People always ask me what to do in Kathmandu when they have a few days after trekking or between adventures. There are plenty of fun things to do, but you have to know where to find them. So in the good spirit of one of my favorite films, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I have created this list of Best Exotic Fun in Kathmandu.
Exotic Thing to Do in Kathmandu #1 – See the Living Goddess at the Kumari Palace
This tops my list of exotics, because where else can you visit a living goddess that is not self-proclaimed and is actually a small child. The Kumari is part of a tradition in Nepal that dates back to the 1700s. A virgin girl is chosen to be the living vessel of Telaju, the goddess who advised the king of Nepal. This child-god is discovered at around age 3 from the local Newar community. She can only reign until she reaches puberty, at which time the “Telaju” (goddess energy) will leave her body. The court must then find a new Kumari. You should check out the Kumari around 4pm in the Durbar Square. You may catch a glimpse of her in the window in her palace. However, do NOT take a photo. Tourists may not photograph the goddess, and you will be asked to leave if the guard sees your camera out. (As there is no longer a king in Nepal, I am not sure who the goddess is currently advising. The government could sure use some help though.)
Best Thing to do in Kathmandu #2 – Go to the Asan Market
Do you want to see the really old, even ancient part of Kathmandu where the buildings lean in toward each other, and the doorways are as small as modern day windows, and the street are filled with vendors selling from baskets just like 100 years ago? Then go to the Asan Market. It’s crowded to be sure, but the sites, sounds and smells will take you back to the ancient days of Kathmandu. This is one of my favorite places to show newcomers to the city. It is the Kathmandu you read about; it has that ancient feel. Be sure to look up and notice the hand carved details of the window frames and balconies. Also, this is still the main shopping district of old Katmandu. You can get anything and everything from the street vendors, from banana leaf bowls to boxer briefs underpants.
Head over to Boudhanath on the north side of Kathmandu, and you will find the famous Boudhanath Stupa, said to house a fragment of bone from the Lord Buddha (Siddharta Gautama – born in Lumbini, Nepal). This area referred to locally as simply “Boudha” is an old Tibetan village that was once outside of the city of Kathmandu. As the city sprawled, it became one of the neighborhoods outside of the ring-road. Once you get to Boudha, head down one of the many alleyways to the tiny stalls of mo-mo vendors. These are authentic Tibetan mo-mos (dumplings) and they are delicious. They come with a tomato spicy sauce on the side. This is a cultural foodie experience you must try!
Foodie Thing to do in Kathmandu #4 – Drink hot Tumba after a long day
Hot what? Tumba! This is a popular drink in the back alleys of Thamel (Kathmandu’s tourist district) in the winter time. So, what is it? It is a mug full of fermented millet that hot water is poured over. It is served in old fashioned stainless steel mugs, that come with a metal straw (necessarily because of the boiling water). It the cold evening months locals and sometimes the adventurous tourist, sit around in little out of the way taverns called “hotels” (but they are not really hotels, more like road-side restaurants) and sit hot Tumba until they have a nice buzz and had warded off the chill. Tumba is an ancient traditional drink, and should be tried by anyone who wants to experience the foodie culture of Kathmadu.
Cultural Thing to do in Kathmandu #5 – Experience a holy pooja during festival season – Dashain, Tihar, and many more.
This experience came to me from one of our Western employees who spent a season guiding in Nepal. He said his best exotic experience was receiving tika (red mark put on your forehead) and doing pooja with a local family during the holy festival of Tihar (also known as Dipawali in Nepal, or Diwali in India). Tihar is the festival of lights, and you will see butter lamps lighting up mandalas and flower designs all over the streets of Kathmandu. This is my favorite festival. But there are many others you could experience where pooja (and tika) will be held to honor a Hindu or Buddhist diety. Here are a few of my favorite festivals throughout the year:
Dashain – in beginning of October
Tihar (Dipawali) – End of October to beginning of November
Bishwakarma Pooja – Mid September honors Lord Biswakarma, architect of the universe and patron of all things metal. (I love this one because I am BK, which stands for Bishwakarma)
Tij – August festival to honor women.
Buddha Jayanti – April or May . Celebrates the birthday of the Lord Buddha.
The list of exotic fun things to do in Kathmandu could go on and on. If you have not yet visited this unique city, go with your eyes wide open, and look for weird things to do – there is no shortage. If you have been to Kathmandu, and you have not done any of my top 5 things, be sure to try a few next time you are there!