Although most visitors to Kathmandu opt to stay in Thamel—the central neighbourhood full of travel companies, hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants—a calmer alternative is Boudhanath, or Boudha for short.
The area is known especially as a Tibetan enclave. The Boudhanath stupa is the holiest Tibetan Buddhist site outside of Tibet itself, and has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. Although the golden pinnacle was damaged in the 2015 earthquake, swift fundraising within the local and international Tibetan community meant that restoration was complete by the end of 2016. In November 2016, a grand re-consecration ceremony was held, which was an important day for Tibetan and Nepali Buddhists.
While there are accommodation options in Boudha to suit all budgets, a stay at the Hyatt Regency Hotel is a real treat, and worth the 5-star price tag. A great thing about this luxury hotel is that its range of facilities provide a full experience, rather than just a comfortable night’s sleep. As well as the 280 elegant, spacious and simply-furnished rooms (many of which come with stupa and/or pool views), there are numerous other facilities to suit every age and taste. While many upmarket hotels around the world can be somewhat sterile and cater mainly to business travellers, this is not the case at the Hyatt.
The inviting pool is a major drawcard of the Hyatt Regency. The main pool and kids’ pool are surrounded by sun-loungers and large umbrellas, and staff from the adjacent bar will bring drinks and snacks to where you lie. All guests can use the pool, and non-guests can too, for a fee. The weekend deal is popular with expats and residents of Kathmandu—for Rs 3107 for adults or Rs 1554 for kids, you can enjoy day use of the pool and a buffet brunch. Or, get a day pass without brunch for Rs 1740/Rs 1367. (The brunch is so good that it’s definitely worth taking this option, though).
If pampering if your thing, then a perfect pre/post-swim activity is to get a treatment at Club Oasis. You can get a cheap massage in many places around Kathmandu, but for a full luxury spa experience, this is the best place to head. The treatment rooms are soothing with a beautiful lemongrass scent and quiet atmosphere with dim lights. The treatment menu includes everything from pedicures and facials to full body massages and scrubs. There’s even a steam room and sauna for client use. Everything is pristine and hygienic, and the service impeccable. I visited while heavily pregnant, and the therapist went out of her way to make me comfortable during my facial, even giving me an extra leg massage, which was highly appreciated!
Next door to the Club Oasis spa is a small but well-equipped gym, which guests (and members) can use. The five acre grounds of the Hyatt Regency also include running tracks through the landscaped gardens and lawns, and tennis courts. Perhaps you’re starting to see now why it’s worth staying here to enjoy all the facilities, rather than simply coming for a day trip!?
Boudha is one of the cultural centres of Kathmandu, so it’s worth leaving the hotel premises and going for a bit of a wander. However, before even doing that, don’t forget to check out the interesting Taragaon Museum, which is on the hotel property. The bunker-like modernist brick buildings started life as a travellers’ hostel in the 1970s, but have been renovated and turned into a museum. Special events and exhibitions are often held here–such as parts of the Kathmandu Biennale–and there are also permanent collections of Kathmandu and Nepal-centric art and photography.
From a more contemporary cultural vibe to an ancient one: take a short cut through the Hyatt’s gardens and slip out the back gate, to the back-streets of Boudha. It’s a ten minute walk to the beautiful, enormous stupa from the gate. The area around the stupa is always full of colour and activity: pilgrims and Tibetan locals lighting butter lamps, the smoke from juniper incense billowing around, young monks spinning prayer wheels, tourists taking pictures… The shopping options here are particularly attractive, with all sorts of Nepali and Tibetan goods for sale. In fact, shopping for Tibetan souvenirs in Boudha might just have an edge over shopping in Tibet itself, as many Tibetan crafts and other items are made in Nepal.
When meandering around the stupa, make sure to do so clockwise; this is called a kora, or circumambulation. All Tibetan Buddhist sites should be passed this way, from mani stone walls in the Himalayan areas to holy Mount Kailash. It’s not hard to remember to do this, as it’s the direction in which everyone is walking.
Almost all restaurants around the stupa in Boudha have spectacular stupa views, so if you’re in need of a pit stop, you can’t really go wrong in this regard. A very special place to stop for tea is the Tea-Zen-House, on the second floor and below a Japanese restaurant. This Taiwanese-run tea shop is full of exquisite Eastern tea sets and tea-making paraphernalia, and fresh Chinese-style teas are brewed in front of you in what amounts to a sort of tea ceremony. This doesn’t come cheap, but for a really special experience that you can’t get elsewhere in Kathmandu, it’s really worth it. Plus, it represents the peaceful multiculturalism of the Boudha area.
Early morning and evening are the best times to be in the vicinity of the stupa, as this is when most devotees come out to perform the kora. So, find a nice rooftop restaurant with a view and hang out for a while, to enjoy Boudha in different lights. And then, of course, retreat to the beauty and comfort of the Hyatt Regency, a short walk away.
The author was a guest of the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu. All opinions expressed are entirely her own.