The bus rolled into Kathmandu from Pokhara after a long, 7-hour trundle through spectacular scenery. As we struggled along the pot holed road devastation surrounded us. It was in many ways like pulling into a war zone, construction was everywhere, and when I say construction I mean people using wooden scaffolding and repairing collapsed buildings with nothing but hope and homemade cement. Bricks lay piled by streets amongst rubble, coiled metal and dirt.
In 2015 Kathmandu was devastated by an earthquake so immense, it is one of the largest ever recorded. 8000 people were killed and 21,000 were injured. As a result of the earthquake, avalanches ploughed down Mt Everest making it the deadliest day ever on the mountain as 21 people perished. Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese were made homeless as entire villages were flattened, the country was taken to the brink.
Throughout history the Nepalese have faced civil war (it actually only ended about 10 years ago), natural disasters and are ranked one of the poorest countries on earth. But what Nepal does have, is some of the most resourceful, friendly, genuinely amazing people I have ever met anywhere on earth. In addition to this, Nepal is the most scenically, spectacular place on earth. From jungles, to rice fields, to desert and to the highest mountain range on the planet, Nepal is a hiker’s paradise. Further posts will follow, but my wife and son hiked to Everest base camp and then did a second ‘hybrid’ hike into the Annapurna.
Alas, we arrived into what was a familiar city, but seemed completely unfamiliar. I have written about Kathmandu previously, so this is a short round up of what we did…
Kathmandu with kids
The Nepalese adore children and so any visit to the country will be a combination of balancing endless cheek squeezes with the patience of your young ones. Throw into the fray brutal heat, high humidity, crazy traffic, dust, dirt, and a city devastated in 2015 by one of the worst earthquakes in history and you would be forgiven for thinking that Kathmandu has no place on the itinerary of any parent. And it is true, few families visit this tiny landlocked nation. But, for those that chase the most rugged, spectacular mountain range on earth, kids on tow, they will invariably find themselves in the city that boasts a history spanning some 2000 years – Kathmandu.
Most people opt to stay in travel friendly Thamel, it is by far the cheapest place in the city with near wall to wall accommodation to suit all budgets and styles. Double rooms at around $5, whereas we paid $80 per night, for a 3-bedroom penthouse apartment in one of the city’s most exclusive areas, Bhatbetini.
Without doubt, the best of Nepal is spattered throughout the Himalayas, but for a city, Kathmandu has much going for it.
Guidebooks will tell you that Kathmandu is a city to be walked, and we did actually walk much of it, but dragging kids through dusty streets whilst trying to avoid suicidal drivers very quickly becomes boring. For the price of taxis, it just doesn’t make sense. And though every taxi driver will start at 500 rupees for a journey to the house next door, realistically you will pay around 300 rupees for a ride to anywhere in the city.
Top 5 destinations for kids
- Whoopee Land
Brand new, and just a 700 rupee ride from Kathmandu in a taxi, the driver of which will have no idea where you have asked him to go, this small, but excitement filled ‘theme park’ is located at the foot of stunning mountains in the Kathmandu district of Chobar. Buses will take you there, but why bother. Home to a slide filled water park, kids rides, statues of superheroes and even a ‘rapids’ ride through Jurassic Park, Whoopee land delivered on every level. The kids loved every minute of it and we spent an entire day there. It is without a doubt the best attraction for kids in Kathmandu.
Adult: 650 Rupees
Prices vary according to holidays, weekdays and weekends, irrespective of which, the entrance is probably the best value for money at any theme/waterpark anywhere in South Asia.
- Kathmandu Zoo
Kathmandu zoo receives a lot of bad press, much of it justified. Largely geared around small enclosures and the difference in price for foreigners, this miniscule zoo is a place you really need to think about prior to going. Do you avoid it on principle and give the zoo less income to spend on the animals? Or do you shell out the eye watering ‘foreigner’ price of 750 rupees for adults and 450 for kids. I say eye watering, it isn’t really but when you realise you are paying 8 times more than Nepalese, it genuinely is a slap in the face.
The zoo itself is quaint, at least half a century past a makeover and would probably fail any EU Health and Safety check on every level… But this isn’t the EU, and the zoo allows you to get up close and personal with the animals. Don’t be surprised if a random elephant walks past you or a bear screams for food as though it is screaming for life.
- Pashupatinath Temple (with a twist)
Pashupatinath Temple ranks as one of the biggest scams that Nepal offers. But with a little imagination, is well worth the trouble. The most revered and important temple in Kathmandu, Pashupatinath may be central to the lives of the Nepalese, but for tourists, and children in particular it is a hot bed of scamsters just waiting to pounce. At 1000 rupees per person, it is more expensive that the Taj Mahal, tourists paying the price are essentially giving themselves a slap and asking someone to follow up. Especially when they realise that they cannot even enter the temple, and that their fee was simply to gawk from the outside. Fear not. Forget about paying the exorbitant entrance fee, walk through the complex as though you were headed back to the city and on your left you will see a river. Walk down the river, cross the bridge and then sit on the Ganges watching the cremations. How is this suitable for children? Two things. Firstly, there is nowhere else in Kathmandu that you will see as many monkeys. Not even monkey temple (see #4). Secondly, it is sobering to watch how some cultures treat the end of life and kids will really tune into this. It is culture at its rawest, at its most sensually intrusive, it is life changing.
- Monkey Temple
Swayambunath Temple is on the hit list of every foreigner’s itinerary in Kathmandu. Perched atop a zillion steps (or at least it seems so) this stunning temple offers up the best views of Kathmandu from the ground. Swarming with monkeys that are more than willing to give you a slap, kids absolutely love this place. Ok, it’s cultural and temples can be boring for kids, but monkey spotting entertains them whilst you immerse yourself in the stunning history of this temple. Candles flicker, monkeys try stealing your things, and the occasional self-righteous European will look at you in disgust for daring to enter his bubble kid in tow. But children can run, climb and be thoroughly entertained in one of the cities greatest spots.
Depending on who is at the entrance will depend on the price you pay. It is supposed to be 250 rupees with children being free. But the guard determined my 12 and 14-year-old daughters were adults. The passports that had allowed us entry to Nepal were not sufficient evidence for this beady eyed bloke.
- Boudhanath Stupa
The most significant Buddhist stupa in Nepal was all but destroyed by the earthquake and that is one of the reasons it is on my list. This once grand, stunning nod to Buddhism is a shadow of what it once was and the only way it will regain such glory is through visitors. There is still plenty for kids to see and do. They can light a butter candle, get lost in the many craft shops, run, play and chase birds. It is still the slice of pristine silence on chill level ten it was; it is just under construction.
Adults 250 rupees
Beyond the list are a million things to do in Kathmandu. With about 5 cinemas, prices are just £30 to watch a blockbuster movie. The city now has a KFC for a western reminder and the streets of Thamel are begging to be walked. People reading this may raise questions of Patan and Durbar Sq., but I cannot recommend those places. They offer nothing for kids and are now charging foreigners $15 entrance whilst everyone else pays nothing. It wasn’t worth it pre 2015 and it isn’t now.
As alluded to at the head of this post, Kathmandu is the spring board to the Himalayas, but with kids, there is no reason to sit around twiddling your thumbs wondering what to do. Get out there and explore this amazing city and portal to the most spectacular landscape on the planet.