Nepal

Guide to Visa on Arrival at Tribhuvan Airport

Visa on arrival is available for most nationalities, Filipinos included!  Hooray!  Unfortunately, Tribhuvan Airport is not quite up to the challenge of meeting its tourist arrivals.  The place is small and the lines long and slow.  Here’s a guide on the entire arrival experience including getting a visa on arrival at this airport.

1.  At most 15 days before your flight, fill-up an online appication form at online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa.  Be sure you have the following with you:

  • A soft copy of your passport picture as you need to upload it.
  • The complete address of your hotel including the district and the ward no.  Email your hotel to get this info.  

Print out the form and bring it with you.

2.  During the flight, visa application forms and disembarkation cards will be handed out.  You just need the disembarkation card.  You have your printed online visa application form, right?

3.  Upon disembarking, fall in line at the cashier.  That will be the long wooden counter on the left.  Pay for your visa.  According to the signage, other currencies apart from USD and Euro are accepted.  I paid for mine with USD.

4.  Get your receipts then head to the single wooden counters on the right of the cashier.  Be sure to line-up at the counter that indicates the number of days of your visa.  So if you have a 15-day visa, then line-up at the counter with a sign that says “15 days visa.”

The officer at the counter will get your receipt, printed out visa application form, and ask you how many days you will be staying.  He will then put the visa sticker on your passport and stamp it.

5.  Exit and get your luggage that has been circling the carousel waiting for you.

6.  Exit arrivals and either get a taxi from one of the touts or from the official taxi booth.  I booked my ride with the hotel.


Enjoy Nepal!

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Guide to Departing from Tribhuvan Airport

Depending on what day you leave, it can take 20-45 minutes to get to the airport from Thamel. I left at 10am on a Saturday and was at the airport less than 20 minutes later.  You know you’re near when you see the crematoriums of Pashupatinath as the airport is just behind it.  I paid NR 700 for the car which I booked via my hotel.  

1.  Upon arriving at the entrance for international flights, if you have a hotel car hire, tell the driver to wait as you get one of the luggage trolleys.  I’m not too sure about leaving your stuff with a taxi.  If you’re with other people, it won’t be a problem.  If someone comes over with a trolley, ignore unless you really want to pay someone to load your luggage and push the trolley.

2.  There are 2 entrances, A and B.  If taking Thai Airways, entrance is at B.  Otherwise, there’s an lcd screen where you can check which entrance to take.  

3.  Follow the line inside.  Present your passpory and PRINTED flight ticket to the guard. The line continues inside to the x-ray machines.  Load your luggage.  Once cleared, you’re in the departure hall. There’s a money changer where you can change back your Nepalese rupees to your currency.  There are toilets, a few convenience stores, and luggage wrapping services.

4.  The Thai Airways counter was open 3 hours before the flight.  I don’t know with the other airlines.

5.  Present your boarding pass to the guard by the escalator and head up to immigrations.  There is no need to fill-up any embarkation card.  Just present your passport.

6.  Past immigrations is a large area.  On the left is the final security check point while on the right is a waiting area and a few cafes.  The line at security is a bit slow and long so.unless you still have at least an hour before your flight, head to it first.  Don’t worry, there’s a food stall with sandwhiches and packed meals and a convenience store inside the departure gates.  If you have no Nepalese rupees left, they accept credit cards.

7.  After the security checkpoint, you enter  the cramped area where all 5 departure gates are. Forget about sitting coffee or doing some nice shopping while waiting to board.  Toilets, a water-filling station with plastic cups, a food stall with an atrached convenience store, and wifi are the only amenities you get.  The metal seats are old and some are broken.  

 If your flight has not yet been assigned a gate, there’s an lcd screen indicating departure.  In my case, the screen never showed my flight gate.  I simply went to Gate 5 where I saw the Thai Airways aircraft parked.  Don’t worry, the gates are close to one another and they do make boarding annoumcements.  Forget about looking for flight boards at gates, there ain’t any.

For a country that receives so many visitors, Tribuhvan is way too basic to meet the influx of tourists.  I can’t imagine how it would be during peak season.  That being said, consider your departure experience as part of your entire Nepal experience.

Have a safe flight!

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Departing from Kathmandu

It isn’t all that bad at Kathmandu’s Tribuhvan Airport departing for my flight to Bangkok.  Perhaps, being a Saturday and off-season, it just takes me less than 20 minutes from Thamel including the short and quick car cue to enter the airport premises. 

The car parks at the international departures entrance and as soon as the car driver opens the trunk, a man with a push cart appears.  “No, no,” I say looking at both him and the driver who smiles knowingly.   I don’t need to pay someone to push my cart.  Signs declare that the use of push carts is free. I see a push cart nearby, grab it, then rush back to the car.  The man with a push cart leaves.

I check the lcd screen for the right entrance for Thai Airways and head to entrance B and take my place behind the short line outside.  I show my passport and ticket to the guard who dutifully reads it.  He returns my documents to me and signals me to enter.  In front of me is a young woman with her two young boys, all teary-eyed as they have just bade their husband/father goodbye.  Heart-breaking.  I say a quick prayer for them then put my luggage at the x-ray machine.  I find the counter for Thai Airways which had just opened.   

Very short line.  Once checked-in, I head up the escalator to Immigrations.

In spite of signs saying you must fill-up an embarkation card, there is no need.  I look for these at the wooden counters by the wall and find none.  “No card?”I ask a guy at a counter near where the cue starts. “No card ” he replies.  Only then do I see a crude hand-written sign at the counter.  The line is about 6 meters deep but moves quite quickly as two counters are servicing it.  

I emerge to a waiting area and the lines for the final security check.  It’s still early so I go grab a vegetarian burger and a Coke at one of the stalls. 

The line to the security check is long.  It’s a little strange as the tables where you put your stuff on trays is a few feet apart from the x-ray machine.  So you need to carry your tray to the machine upon the guard’s signal.  I clear security and I’m in at the boarding gates.  My ticket doesn’t indicate my gate so I check the lcd screen at the corridor that leads to the gate.  Only flights until 12 noon have gates indicated.  I head to one of the boarding gates to wait.  The place is swarming with people but I find a seat with a ground view of the tarmac.

The entire process from arriving at the airport to being seated where I am now takes an hour and a half.  Not bad for one. of the world’s worst airports.

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Phalcha: Nepal’s Resting Places

One of the things I noticed immediately when I walked the streets of old Kathmandu were these resting places.  Subsequent walks in Bungmati, Khokana, Changu, and Bhaktapur likewise revealed the prevalance of these structures.  Did a little research and discovered they’re called phalcha and have always been part of Nepali culture.

These resting places with their wooden floors and carved posts look very inviting. 

They’re also places for socialization.  I often saw groups elderly men in these “phalcha.” 

Some phalcha serve as stalls.

Phalcha may be attached to buildings or under houses and temples.  It could also be free standing as in under a tree.

I like the idea that there are places out there in the streets where you can just stop, rest, and perhaps have a little me time.

The phalcha is an example of how architectural spaces is part of the ebb and flow of life in the village.  

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A Little Morning Shopping in Kathmandu

Should have gone to Patan today but decided to just stay put in Kathmandu for my last two days here.  Gotta slow down a bit to get some rest as my vacation ends.  Slept quite well as my acidity didn’t keep me awake.  Must be the lassi.

While walking at Thamel, became envious at a Caucasian guy eating a sandwhich so I dropped by Sandwhich Point for a small bacon sandwhich (NR 150z). 

 Hefty fillings and warm bread made for a really enjoyable sandwhich.  

The bread was being delivered at the time I was there so I know that the breads are fresh or at least no more than a day old.

I headed to the chowk where Annapurna Temple is and somehow I took the wrong turn from the street where the Chinese hotel and the local gym was.  I still ended-up at the temple but via a more circuitious way that brought me to narrow streets littered with trash and through Asan Tole where local market is which was quite fortuitous as I was able to buy some packaged local snacks to bring back home. They were really cheap at just NR 120-130 per medium pack. Bought a pack of dahl too which hopefully I can cook properly back home.

Down the street on the right side of the temple to get some bronze plates and the bell my sister was asking for.  I was surprised that the plates were being sold by weight!  Bough three medium-sized light ones at NR 800 each.  The copper ones are a hundred cheaper but the brass ones are definitely more beautiful.  Would have brought brass drinking glasses too (NR 600) if I had much more money to spend on this stuff.

I like this street as it has nice local shops aside from the beautiful temes tucked between them.  The shop keepers aren’t pushy too.

Ended up at the Hanuman Dokha Durbar Square again, flashed my pass (so handy!) to the smiling ticket clerk and guard and headed straight for the toilet.

Returned to Thamel via the street on the other side of the square where there are many music shops.

Got some cool leather sandals (NR 1000) at this shoe and sandal shop where all the goods are from India or Pakistan.  Would have bought some more but they don’t.  Ladies would go crazy with the unique shoes and sandals here.  

What’s shopping without a good lunch to punctuate it?  Back to my favorite pit stop, Gilingche for crunchy vegetarian fried rice (best fried rice I’ve had in Nepal) and chili momo which was so hot, I ordered a lassi to soothe my mouth.

Back at the hotel to see how to pack in all the stuff considering I have not bought the drums yet.

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Guide to Bhaktapur

1.  Bhaktapur is easily accessible from Kathmandu via bus, taxi, or car hire. In my case, the private Nagarkot-Changu Narayan hike I booked at Mountain Trotters included a car that brought me to Nagarkot and picked me up at Changu Narayan from which it brought me to Bhaktapur.  Returning to Kathmandu a couple of days later, my hotel provided transport for NR 1000 to Thamel which is about the price taxis hanging around the entrance of the durbar square.

2.  Entrance fee is at NR 1500 for most foreigners.  If you will be visiting on multiple days whether on day trips or staying a couple of nights, ask them to extend the validity of your stay up to the end of your visa.  At the back of your entry ticket, they will write your passport number, country, entry date to Bhaktapur, and the number of days you need.  They didn’t ask for a passport picture.

3.  Do stay overnight.  I stayed two nights and it was one of the best decisions I made in my Nepal trip.  The place is magical early morning and after dusk once most of the tourists have gone.

 It’s a beautiful experience to just watch the locals heading to the temples and shrines for their religious rituals and hearing nothing but the sound of bells.  At the Pasupatinath Temple, a damaru drum sounds with the bells.

Plus you get to photograph Nyatapola Temple with less people.

It will be your chance to listen to bhajan singing at Taumadhi Tole (around 6pm) where I saw one.

4.  Book a room that can give you nice views of the square.  I stayed at Golden Gate Guesthouse.  

5.  After visiting the squares, head to the side streets and experience much more — crumbling buildings, hidden shrines, local life, etc.  

6.  There not too many good places to eat as prices are overprices and dishes uninspired.  

The cafes are much better.  If you want to dine with a top view, head to Temple View Restaurant at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Cafe Nyatapola and Nyatapola Restaurant at Taumadhi Square, Cafe de Peacock at Dattatreya Square, and Pottery Cafe at Pottery Square.  Other places such as Highland Beans Coffee (which is my favorite cafe) at Dattatreya Square offer ground floor views.

7.  There are a few atm machines and money changers but I found them to be little lower than in Thamel.

8.  Get dolls, puppets, thanka paintings, and pottery at Bhaktapur as these are where they’re made.  The small lane from Durbar Square to Pottery Square is lined with stalls. The rest of the stuff can be found at Thamel and are much cheaper.  Oh, ceramic magnets in Bhaktapur are at NR 200 compared to NR 250 in Thamel.

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The Streets of Bhaktapur

Being in the heritage area of Bhaktapur is like being in a time warp.  Brick-tiled streets, shop houses, old men chatting at rest places called phalcha, ancient temples, people making offerings,  bhajan singing outside temples, and many more.

Head to side streets, slip through passageways, enter courtyards, and it’s as if you’re in a different world.  Bhakatapur is truly magical.

One of the two lions standing guard at a platform at the durbar square

 

“Bhajan” singing at Taumadhi Tole in the evening

Nyatapola Temple

Taumadhi Tole in early morning

A “phalcha,” traditional Nepalese resting place

Pottery Square

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Good Morning, Bhaktapur

I wake-up past 5:30 in the morning to the sound of bells clanging.  I’m certainly going to miss this when I return to Kathmandu much more when I get back home to Manila. Bhaktapur is a lovely town to spend a few days in.  If only I did not have to tick-off some items in my shopping list, I would just have stayed here.  On the other hand, the craziness of Thamel will help transition me to the craziness of Bangkok before flying back home. 

It’s about 2 degrees and freezing.  I think I’m turning into a bowl of ice-cream.  Nevertheless, I take a stroll to Tamaudhi Toll for better pictures of the Nyatapola and Bhaighamari temples. The square is busy with vegetable vendors and people on their daily religious rituals.

I muster the courage to drop by one of two stalls  on a side street for an egg roll and two ring-shaped fried bread which I point out.  Cheap at NR 40 and comes wrapped in a newspaper.  Hahaha!

Down the road to Dattatreya Square.  The shops haven’t opened yet but the road is alive with a few vendors setting up their wares, army recruits jogging, and people heading to wherever their feet takes them this morning.  Dattatreya is busier as the two  temples are teeming with worshippers.  The bells are busy clanging.

The goats are their usual selves basking under the cold sunshine. This ram, on the other hand, is busy eating some grains thrown by worshippers.

Vendors spread out goods for offerings in the temples sometimes chasing away one of the goats who are attracted to the flowers.

 

I revisit some of the sites that fascinated me yesterday such as the peacock window.  With no pedestrians or pesky touts from the wood carving and thanka shops, I get a better view and picture of the window.  I also discover other windows with smaller peacocks.  

I head to Highland Beans Coffee and Travellers Cafe for some omelette, grilled cherry tomatoes, sliced fruits, toast, and cup of black tea; what the menu calls a “simple breakfast” and watch Bhaktapur go by.

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A “Bhajan” Evening at Bhaktapur

The sun sets and the day visitors from Kathmandu lrave. Bhaktapur reverts back to whst it really is, a living ancient Newari town still steeped in its ways.

I follow the sound of drumming and end up in Tamaudhi Tole.  A group of elderly  musicians playing drums and cymbals are gathered in a circle on the dance platform on the front right of Bhairabnath Temple.  

An old man leads the singing of bhajan, devotional songs, from an open book while the rest follows.  It sounds almost chant-like.  More men join the circle sitting cross-legged on simple mats laid on the floor.

On the front right porch of the Bhairabnath Temple, a much smaller group of men are gathered. The music of the two groups create a mesmerizing cacophony of sounds.

Three young men and an older man arrive and join the group in a circle.  Out of some long cloth bags lying on the floor come  long thin oboe-like instruments.  The instruments add a little fanfare to the music.

The surprise doesn’t end there.  The two gentlemen and young lady seated together behind the circle bring out shawms!  All along, I thought they were just spectators.  Their sound dominate the ensemble.  I notice that the the two groups of aerophones don’t play together. 

In the meantime, another group has assembled at the front left porch of the temple singing and playing music instruments.  

The entire square is filled with music.  The temple bell  on the right side of the temple soon joins in played by a teen-aged boy in the small group.  Close to 7pm, the three groups stop.  The smaller group that was first to arrive, clasp their hands in namaste, pack-up their instruments and leave.  One of them, a bespectacled youn man smiles at me and nods.  For a few minutes, the square is silent.  

The two remaining groups resume their music.  Once again, the shawms dominate.  A few minutes later, the group in a circle ceases to play. Finally, the other group dominates the square with their  chanting punctuated by a single double-headed drum and a few pairs of cymbals.  The square is nearly empty now except for a few vegetable vendors and a couple of Nepali police patrolling the streets.

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Bhaktapur Walking Tour 3: Dattatreya Square

From Taumadhi Tole, I take the road by the left side of Bhairabnath Temple  and follow its winding routh past shop houses rest places, and small squares.

It is an interesting walk as you realize you’re not merely ambling down a touristy road but one that’s actually trodded on by locals going about their day to day business.

The road narrows and I turn left to a hiti.  I walk down a few steps to get closer.  It’s so peaceful like I’m in another world so far removed from the busy lane I had just veered away from

I retrace my steps and the narrow lane opens up to the square with Dattatreya Temple looming over it.

The two wrestlers, Jayamel and Phattu guard the entrance.

Fronting the temple is a stone pillar topped by a garuda.

On the opposite side of the square is Bhimsen Temple whose open ground floor gives me a chance to rest my feet.

The square is alive with tourists and local people going about their everyday business.

I take the small lane to the side of the temple  and see a small colorful shrine to  Bhimsen.  

Nearby is a large water reservoir.  

Beautiful brick buildings overlook the reservoir.

I am particularly taken in by this building with beautiful wood work.  I see two people enter and I wonder what it is.  A house?

I take a small lane on the side of the reservoir to Salayan Ganesh temple whose three-tiered roof is visible from it.  

Dedicated to Ganesh, the deity with a head of an elephant, inside is a stone revered for resembling the his likeness, albeit vaguely.

A row of stupas sit quietly near the temple.

I walk back to the  square and head behind Dattatreya Temple to a smaller square to gaze at the Wood Carving Museum where a puppet looks out of a window.

The museum facade is beautiful.  

Opposite it is the Brass and Bronze Museum.

I follow the sign to the Peacock Window which is on this wall.

It’s easy to miss.  In fact, I take the photo of a window with a smaller, no less impressive peacock.

The real one or at least what all the guide books talk about is a few meters further down.  Touts at the Oriental Woodcraft store tell tourists admiring the window that it’s free to head to the store’s 2nd floor to get a better view or photo.

Back to the square behind Dattatreya Temple, I take the lane to the left.  Beautiful old buildings line the street but the best is this one with fantastic woodwork.

Across is a shop selling king curd, yogurt with honey, a Bhakatapur specialty. It’s thicker than the usual curd and a little sweet.  A cup costs NR 35.

Large servings are placed in clay bowls.

I retrace my steps and head to Cafe de Peacock overlooking the square for an uninspired and overpriced (NR 375) buff fried rice.

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