At the gateway to the top of the world

Kathmandu: the land of the yeti, the Gurkha’s dagger and the buffalo burger

By Dinidu de Alwis.

Published on November 01, 2012 with No Comments


The Gurkhas who hailed from Nepal carried the Kukri– the traditional, time-proven curved blade that doubles both as a utility knife and an efficient killing device. So efficient, it saw active duty during the two world wars. Legend says that once unsheathed, it shall not be put back into the scabbard without spilling the blood of another. In the shopping district of Thamel in Kathmandu, you can buy one for less than what a sit-down dinner would cost in Colombo.



There are plenty of things to do in Nepal, with the main one being climbing mountains. Treks and tigers are a few hours from Kathmandu, and Yeti Airlines operates both scheduled and charter flights to the out-of-town travel hotspots. But while in Kathmandu, there is still much to see and do.
One of the favourite and most popular spots in the city is the shopping district of Thamel. If you’re ready for a bit of a walk through the crowded and dusty streets (which are also apparently WiFi enabled of late), you’ll find camo-clad mannequins staring through shop windows while fake Nepalis try to sell fake Rolexes bundled with fake Kukris. The area however, is heaven for the curio hunter.
Stone tablets with everything from Om, Welcome and Have a Nice Day carved on them, to (supposed) yak-bone bangles and chunky necklaces and chokers, are sold here. So are Kukris: distinctively Nepali, senselessly big and heavy, impractically manly. Some are just for display, while others are forged with time-honored techniques making them actually useful for purposes– both evil and benign.
Kathmandu, including Thamel, has a lot of massage parlours, and one cannot talk about the country without mentioning them. Originally started to relax the trekker and climber after exhausting travels, they have now also evolved to provide “extra” services, which the Nepali government turns a blind eye to.

THE CITY – At 4,600 ft

The city of Kathmandu lies 4,600ft above sea level. Being completely landlocked, the country is also quite dry. The capital city of Nepal, which doubles as the transit hub for those who want to trek the Everest, is criss-crossed with hundreds of narrow streets which bustle with traffic throughout the day.
Once you’re in Kathmandu there is much to do, other than heading out to the hills for trekking. The city is dotted with heaps of small temples, restaurants serving traditional Newari cuisine, a few shopping malls which stock most international brands, and several labrynthic bazaars to find both authentic and fake curios.
Being a popular tourist destination, there are plenty of places to stay. At last count there were over ten star-class hotels, and there are several more being built. Though, one has to be prepared to make certain sacrifices in terms of certain luxuries that are taken for granted: internet connectivity – even though not rare – is still quite slow. It’s also expensive. Unless you’re specifically getting a taxi from the hotel or one of the few rental companies which have a modern fleet, you will find yourself hailing a run-down (yet still somehow plastered with sporting-esque stickers) Maruti 800. Considering that all fuel in Kathmandu is brought over in trucks from neighbouring India, travelling around in taxis is also expensive.


Nepal however is not the easiest country to get to. Visas are required and free, provided you haven’t travelled to the country over the past year, and the Embassy in Colombo usually processes visas in less than a week. There are three main routes that can be taken. Via Delhi is expensive, but frequent. Via Singapore or via Dubai tend to be the more economical options, and also have frequent flights, the only catch however, being a long flight time. A not-so efficient immigration process makes it a bit more complicated when you land. Public transport cannot be relied upon when there, so it has to either be a dedicated rented vehicle or taxis. As said earlier, high petrol and diesel prices make for high taxi fares and expensive travel.

EATING IN NEPAL-  Don’t Have a Cow

Being a predominantly Hindu country, there is no beef. Every other meat, including pork, is found in abundance at all leading hotels and restaurants, but fish tends to be a luxury, and is priced along the same lines. The speciality is buffalo, and if you’re in Kathmandu, buffalo (of buff, as it is generally referred) has to be eaten. Nepalese have found that anything that can be done with beef can be done with buffalo – and in some cases done better with buffalo. Fast food places serve buffalo burgers, eateries serve buffalo steak, and traditional Newari restaurants serve strange, yet interesting dishes made with the meat. If in Kathmandu, do try and exit the confines of the safe space and explore what this textured meat can offer, including one variation of deep-fried buff shavings which is served as an appetizer and as a finger food.

A stroll THROUGH Thamel

Not enough can be said about this blade. It’s historic, it’s probably more masculine than Excalibur itself, and it carries the legend of not re-sheathing without spilling the blood of another. The fake ones are only ornamental, the ones that have been properly made can withstand striking the tarmac with the cutting edge – something dealers would proudly demonstrate. It comes with two small utensils which are embedded into the handle, which are used to care for the blade. If you do buy it, make sure to put it into your checked baggage, as it would be otherwise confiscated for safety reasons.


Nepal’s answer to the Big Mac comes in the form of a buffalo burger, and can be had for around US$4 from any fast-food place. Juicier than beef and much more textured, this uniquely Nepali food which was designed to fill a religious loophole can also fill the stomach without any issues.



Available in a whole rainbow of colours, necklaces, arm bands, earrings and rings are available for sale everywhere. The darker tones tend to be more toned down, but there is something for everyone to choose: bright radiating colours for the adventurous, the more “ethnic” looking for the late-back, and the somber designed for the more conservative.


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