Less than five hours away from Dubai by direct flight, lies a world of peaks that tear the clouds to streaks.
Words by David Dunn
Dubai traffic will never seem the same.
Not after tasting the erratic, seemingly relentless spectacle that turns Kathmandu’s roads into a metallic zoo.
Thankfully there is respite. Set back from one of the Nepalese capital’s major routes and just 20 minutes from the airport where our flydubai flight landed mid afternoon, Hotel Shanker stunningly contrasts the urban mayhem.
Majestic white pillars front a neo-classical 19th century facade that recounts when the property was a palace to Nepal’s rulers, from 1894.
Past a uniformed doorman, a beautifully restored lobby features more pillars, crystal chandeliers and eye-catching objects.
An intricately carved wooden door accesses a bar with a quaint feel, including 200 year-old carved windows.
Further restoration is underway in other parts of the hotel, but you rarely hear the work. A hotel since 1964, it warrants some TLC in places, but in others historic aspects draw attention, such the ballroom and adjacent restaurant where a generous breakfast is served; and the aptly named Cosy Kailash multi-cuisine restaurant.
Some old world features extend to selected rooms. While our standard room was more practical and comfortable, suites boast ornate ceilings hinting at a regal past.
Hotel Shanker is a 15-minute walk from Thamel; a hectic, at times ramshackle, tourist-thronged area where much nightlife is lived.
By day it bristles with traders offering everything from wooden masks to convincing copies of branded rucksacks and outdoor wear for those aspiring Base Camp or less ambitious hikes.
Numerous bars and restaurants offer good value eats and Western-priced adult refreshments, some smoke-clogged dens, others – such as New Orleans Cafe – historic courtyards with chilled music and authentic Nepalese dishes.
Occasional crumbling streets and buildings are reminders of the earthquake that devastated parts just three years ago. At Manang restaurant, traditional Gandharba musicians played for cash and CD sales to fund education and accommodation in their still recovering villages.
Following online traveller recommendations, we booked four day trips in the Kathmandu valley for AED450 with Thamel travel agents Rainbow Mountain Treks.
This included major historic areas, such as Boudhanath, with picturesque shops and restaurants surrounding a huge, revered stupa – an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage.
Other UNESCO heritage sites appear in bustling Patan, Nepal’s attractive third city. It is home to Durbar Square, a spectacular area even as it undergoes earthquake repairs. The same applies to the larger cultural enclave of Bhaktapur. Stunning ornate buildings and temple structures dominate this ancient city, just 13km from the capital.
Tight, steep roads lead to the Tibetan Kopan monastery, near Budhanilkantha, and stunning, peaceful views.
More photo opportunities – and many steps – define Swayambhunath Stupa; aka Monkey Temple because of its mischievous guardians.
A final day 30km hike followed a 4am pick-up from our hotel, affable Rainbow employee Hari guiding us from sunrise Nagakot mountain village through rural communities with incredible vistas every other turn.
It was certainly more successful than a previous trekking attempt from the top of Chandigiri Hills. Having ascended by cable car, 2547m above sea level, the three-hour walk back down ended halfway when inadequate signage prompted us to rightly retrace our steps.
All was forgiven on returning to Hotel Shanker’s attractive pool area…feet dipped and fitbit offering a virtual pat on the back.