Nepal is sometimes called the Roof of the World due to its high altitude in the Himalayas. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is located in the Kathmandu Valley at an altitude of 1,400 metres above sea level. It has a population of about 1.5 million and has a unique culture and architecture, dominated by its religious beliefs and traditions. Religious festivals occur regularly and are colourful, vibrant and fun-filled occasions.
Although Kathmandu is a large and busy city, it is one of the safest places in the world to travel. The people are friendly and as a general rule treat visitors and tourists with great respect.
Flights arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport daily. Travel to Kathmandu from Australia will include at least one stop-over with a total flight time of between 14 and 18 hours. Thai Airlines, Silk Air, Etihad and Malaysia Airlines all have regular flights into Tribhuvan Airport. Stop-overs may be in Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur depending on the airline you choose.
Despite the insider advertising, arriving and departing from Tribhuvan Airport can be a little frustrating and time-consuming. But at least everyone is friendly. The airport has free WiFi, restaurants and a cafe. There are also banking and money exchange facilities. There is also a charging hub for mobile phones and other electronic devices.
Options for travel to and from the airport to Kathmandu are taxi or bus. You can get a pre-paid taxi, or, if you are a seasoned traveller, barter a cheaper deal with one of the 'unofficial taxi-drivers' hoping to make a few hundred rupees. The other alternative is the shuttle bus which is the cheapest option.
The distance from Tribhuvan to Kathmandu is a little over 5km which will take about 20 minutes at times. During peak hours the trip may take as much as an hour due to traffic. Relax, you're on holiday.
Transport in Nepal is slow in general due to poor road conditions and elderly vehicles. However, transport is generally safe, and you will arrive at your planned destination.
The best way to get around in the cities is by taxi. These are relatively cheap but its best to negotiate the price before getting into the taxi. There are also buses which you can flag down - there are no scheduled stops and directions and routes are not clear. In the Thamel area, part of Kathmandu, cycle rickshaws are popular for travelling short distances. Once again, you will need to bargain with the driver to get a cheap fare.
Kathmandu is steeped in religious beliefs. The original inhabitants are Buddhists, but there is also a large Hindu population. The temples and stupas of Kathmandu pay tribute to both religions and many are World Heritage-listed.
Swayambhunath Temple is believed to have been built before the 5th Century. It is located on a hill-top overlooking the city and incorporates elements of both Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Boudhanath Stupa is another must-see attraction. Severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake, this stupa is surrounded by Buddhist monasteries. Shree Pashupatinath Temple - Gwola Mahadyo is the most ancient of Kathmandu's religious buildings. This Hindu temple is built on both sides of the Bagmati River, where many people come to die and be cremated in the river. For a more tranquil setting, visit the Garden of Dreams. The garden was built in 1920 and is decorated in Edwardian style.
If you love shopping and love handcrafted and local items, you will love Kathmandu. There are wonderful shops and cottage industries with a range of silk, pashminas, and leather for sale. You will also enjoy a visit to Asan, the local flea market, where you can buy everything from food to textiles.
There are also yoga and meditation courses and retreats, as well as cookery classes where you can learn to cook traditional Nepalese cuisine.
Before we move on to the food, a quick warning about water. The water in Nepal is not considered safe to drink without treatment. If you are using water from the tap it needs to be boiled before drinking. Or you can use water treatment tablets to purify the water. The other alternative is to drink only bottled water while visiting Kathmandu.
You should also be wary of street food. Street vendors typically don't have refrigerators, and food can be kept, reheated, and served over a period of several days.
The staple diet in Nepal is dhaal bhat, or rice and lentils. It is often served as a soup with vegetables such as potato and cauliflower on the side. But don't despair if you think this sounds a bit boring. It's actually quite tasty, as well as being cheap. Besides, Kathmandu has a range of eateries catering to more exotic and Western appetites.
Try the Snowman Cafe in Old Freak Street for coffee and homemade apple pie or chocolate cake. Momos are very popular in Kathmandu - these dumplings filled with meat or vegetables can be either steamed or deep-fried. There are also restaurants that serve anything from Indian food to steak or pizza. Enjoy!