One week with a family in Kathmandu

Miranda and her partner Ivan from the United States, travelled to Nepal for a few weeks and stayed with Kathmandu Homestay host Puran for 7 nights. They felt truly part of his family. Puran is a tour guide and he gave them lots of recommendations about what to do and which sites to see (in his words: not visiting Swayambhunath when you're in Kathmandu is like masala tea without sugar!). There's plenty to do around the house, too; they were invited to participate in a Hindu cleansing ceremony, walked with the family to get dinner with their in-laws, and enjoyed heaping portions of Bina's excellent cooking.

Dinner and a beer with Puran at a family dinner in his brother-in-law's restaurant.

Tell us about your homestay experience.

Our hosts were unbelievably generous in sharing their time. We are new to Nepal; we didn't have any idea what to do, and we certainly didn't know how to really get to know the country's culture and history. Our homestay made all of that possible. We had someone waiting for us at the airport. We were invited to attend a Hindu cleansing ritual (we're still wearing our wrist threads!) and invited to participate as honored guests. Our host, Puran, took time every morning to teach us words of Nepali as he cooked breakfast.

The best part of staying in a homestay is surely the people; they were our key to Nepal, walking us through the best way to truly live there. This trip has let us feel that we've really lived in Nepal. That would have been possible without the homestay.

Hosts Bina and Puran

What did you do in Kathmandu?

Kathmandu is a breathtaking city. We were especially impressed by Swayambhunath, the enormous temple on a hill. It's surrounded by these busy, muddy streets, but it just erupts up vertically into a jewel of bright green jungle. It's quite a hike to the top -- 350 stairs or so -- but there are chattering monkeys, dozens of white stupas, and astonishing panoramic views at the top. Watching monkeys do cannonballs into their pool, we felt that we had been transported to another time. We'd go again in a heartbeat -- and plan to!

Swayambhunath Stupa

Walk around clockwise to avoid inauspicious fortunes, dodge the hands of greedy monkeys, haggle with vendors, and mourn the earthquake damage. This site feels like Kathmandu condensed onto the top of a hill.

Any tips or advice for other travellers?

The best thing we did -- and this might not be for everyone! -- was get adventurous with our food. We enacted a policy when we first got here that if we were hungry and there was an interesting hole-in-the-wall restaurant, we'd stop and try it whether it was scary-looking or not.

Since then, we've discovered some of the best and most interesting food we've ever eaten. Honacha in Patan is a sooty little nook just off Durbar Square; there are hardly tables, and no one speaks English -- but they serve an astonishing spicy, flame grilled buffalo and homemade rice liquor for less than $2, which you can savor from the rooftop patio with views of Durbar Square. And at Friendly Fast Food, we ate momos cooked in front of our eyes and served with an eye-wateringly spicy orange chutney and moist, well-spiced buffalo. (If you want to eat water buffalo, Nepal is The Place for you.)

So that's what you shouldn't miss in Kathmandu! Get off the TripAdvisor path -- try looking up restaurants in English-language publications like the Nepali Times or the Kathmandu Post to find local gems -- or just stop somewhere and enjoy. We haven't had a bad meal yet.

How was your experience with your host?

Staying with Puran was incredible. He is a natural tour guide -- he's basically fluent in English, French, and of course Nepali, and he's a curious, engaged conversationalist. He took time out of his day to teach us Nepali, set us up with SIM cards, gave us a walking tour from our homestay to Thamel, and even shared tea that his family grows at his childhood home. We were so grateful to have Puran on our side -- the value of an expert who can answer any question is unbelievable, and something that the Internet just couldn't quite replicate. Is it going to rain? Ask Puran. When is it best to visit the Buddhist temple? Ask Puran. What the heck am I eating? Ask Puran.

The rest of the family -- Bina, Mishel, and Uddip -- were a pleasure as well. One afternoon, we were sitting on the rooftop terrace, looking down at Kathmandu and up into the mountains, taking in some sun, when out of nowhere springs Mishel, Puran's young son. Mishel tells us he's hiding; he hit his friend, and now it's time for retribution. So we promise to stay quiet -- and wait -- and wait...until finally the friends appear. Mishel makes it about 10 seconds before leaping out and running away from them. We, meanwhile, are laughing hysterically -- from a rooftop terrace with one of the best views in the world, above the family that is giving us room and board, a generous breakfast and affordable, delicious dinner. We truly felt like we were home -- not just with Puran, but in Kathmandu, and in Nepal.

Puran and his family

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A typical dinner with Puran, still wearing our tilakas -- signs that we have been purified

Dinner with a side of a lesson in writing the Nepali alphabet.

Puran's wife, Bina, is a creative and talented cook.

Clockwise around the plate: a spicy, curried potato pickle; crunchy, spicy peas; masala chickpeas; fried bread. Above the plate: rice pudding on the left, chickpea dhal on the right. This meal was incredible -- a morning vegetarian feast to celebrate the cleansing ritual. We ate alongside Puran's extended family, friends, and an annointed Hindu priest who came for the ritual and stayed for the food.

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