We didn't go to Nepal to trek, or to get in touch with our hippie souls, or to climb Everest. We went for two reasons. 1. Kathmandu! How much romance is in THAT name? and 2. It's conveniently located as a stopover between India and China. Perfect.
Kathmandu is a strange town. It has a tourist ghetto called Thamel that's more Southeast Asia than India or China, with street after street of restaurants hawking Western food and shops selling the same cloth sack-bags, multicolored patchwork juggler's pants, and fake-branded coats.
It's also an incredibly chaotic city, where the infrastructure is in no way up to the number of people and tourists walking the streets. There is no ambling down the lanes in the center; horns are blaring, cycle-rickshaw drivers are ringing bells and honking makeshift soda-bottle warning systems, and people are dodging in and out. If you stop for a moment, you'll be run down from three different directions.
Small scenes of country life are within easy strolling distance of the center of town. We took this picture across the street from our wonderful (highly recommended) hotel and tea house, Ting's Tea Lounge just off of Lazimpat. (I'm so sorry we stole your key, guys! After you had such nice tea and breakfast and rooms and were so sweet and helped us yell at the cabbie who tried to rip us off on the way in from the airport!)
There are still a lot of traditional spaces,
and conveyances (we did end up in a cycle rickshaw at one point - they're pretty persistent, especially when business is slow),
And shops. Many of these were really fascinating, especially just outside of Thamel.
We saw pop-up markets that kept going even on a grey, COLD, rainy day.
What are oyster mushrooms selling for these days in Austin? I could eat about ten pounds of these. Sear them and then throw in an egg or two... Heaven.
Anyone know what the dealie is with these tubers? They look pretty intimidating.
Some folks just took their specialty markets on the road with them.
But some, by necessity, had to be a bit more stable. I wish copper kitchenware was easier to ship.
Tea? Or turmeric?
Of course, we ate, too. There's a place in Thamel that Ting's recommended to us as having the best Nepali food, so we headed over to Thakali Bhanchha (Thakali Kitchen) to try it out.
Here's a Phhapar ko Dhido, which is basically a Nepali thali with a buckwheat porridge. The porridge was thick and satisfying, and reminded me a bit of East Africa's ugali. The pickles were bright and acidic and the stews, both beany (two types) and muttony, were heavily spiced and made very nice sauces for the otherwise not very flavorful starch. Oh, and DUMPLINGS!
Speaking of buckwheat, these fried buckwheat nuggets (canchampa) were delicious. They'd make the perfect beer snack, with their crunchy exteriors, soft buckwheaty centers, and dippin' pepper.
There were a couple of decent local beers - we liked Gorkha a lot - but also some unique local beverages.
Jhawaikhattee is a grain alcohol served with rice that's been toasted in butter. It's warm, so think Nepalese mulled wine, buttery and boozy. Though it's not that high in alcohol, something about spirits served warm always makes them go right to my head.
And then there's tungba, a warm Tibetan millet beer that is served with a big pitcher of hot water. The millet is fermented, which gives the beer a bit of a sour flavor, but thinning it out with hot water balances the flavors and brings out the grain's sweetness.
Next: The Kathmandu Valley and its cultural attractions! We see the aftermath of an animal sacrifice. It's pretty much just as unsettling as you'd think it would be.