Hearing the hustle and bustle of the streets outside my room window, I woke up to my first day in Kathmandu. Well, perhaps saying I “woke up” is a bit of a stretch…I have some adjusting to do given my new timezone (I’m 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Toronto time).
After a filling breakfast complete with a cup of Nepali chai, I changed some currency and walked down the alley in which my hotel is located, to began a day of neighbourhood exploration.
Thanks to a great tip from my friend Cindy Chen, I had an offline copy of the Kathmandu city map saved to my phone on the app maps.me — I marked my hotel location so I could find my way back, and made a left turn on the main road to start.
Thamel is the main tourist district of Kathmandu, and all around me were roadside shops and vendors, small guest houses, hotels and restaurants. Many of the buildings here are narrow and a few stories tall, and there isn’t a grid of streets to navigate, but rather a few main streets with alleys, twists and turns connecting them. If you’re afraid of walking down one-way streets or through narrow lanes, you may have a bit of a hard time here. If you’re fearful of motorbikes, you may also find the streets a bit challenging — bikes zip through everywhere, and while we tend to stick to the right side of the street back home, I noticed that people here walk on the left. I quickly followed suit.
I enjoyed wandering with no agenda, taking in everything around me at a leisurely pace. People are friendly, and as with most places, I found that a smile shared was quickly returned by the locals. There is still much damage to be seen from the April 2015 earthquake, but I also wonder if some of the disrepair predates this– the roads are cracked, dusty and dirty, there is trash all about, an overgrowth of plants in empty lots, and gutters are filled with dirty water.
But there is also much beauty to be seen in the city — you get the occasional glimpse of low mountains in the distance, there are beautiful textiles, jewellery, and brass sculptures to be seen in shop windows and spilling out onto the streets, and as you walk by food shops, there are tantalizing scents to take in.
I decided to hunt for a rooftop restaurant at a hostel my friend recommended, but got a bit lost along the way. And quite by chance (or perhaps fate or good fortune), I walked by the entrance to The Garden of Dreams.
The historic garden was on my list of places to visit, and having spent the previous few hours inhaling dust and fumes and sweating quite profusely given the day’s heat, the Garden was a welcome spot for a break.
The entrance fee for foreigners is 200 Nepali Rupees (~ $2 USD) — I paid it and went inside.
The Garden of Dreams is beautiful. Neatly manicured and styled in a European fashion, there are plenty of spots to take a seat in the shade, rest and relax.
I decided to treat myself and went to the cafe for a local beer. As I sipped the cold beverage, I watched the local lovers around me (this is apparently a popular spot for young couples) and saw other tourists also weary from the hot sun equally entranced by the Garden’s views.
I don’t think there could have been a more fitting first stop on my dream trip. The Garden of Dreams is a lovely oasis, a pleasant spot for reflection.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go on a trip like this. But sitting in the Garden, I felt hopeful and filled with positive energy. Sure, I’d gotten lost — but look at what I’d found!
After a few more wrong turns, I finally found the rooftop spot I was seeking, made a stop for dinner at a hip joint called Electric Pagoda, and finally made my way back to my hotel. It was an excellent first day.