Kathmandu on the Cheap

IT contributor Cathy Healy is back from her recent trip to Nepal, and offers some inexpensive ways to make the most of the country’s rich cultural offerings.

Kathmandu, Nepal — Tala Katner awes me. Her blog about watching Hindu death rites with burning corpses and floating the ashes down the Bagmati River made me glad I dodged the experience that day. We were both in the area at the same time, but had very different experiences, which helps explain why Kathmandu continues to be a mythic destination for anybody who visits.
 
First, we did a fly-by of Everest. Then we explored two of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley: 14th-century Bhaktapur, a car-free, Hindu temple town where people still live traditionally, and the 15th-century Buddhist stupa at Bodhnath, a center of Tibetan life here. Finally, we kicked back with live jazz at the Cafe New Orleans in Patan. (Which, by the way, is a few blocks from a third UNESCO site.)
 
This was a meandering day, not a dash, and three of the most extraordinary sights in the world were affordable. Here’s how:

1. Traveling by ordinary taxi for the day and evening ($34). My pal

Richard Boyum negotiated with “Denis” for a daily rate when we first

arrived in Kathmandu as presenters at the annual Nepal English-Language

Teachers Association conference.
 
 2. Cruising on Buddha Air

($162) for an hour along the spine of the Himalaya to Everest and back.

All seats have a window. Suggestion: Ask for an A seat, so you see the

mountains immediately, and visit the cockpit on the return trip. 
 
3.

Time-traveling 700 years back in Bhaktapur where cars are forbidden

($25 entrance fee + guide). The busy temple town (172 elaborate

structures at its peak, says Lonely Planet) buzzes with residents

carving yak bone bowls, shaping pots, painting thangka scrolls,

weaving and creating puppets. (Irresistible crafts set me back $265.)

Late lunch overlooking Dunbar Square, home of the infamous copulating

elephant carvings ($6.50 each for lunch, including the gigantic bottle

of Everest beer).
 
4. Circling the massive white stupa in

Bodhnath, with a hundred or so Tibetan monks and Western worshipers, to

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the rhythm of a massive brass gong, a late afternoon ritual ($0.) The

white-domed stupa, festooned with prayer flags and crowned with a

golden spire, is surrounded by monasteries, shops and restaurants.
 
5. Retreating to the familiar with live jazz at dinner in the candlelit courtyard of the Cafe New Orleans.

This is the one in Patan, which is just across the Bagmati River from

Kathmandu. The cafe features a Berkeley-style West-East menu and

Chilean wine ($15 each).

Video: Cathy Healy

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