Nepal offers visitors a wide range of accommodation options, from stylish bed-and-breakfasts to Buddhist monasteries. Read the experiences of Mariellen Ward, who stayed in some very special hotels in Kathmandu and surroundings.
Hotels in Kathmandu: Boutique hotel in Patan
The taxi driver drove with what seemed like reckless abandon through the narrow streets of Patan, dodging pedestrians, playing footsie with motorcyclists, and flying over piles of sand. Finally, he came to a halt beside a small square that looked like a construction site adorned with a stupa. It was as far as he could go. My hotel, Swotha Traditional Homes, a boutique bed-and-breakfast, was down a laneway even too narrow for my intrepid driver.
The red-brick and wood-trimmed heritage building that houses Swotha Traditional Homes is more than 90 years old. But it has been stylishly and artfully updated to make it attractive and comfortable for modern travellers – while not losing any of the charm or significance of the original structure.
Smiling receptionist Sabina showed me up an extremely steep and narrow flight of wooden stairs to my room, #4. Sun streamed in through four floor-to-ceiling shuttered windows and cast the wooden trim, polished stone floor, and raw cotton curtains and bedspreads with a warm glow. I liked the room immediately, and found it charming, warm, and spacious — even with the low ceiling. The bathroom, too, was very stylish and combined modern conveniences with a traditional look.
Small touches such as locally made, hand crafted soap, a water refilling station on the ground floor, and the use of products, such as cups, made by Patan artisans all added to the charm of Swotha Traditional Homes and their commitment to sustainability. In the Swotha Café on the ground floor, I ate a Nepali Thali for dinner with rice, fresh vegetables, and home-made pickles.
With only seven rooms, Swotha Traditional Homes is a small and cosy place, but it has everything a traveller could need. The location, right in the heart of Patan between Patan Durbar Square and the Golden Temple, is also ideal. You can walk most of Patan right from there.
Hotels in Kathmandu and surroundings: a 3-day trek in the Kathmandu Valley
After a few blissful days at Swotha Traditional Homes, I left on a three-day trek in the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal is of course famous for trekking, but as I discovered, you don’t have to brave high-altitude passes and sleep in basic, drafty tea houses. Within a few hours of Kathmandu, you can go on a multi-day, low altitude trek that still gives you those stunning vistas of the snow-capped Himalayas.
Along with my guide and a porter, I trekked for a couple of hours through pine forests and rural villages, and finally up a steep hill, to get to Balthali Village Resort. This sprawling resort is enviably located on a hill above Balthali village, and is a popular stop for trekkers and families.
While the original resort is about 20 years old, some newer room blocks are fresher and built to offer panoramic views. My room had two windows facing west, and an entire glass wall facing towards the snow-capped mountains, plus a small patio. It was amazing to wake up and see the mountain views Nepal is famous for without even getting out of bed.
Balthali Village Resort has several outdoor and indoor dining options, depending on the weather, and the staff will build fires both inside and outside on chilly evenings. The food is simple and basic, but very fresh. I saw a man delivering a big bundle of fresh, organic mustard leaves from the village in the afternoon, and ate them sautéed that evening at dinner. Rice, dal, chicken curry and a very yummy dessert – apple fritters cooked in custard powder – rounded out dinner.
Fresh food, a comfortable bed, stunning views, and friendly staff: these are what Balthali Village Resort does well. It’s really everything you need for a one-night stop on a trek in Kathmandu Valley.
Hotels in Kathmandu and surroundings: staying at a Buddhist Monastery
The next day we trekked for about four hours to Namo Buddha. It was a bit arduous for me, but for a more seasoned hiker in better shape, it would not be that difficult. Namo Buddha is a sacred mountain, revered by Buddhists. It is said that Buddha, in a previous life as a prince, encountered a starving tigress here, with three small cubs. Out of compassion, he gave his life to feed the tiger and cubs. Henceforth, Namo Buddha is known to be a place of great compassion.
There’s a large and ornate Tibetan Buddhist monastery at Namo Buddha, Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery, and guests can stay at a comfortable guest house on the property. The rooms are simple and each block of three rooms shares a bathroom. You can take very simple meals (usually momos and Tibetan tea) with the monks, or eat at a café near the guest house.
The highlight of staying at Namo Buddha is joining the monks for prayers, which they do in the temple twice a day, 6 am and 6 pm. We sat on rug-covered benches at the back and watched the young monks recite their prayers to the accompaniment of loud vibrating gongs, bellowing conch shells and shimmering cymbals. The sound resembles a celestial thunderstorm. It’s a sound I associate with the Himalayas, and it always makes my spine shiver.
In the large room where prayers are held, virtually every surface is covered with brightly coloured silk, red-and-gold wood carvings, Thangka paintings, and other elaborate and ornate designs. The walls are covered in fantastic murals, Oriental scenes of celestial kings, blue multi-armed demons, and beautiful women playing stringed instruments and floating among opulent clouds. It is a sumptuous room designed to look and sound like a heavenly abode and to impress you into thinking higher thoughts.
Hotels in Kathmandu and surroundings: a resort in a very special place
Nearby Namo Buddha resort also elevates visitors, but for a very different reason. Ideally situated on a hilltop with great panoramic views, Namo Buddha Resort is a very special place. Created by a German couple about 10 years ago, the resort is more like a small, charming village – virtually out of a fairy tale. Cobblestone paths lead through gardens bursting with colourful flowers that sway in the Himalayan breeze. Houses of various sizes, made of wood and plastered brick, with slate roofs, verandahs, and shuttered windows, are scattered throughout the property, offering 15 rooms in total. Inside, the rooms are cosy and décor is of Nepali origin, including woven bedspreads and drapes and hand-made tiles in the washrooms.
The centre of the resort is the dining building, with indoor and outdoor seating areas, and even a slightly whimsical rooftop, created during earthquake repairs. Next door is the kitchen building, which is impressively spacious, seems much more like a European kitchen and features a wood burning stove, an ice cream maker, a massive fridge, an espresso machine, and many other cutting-edge amenities. Needless to say, the vegetarian food that comes out of the kitchen – some of it grown in vegetable gardens on the property – is fresh, artful, and delicious.
Owner Ingrid Schneider gave me a tour, and introduced me to the resident carpenter, tour guide, and several other essential staff members. They are continuously improving the buildings, gardens, and property – and together they have created a naturally luxurious environment with a relaxed ambience. Before leaving, Ingrid refilled my Dopper bottle. She was proud to proclaim they do not use plastic water bottles at all – instead they refill glass wine bottles and place them on all the tables and in the rooms.
Special hotels in Kathmandu: the place where it all began
My final stop was where it all began. The Kathmandu Guest House is one of the first hotels in Kathmandu and one of those iconic hotels, legendary for both its place in local history and folklore, and for the people who have stayed there. Celebrating 50 years in 2018, it opened in Thamel in 1968 when the area was just farmer’s fields. The Thamel we know today, as the tourist hub of Kathmandu, grew up around the Kathmandu Guest House, and this was the place many writers, explorers, mountaineers, and celebrities stayed.
The original building was damaged during the 2015 earthquake, and they rebuilt to add more wings and to expand the garden. The central garden courtyard, full of greenery and seating areas, is one of the chief draws of the Kathmandu Guest House, a peaceful spot in the midst of the bustling city. There are four room categories, from standard to heritage suites.
Throughout the public areas, the Kathmandu Guest House pays homage to its many famous guests, with plaques and even a walk of fame. The Beatles Café honours the fab four, and a suite is named after Japanese mountaineer Yuichiro Miura, who summited Everest at the age of 80. Writer Peter Matthiessen wrote The Snow Leopard in the garden, and the Wheelers reviewed it in the first Lonely Planet. More than a hotel, the Kathmandu Guest House is living history.
From my short time in Nepal, I stayed in very special hotels in Kathmandu and surroundings and sampled a range of unique and sophisticated properties that hint at the possibilities.
Mariellen Ward is a Canadian travel writer and expert on travelling in India. She is an outspoken advocate for female solo travel. Her website Breathedreamgo is an award-winning travel site dedicated to transformative travel – the kind of travel that changes you, and has a positive impact on local communities and environments.