Late January 2014, I had the opportunity to visit Nepal as a part of my job.I wasn’t originally supposed to go because someone with more seniority had initially been selected. However, he decided not to go and I was next in line. I had only about 3 weeks from when I was told that I would be going until I actually left for Nepal. I was beyond excited especially because I didn’t have to pay for anything. It was truly a dream come true. The team of refugee officers were headed to Damak to interview Bhutanese refugees who were being considered for resettlement to the U.S. My role was to fingerprint the applicants. We lived in the small city of Damak, Nepal for 6 weeks. However, before we headed to Damak, we took in the sights of Kathmandu.
I didn’t have any expectations about Nepal. I had been told by friends that the food is amazing and the people are very friendly. I also found that to be true. To arrive in Nepal I flew from Los Angeles to Bangkok, where I had an overnight layover, and I arrived in Kathmandu the following morning. I spent about 4 days in Kathmandu before the team and I left for Damak. In Kathmandu, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, which I definitely recommend. Every morning there was an amazing breakfast buffet and the hotel itself has a pool, exercise room, and multiple restaurants.
This particular stupa is extremely important as it is the religious center for Nepal’s Tibetan /Buddhist community. If you arrive early in the morning, you will see monks with shaven heads wearing their traditional maroon robes. You will also see many people spinning the prayer wheels that are at the base of the stupa. Remember as you walk around the stupa that the tradition is to walk clockwise. Surrounding the stupa are several shops and restaurants. It is a UNESCO world heritage site
The royal family used to reside here about a century ago. Although there were many tourists, due to its size it didn’t feel crowded. There are numerous temples throughout the square. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can spend a few hours exploring all that Durbar square has to offer. There is a small tourist fee to enter.
Just 10 miles outside of Kathmandu, lies Bhaktapur. There are no cars allowed inside. There are several temples throughout. There is also a Potter’s square where you see pieces of pottery being dried in the sun as well as many potters hard at work creating beautiful pieces of pottery. There are also several restaurants in case you work up an appetite while exploring. There is also a small tourist entrance fee. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Swayambhunath Stupa (monkey temple)
It’s not everyday that you see monkeys roaming freely. Monkeys have always been my favorite animal so I was delighted to see so many monkeys all in one place. There are many steps to arrive at the top but the views of the city are unparalleled. To arrive at the temple, you can take a taxi from Thamel which is only a 20 minute drive. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Many hostels and hotels can be found in Thamel. This is the tourist hub of Kathmandu. There are also countless shops, restaurants, and bars here. This is a great place to buy souvenirs and most shop-owners will allow you to haggle for a better price. I did not stay in Thamel but it was only about a 5$ taxi ride from my hotel to Thamel.
While in Nepal, I was introduced to momos. A momo is a type of dumpling that can be filled with either meat (chicken, pork, lamb), cheese, or vegetables. They can either be boiled or fried. They are normally served with a dipping sauce that is either mild or hot. This is one of the cheapest things that you can eat in Nepal even though food in general is very reasonable.
To arrive in Damak, you must fly into the Bhadrapur airport. The flight is about 2 hours from Kathmandu. There aren’t many things to do for fun but there are a few really good restaurants which serve Nepalese and Indian food. When I wasn’t working, I spent most mornings jogging and the afternoons exploring Damak. Everyone that I came across was very friendly. I even made a few friends along my jogging path.
A nice day trip from Damak, you will find the Ilam tea gardens. They are absolutely beautiful. The hills go on for miles. There’s also a nice trek to the top that offers breathtaking views. There’s a couple restaurants at the top from where you can see the entire valley. The weather was a bit rainy and foggy but it was still totally worth the 2.5 hour drive from Damak.
When I learned of the devastating earthquake that recently hit Nepal, I was completely devastated. I thought about all the lives that were lost and how many children would soon become orphans. It was truly a tragedy. I remember when we arrived in Damak, we were warned that Nepal was due for an earthquake since there hadn’t been one in so many years. Even though we were spared, I remember it being something in the back of my mind when I was there. My prayers continue to go out to all those affected by the tragedy in Nepal and the surrounding countries. The people of Nepal will always have a special place in my heart. Due to the earthquake, I am not sure of the current conditions of many of the historical landmarks in Kathmandu.