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Kathmandu - a traveller's haven

Kathmandu's casinos are located in star hotels, but if you're planning on venturing to these casinos hinging your hopes on being ushered into an exclusive arena, you will be in for a shock. Read on to know why.

travel Updated: Aug 06, 2011 11:03 IST
Kathmandu

Having just crossed the Indian border at Kakkarvitta and fending off vociferous Nepalese middlemen, each one of whom promised us better deals on hotel rooms and air tickets than the last, we finally made it to the immigration office, where Shaun, my American travel companion, would have to get his visa stamped. A line, thankfully, was nonexistent, but so was a human being. It was after about 20 minutes of waiting and a series of shouting matches among a resourceful haggler (who had followed us all the way to the door of the immigration office) and half a dozen people that the immigration officer finally showed up. The haggler thought an INR 20 tip for his painstaking efforts wasn't sufficient. 

We were planning on being in Kathmandu for breakfast at my cousin's place the next day, so a six o'clock wake-up call and hurried trips to the bathroom of a no-name hotel later, we made it to the Bhadrapur airport, 45 minutes away from the border town of Kakkarvitta. The decrepit airport, every bit a microcosm of the present state in which the country was, has planes flying in and out every fifteen to twenty minutes from as early as 7 in the morning. My traveling companion, already bitter about having shelled out NNR 11,000 for his plane ticket while I paid 3,000 for mine, didn't appreciate the manual checking his luggage went through, making it difficult for him to re-pack his suitcase without causing it to unceremoniously bulge. This would be an interesting trip.

Gambling in the capital
My travel companion and I were excited about Kathmandu's famous casinos. No casino in Atlantic City, N.J., can juxtapose cards with excellent Nepalese cuisine. I had long heard about the sumptuous cuisine served in Kathmandu casinos, and I was now ready to experience it; of course, leaving the casinos behind with a pretty penny wouldn't have been too bad either.

Kathmandu's casinos are located in star hotels, but if you're planning on venturing to these casinos hinging your hopes on being ushered into an exclusive arena, you will be in for a shock. Most casinos in Kathmandu are among the more egalitarian establishments - you will come across the Indian looking for shady ways to convert this black money into white as easily as you will come across impoverished locals, the kind who come in groups so they can pool in their moneys for the bet minimum.

At Casino Anna, located in the beautiful Annapurna Hotel at swanky Durbar Marg, attentive waiters replenished our plates at regular intervals with choila, smoked meat seasoned with spices and mustard oil; aloo ko achaar, a tangy potato salad; and momos, Tibetan dumplings while we immersed ourselves in the Nepalese game of "Kitty," a nine-card game that I haven't seen played in any casino other than those in Nepal. For some reason, the crowd at Casino Nepal, housed in the Soaltee compound, the crowd tilted a lot more toward the classes than the masses. Insignificant wins characterized our time there.

All casinos use Indian currencies and have all the facilities - cash for credit card, ATM machines and currency-exchange amenities - to help you burn through your cash more conveniently.

The garden of dreams
When you've spent twelve hours at a stretch at Casino Royale, Hotel Yak & Yeti's gambling den, you realize you have a problem. To purge our souls, we, therefore, head not to the Pashupatinath temple, one of the most famous Hindu temples in the world, or to the Swayumunath monastery, but to the Garden of Dreams, an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the teeming city. Located in Thamel, the tourist district, this self-sustaining garden is more than a garden - it houses pavilions, waterfalls, a lily-and-lotus laden pond, sculptures and rare plants in the same area that also has a restaurant and a café. The Kaiser Café facilitates al fresco dining and serves delectable international cuisine. Dinner outside the café when the garden is lit up is definitely a magical experience, and you quickly forget you're in the middle of a concrete jungle.

To accommodate laptop-addicted travelers like us, the entire garden is wireless enabled. Skyping has never been a more beautiful experience.

Walking in Kathmandu
Frequent strikes paralyze the city's transport system. When we were victims of one of Kathmandu's innumerable bandhs, here's what we decided to do: throw caution to the wind and navigate the city on foot. At five in the morning, when the city had just woken up and the streets had few vehicles, we saw Kathmandu in a light we hadn't seen before. Add to the lack of pollution and absence of car horns the mountains surrounding you, and you realize just how much you take the natural beauty with which the city has been endowed for granted.

Walking around the city is not always a pleasant experience, what with the smoke-belching cars and a paucity of proper footpaths, so you have to exploit a day when vehicles are banned from plying the city streets. Our half-day walk around the city concluded with a trip to the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the palace of the erstwhile Newar royal family, a UNESCO world-heritage site. More than a dozen important temples, including the Kumari Palace, home of the living goddess of Nepal, dot the area.

Bars & Pubs in Thamel
In my opinion, Kathmandu has a better nightlife than do most metropolitan Indian cities. Shaun, after having ticked off Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata, couldn't help rhapsodizing about the convenience of the Kathmandu night scene- Thamel has a cluster of bars and pubs, all within walking distance of one another. Go al fresco at Jatra, stay warm by the fire at New Orleans, drink one of Maya's cocktails or swap stories with fellow trekkers at Sam's Bar and Roadhouse Café. Set aside an entire night for a
pub-crawl, just as we did, for you will be met with many pleasant surprises.

What impresses me most about Kathmandu after every trip is its resilient spirit. The political insurgency is rapidly proving to be Nepal's undoing, but Kathmandu trudges on, its real-estate prices spiraling uncontrollably through the roof; new government laws impose outrageous curfews on night clubs, yet the clubs thrive, deadlines be damned; the city is constantly plagued by scarcity - of water, electric supply, gas and jobs - yet the residents are among the happiest I have seen anywhere (not that you see a lot of people smiling; it's a polluted city where one in eight people wear face-masks). There's something to be said for a city that doesn't fully give in to all the external pressures that try to bog it down. Kathmandu should be looked upon as an inspiration for how to live.

Source : Contify

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