Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

THE RETURN TO SWAYAMBHUNATH AND THAMEL

This year we tried something we’ve never done before in Nepal: stay in an AirBnB. We lucked out big time. In a small neighborhood near Swayambunath and Thamel, we found one that was the entire ground floor of a large 3-story home, complete with garden, lawn, parking area, and staff quarters. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area, and gorgeous living room…all for $24/night. See the listing for the Manjushree Apartment here. The hosts, Devendra and Rama, are AirBnB “superhosts,” and indeed they were. Their hospitality couldn’t have been better. Cary was hoping for a local Nepali experience different from staying at guest houses and hotels. Here we had a whole apartment! It was in an area that didn’t cater to tourists, so we really had an experience of how urban Nepalis live.

Devendra had an amazing green thumb. Adjacent to the house was a large vegetable garden. On practically every free surface around the house were pots of vegetables and flowers. On the roof, he had numerous cactuses growing dragon fruit, something I’d never seen. He was diligent about composting and saving seeds. It was a marvelous example of urban agriculture.

Click on photos to enlarge.

They invited us to a sumptuous breakfast our first morning, and each morning after that brought us delicious coffee. We also enjoyed superb veggie momos made by their neighbor.

Rama, Cary, me and Devendra in front of the entrance to our wonderful apartment.

On our first morning we met Buddhi, our favorite guide from Crystal Mountain Treks, to go visit Swayambhunath, often referred to as the Monkey Temple. Unfortunately, the taxi driver brought us to the back side of the stupa, which doesn’t have the steep stairs we wanted to walk up. But, we failed to remember what we had been told in Lumbini about Saturday being the Nepali day off. Upon arriving, we were swept up by a crush of locals out to enjoy the beautiful afternoon at a holy place. Partway up, it was obvious this was not the right time to see the stupa, so we retreated to have lunch at a lovely coffee shop.

We returned to the stupa two days later, and directed the taxi to drop us off at its front entrance.

We made it!

They don’t call it the Monkey Temple for nothing!

This woman sat for a long time communicating with the monkeys.

At the top, the main stupa was ringed by many smaller stupas and structures, and by people selling religious items and souvenirs. So many nooks and crannies! Prayer wheels abounded, and incense and butter lamps burned. This is one of the most elaborate stupas in Nepal. There were many people quietly doing kora, and others spinning the prayer wheels. I remembered standing and looking out at the Kathmandu valley in 1986, and having such a sense of awe.

We left the stupa by going down the back way, and returned to our new-found coffee shop. What endeared them to us was that they actually left the spice out of our lunch….best spring rolls so far!

Next stop, Thamel. I was eager to get back to the hotel I remembered from 1986 when I took my first trek to Everest Base Camp. Sure enough, there it was, the Potala Guest House, better than ever. It has been refurbished and has an excellent restaurant. The manager who greeted me had been there as a young man when I first came to the hotel.

The shops adjacent to the hotel were still there, but the number of taxis and motorcycles had definitely multiplied. To wander around Thamel you need lots of time and lots of fortitude. After about an hour of shopping, bargaining, and navigating narrow sidewalks with traffic brushing too close to our legs, we decided that we had had enough of Auld Lang Syne. I was sorry to spend so little time in Thamel, but it has changed a great deal and is far too busy for me. But I was really gratified to see a couple of the old multi-colored rickshaws pedaling their way through the streets. Had I decided to stay longer, I would definitely have taken a ride. I always feel connected to the people that I meet there, and enjoy the interactions with the shopkeepers. We all love the sport of bargaining!

On the first evening of our stay at the airbnb, Devendra helped us find a little family-run restaurant around the corner. After the first meal, we decided that “The Dhaba” was our go-to place. It was run by Rajiv, a jack-of-all-trades, and Sunita, his wife, who made the most wonderful butter naan and chapatis. We also became friends with the jolly chef who listened to us when we said “no spicy, no pepper.” He would come out after he had cooked the meal (in record time!), and make sure everything was all right. We ate there every night. Most of their business was for breakfast and lunch. We were one of their only customers in the evening, so we had plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. They put up English Al Jazeera and CNN news for us on the TV, and when Cary wanted palak paneer they went out and bought the palak.

Kusum

As we had seen in Sanu’s family in Lumbini, the baby was cared for by all members of the family. Kusum, who was only 12-years old, but seemed more like 19 to me, spoke excellent English which she had learned from her father who had worked in Dubai. She talked with us at great length about her plans for her education. Like several young women we have met during our trip, she was interested in business management and finance. Kusum impressed us with her energy, her drive, her intelligence and her joyfulness. Hers was another of the loving families we have met during this trip.

Sunita made the delicious butter naan in the barrel outside the restaurant.

This is another family who touched us deeply, and with whom we plan to keep in touch.

After our stay from Dec 2 – 5, we returned to Boudha.

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5 Comments

  1. Jerene

    Oh my gosh Meg what a beautiful cap to your trip!!!! Splend job done by Cary booking you into the most amazing places… And we were lucky to have a glimpse! Thank you❤️❤️❤️

  2. heidi

    Sounds like a perfect vacation spot….a lot cheaper than where i am booking these days in Europe. Glad you get to enjoy so much comfort and connecting everywhere, a priceless trip!

  3. anne

    thanks again Meg and Cary! what an amazing voyage…

  4. Ruth

    Meg what a wonderful trip. You always make the most of every opportunity to get the most out of your visit and your ability to make friends with everyone is inspiring. I’m too shy to do that part well. Thanks for a real education.

  5. Joyce Cornell

    Thank you Meg & Cary for sharing your wonderful and colorful trip, and photos.
    I feel like I’ve almost been there, a little bit, thanks to you. 🙂

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© 2023 Meg Noble Peterson