalaya’s rooftop restaurant and bar, where you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of the bustling city. If you prefer to revel in the nightlife, there are several busy nightclubs along Thamel Marg, including the Turtle Lounge & Club, across from the Hotel Lahana, and the Ibyza Lounge & Disco by Thamel Chowk where you can party until the wee hours of the morning.
Durbar Square
Lions guarding a temple in Durbar Square
Temples in Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Durbar Square, which is about a 30-minute walk from Thamel Marg, is a culturally and historically significant UNESCO World Heritage site. The complex includes temples dating from as far back as the third century A.D. to more recent structures, such as the Nautalle Durbar, which was constructed in the 18th century to commemorate the unification of Nepal.
To reach Durbar Square, simply hang an immediate left once you pass Natyeshwar Temple, continue along Chandraman Singh Marg until you reach Akash Bhairab Temple (on a circle) and then take Siddhidas Marg to the entrance. With over 50 temples on the grounds, you can easily lose track of an entire day without seeing it all.
Shri Shri Mahayogi Gorakhnath
Shri Shri Mahayogi shrine in Kathmandu
Right beside the entrance to Durbar Square, you’ll stumble across this colorful shrine dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shiva the Destroyer, the creator and protector of the universe. The imposing statue is a popular gathering spot for locals, who leave offerings at the altar.
Kumari Ghar
Kumari Ghar house in Kathmandu
The Kumari Ghar palace, which was built in 1757 by King Jaya Prakash Malla, is the home of the physical incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepalese name for Durga). If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of this pre-pubescent symbol of motherhood and virtue, but don't wait too long! Once she has her first menstruation, her brief reign ends and a new Royal Kumari emerges from the cradle to take her place.

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