Kathmandu: My Fondness for Monkeys, Doughnuts and Dhal Baht

Overall during my month or so in Nepal, I reckon I would’ve spent just under a week in Kathmandu. Whilst I met a few people who didn’t like it for no other reason than the fact that it’s busy, dusty and a little overwhelming, to me it was brilliant. Despite the fact that I’m more at home among the rivers and trees, I’ve travelled to quite a number of busy cities over the last few years. For the most part, as soon as you hit the streets with your giant backpack which just screams ‘tourist’, you’re approached by a number of people offering you everything under the sun: “Come to my restaurant,” “Come into my shop,” “Student price,” “Looking is free.” But in Kathmandu, this was really kept to a minimum and when people did approach occasionally it was totally non-confrontational. It made me warm to the city immediately.

Normally I’d begin the day at a stop at my favourite bakery in Nepal, Hot Breads, directly beside the Kathmandu Guest House. After weeks of boiled eggs and dhal, it was nice to have a little taste of home: mushroom and spinach quiches, pizza bread rolls, cheese scrolls (and not Yak cheese), and if you were feeling naughty – coconut, white chocolate, dark chocolate, cream and custard doughnuts. *drool* The best part is, everything is pretty much between 70-110 Nepalese rupee, which is equivalent to $1-2 Australian dollars.

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How could you say no to this doughnut? It’s so happy!

Then I’d hit the streets before it got too warm. Another brilliant thing about Kathmandu is that you can walk everywhere. I adore walking new cities instead of taking a taxi for a number of reasons:

  • You’re not whizzing by, so you don’t miss out of the little details, like a grandfather playing with his baby granddaughter, the goat butcheries, or the children walking off to school in their neat little uniforms;
  • You memorise the city a lot quicker;
  • I love walking anyway and after a month, it’s surprisingly hard to stop, and;
  • It’s free, and free is my favourite number.

But I mean, if walking isn’t your thing, you can always take a cycle rickshaw.

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Just taking a casual mid-morning nap

My favourite place in all of Kathmandu would have to be Swayambhunath, or the monkey temple, which is named because of the population of monkeys that kind of rules the roost up there. From Thamel it probably was probably about a 30-40 minute walk until we reached a pair of big buddas at the base of the hill. As I passed them by, I looked up only to see a rather large number of stairs and my face looked a little something like this…

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My “nobody said anything about stairs” face

I had no excuse not to climb them though, because, mountains, so up I went. I was a bit of an icky sweaty mess at the top to be honest, but it was totally worth it. The view of Kathmandu was incredible. Despite the smog, you could see the buildings sprawl out before you, and one of the most endearing factors – there are next to no super high rise buildings. Instead were the sandy-grey multi-story buildings, with colourful gardens and drying laundry covering the rooftops like confetti.

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What a view – and who could forget the prayer flags

Afterwards, I slowly walked around the base of the stupa (from the left), taking in the painted eyes, gold decorations, and spinning the prayer flags. Recordings of Tibetan Buddhist chanting followed you wherever you went and shopkeepers sat with their stalls of prayer beads, flags and Himalayan paintings.

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Spinning the pray flags to abolish sin and obtain religion

The most entertaining thing to do though was to sit back and enjoy the antics of the monkeys. There were so many, especially babies, and they were constantly getting up to mischief – stepping through the candles, lying all over the stone carvings and picking pieces off the stupa and flicking them down to the ground below where they’d shatter into powder at my feet. I also found myself giggling uncontrollably as I watched several of the young ones playing a game together: they’d claw their way up a prayer flag, seeing who could get the highest before the inevitable would happen and they’d topple off into the vegetation below.

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Swinging on a prayer flag – only the best game ever

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Swayambhunath – where monkeys rule all

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A quiet moment 

I’d normally spend my afternoons in Thamel, wandering through the maze of shops selling yak shawls, hippy pants, and hiking gear. I loved doing this, as shop owners didn’t usually badger you when you entered a shop, leaving you to browse without feeling the constant pressure of being pushed for a sale. Otherwise I’d retreat to one of my favourite cafes where I’d drink lassi whilst skyping home. Lassi would lead onto dinner which would either be at one of my favourites: Green Organic Café and Farmers Bar, OR2K, or Mahabir’s Centre for Nepal Connection. Dhal baht was my go to meal, which I surprisingly didn’t get sick of after a month. I just loved the combination of multiple small dishes put together on one plate, especially the pickle and paneer curry. I also believe very much in doing as the Romans do. This being said, the best meal I probably had was at OR2K where two of my friends and I kicked off our shoes, sat on giant cushions on the floor and shared hummus, babaganoush, salsa, naan, spinach pie, salad, and veggie targine until we almost died from a simultaneous food coma. So flipping good. Eventually, I’d walk back to my guesthouse, my belly full of rice and the lights of Thamel marking my way home.

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Dhal Bhat – my one true love

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