Katmandu is one of those out-there places that lots of people probably never think of visiting. Honestly, if it wasn't for the Bob Seger song I probably wouldn't have even known the name for the capitol city of Nepal before I went there. It's not in the news much (barring the 2008 Maoist overthrow of the monarchy, which happened when we were there) and people in America aren't overly aware of Nepalese culture - which is really a shame. This country's people are friendly and peaceful, their food is healthy and flavorful, and their traditions are vibrant, unique and thriving.
For many, Kathmandu is a stop-over on the way to the trekking destinations in the Himalayas. Want to climb Everest? Stop off in Kathmandu for a day or two to work your way up to the higher altitude. Kathmandu is in the lowlands of Nepal and from the top of the buildings you can see mountains hovering in the distance.
In this packed city, the streets are full of families, vendors of all types, and monks in their cheery vermilion robes. It's crazy and hectic, but mostly safe and welcoming. People realize that tourism is a major source of income, and even in times of turmoil, travelers are treated with care.
Many women and men still wear traditional garments and colorful prayer flags flutter from houses, shops and temples. Stop in to the jewelry stops - Nepal has amazing silver, turquoise and gemstones and the prices, even for custom work, are very reasonable.
Most of the people practice Tibetan Buddhism - local sources say the Buddha himself was born in Nepal - and bright white temples, emblazoned with the eyes of the Buddha, surround the city.
There aren't a lot of things you have to see in Kathmandu. Most of the guidebooks list the temples, the royal palace and a few mediocre museums. Go to the temples, see the palace, skip the museums and just wander the city. You'll come across things that may surprise or frighten you - meat out in the open at the market, stray dogs begging for scraps, children scampering barefoot - but the main thing to take away from this place is the welcoming spirit of the people and the color and enthusiasm in their day-to-day lives.
And if you need a little refresher, here's the Seger-meister and his rock-n-roll serenade to the city - complete with photo tour.