A trip to Kathmandu can leave the traveler enchanted, but the Nepalese capital's highs and lows can also overwhelm. A city of over a million people crammed with refugees from the decade-long civil war fought in Nepal's rural areas Kathmandu is a place of constant noise and traffic, and the occasional boisterous protest. There's no longer a monarch, but the city has royal remnants aplenty, along with exquisite Thangka and Hindu art, Buddhist artifacts, great food and a paradise of adventure sport right on its doorstep. In town for the weekend? Here's how to spend it memorably.
Head over to the oasis known as Garden of Dreams, tel: (977-1) 442 5340, for a stroll and predinner drink. Originally established in the 1920s, this landmark was in decay for decades before an Austrian-funded team finished restoring the Edwardian-influenced pavilions and grounds in 2006. Enjoy your aperitif at the on-site Kaiser Bar, before heading across the street for dinner at the historic 1905, tel: (977-1) 422 5272 a venerable restaurant that has seen many a state function in its day (Queen Elizabeth II herself has dined there). If you've booked rooms at Hotel Yak and Yeti, tel: (977-1) 424 8999 which despite its name is no backpacker hostel but a five-star hotel then you're just a five-minute walk from home.
Hop in a taxi for a morning visit to Boudha, the Tibetan area of the city where the famous Boudhanath Stupa lies, circled by elderly Tibetans for hours. Walk to the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery, tel: (977-1) 448 3575, for the weekly 11 a.m. English-language Buddhist lecture by its renowned abbot, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. For lunch, and a glimpse of local woodwork, bronze and painting, head to the Patan Museum and Patan Museum Café, tel: (977-1) 552 1492, at Patan Durbar Square. In the late afternoon, take a taxi to Baber Mahal Revisited, an upscale shopping and entertainment complex housed in the beautifully renovated stables of an old palace. Boutiques and galleries are tucked inside narrow passages and flower-filled verandas. For coffee, take a seat at Chez Caroline, tel: (977-1) 426 3070; for upscale Nepali and Tibetan homeware and accessories, head upstairs to Pipalbot, tel: (977-1) 972 133 1390; and for dinner sit down at Baithak, tel: (977-1) 426 7346. This atmospheric venue offers royal cuisine and long-table dining.
Head outside the city for some perspective: namely the sweeping vistas of Kathmandu offered from the Swayambhunath, or Monkey Temple, called thus for the hundreds of sacred monkeys living in its grounds and located just 30 minutes west of the city center in the Kathmandu Valley. For some gentle outdoor adventure, call Epic Mountain Bike Adventure, tel: (977-1) 555 5021, the night before to schedule a bike tour of nearby Nagarkot Hill Station. Back in town, head over to the Lazimpat district for last-minute shopping at Mahaguthi, tel: (977-1) 553 3197, which sells Fair Trade crafts and jewelry. Across the street, Wild Earth, tel: (977-1) 437 4178, sells locally made soaps and essential oils. For a quick refuel, Lazimpat's Ambassador Hotel has a tiny but relaxing café, Cibo, tel: (977-1) 441 0727. From there, you can choose either the Narayanhiti Palace Museum on Durbar Marg for more sightseeing or venture into Thamel, a maze of narrow alleys, cafés, restaurants, climbing shops, bookstores, CD stalls and more. Book a table for dinner at a local favorite, Tukche Thakali Kitchen, tel: (977-1) 422 5890, on Durbar Marg for traditional Nepali cuisine. If you're hungry for postprandial entertainment, the Factory, tel: (977-1) 470 1185, at nearby Sagarmatha Bazar, is Kathmandu's current place to be seen.
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