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Introducing Kathmandu

For many people, stepping off a plane into Kathmandu is an exhilarating shock - the sights, sounds and smells can quickly lead to sensory overload. Whether it be buzzing around the crazy polluted traffic in a taxi, trundling down the narrow winding streets of the old town in a rickshaw, marvelling at Durbar Sq or dodging the tiger balm sellers and trekking touts in Thamel, Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place.

As the largest (and pretty much the only) city in the country, Kathmandu also feels like another developing-world city rushing into a modern era of concrete and traffic pollution. Take a walk in the backstreets, however, and the capital's amazing cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself in hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillis and rice, and tiny hobbit-sized workshops largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.

Kathmandu has been a travellers mecca since the 1960s but these days you're less likely to see a tie-dyed hippy in search of enlightenment than a well-heeled Gore-Tex-clad tourist in search of a good espresso. With tourist numbers down and political tensions up, the last few years have been uncertain, yet residents have retained a good-humoured self-respect.

Kathmandu is well worth a week of your time, but it's too easy to spend too much time stuck in touristy Thamel. Enjoy the Internet cafés, the Western music and the lemon cheesecake, but make sure you also get out into the 'real Nepal', before your time runs out.

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