Originally published in South China Morning Post, 10 August 2012.
Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu is an oasis of calm amid the smoggy streets and blaring truck horns of Nepal’s capital, set within a cavernous maze of traditional clothing shops, age-old momo joints and shifty tourist traps.
But make no mistake: this isn’t some kind of ignorant escape for bored nouveau riche children to stay in the lap of luxury while snubbing all that is truly Kathmandu. Far from it – the hotel’s late owner, Dwarika Das Shrestha, was an avid collector of the country’s now-depleted traditional architecture: intricately carved wooden doors, window frames and walls, among other items.
As his hoard grew to unrealistic proportions, he began to transform his humble house, built in the late 1950s, into a heritage paradise. Its transition into a hotel was a slow and steady process – a couple of exchange students here, a few religious pilgrims there – but soon visitors from around the world were appearing at his former home.
Dwarika’s blends the history and culture of Kathmandu with new-found comfort. Unlike the endless corridors of rooms at leading hotel chains, Dwarika’s attention to each guest has pared the focus down to an intimate selection of 87 rooms and suites.
Each abode comes with a few of its own elements, with pieces dating as far back as the 13th century next to all the modern amenities that one would expect: flat screen televisions, stereo systems, high-pressure showers.
Dwarika’s most extravagant offering is the Royal Suite, which has hosted Prince Charles, Sir Edmund Hillary and several US presidents. Taking inspiration from the private residences of Nepal’s 12th century Malla kings, the suite is set over three floors and features an impressive main bedroom and spacious bathroom alongside a reception area, breakfast terrace, meeting spaces, and a private lounge with sundeck overlooking the Kathmandu Valley.
The grounds offer a chance to further explore Nepal’s heritage and craftsmanship. Located in the middle of the hotel is its most notable feature: a large pool modelled on Malla dynasty royal baths. There you can sip South Asian-inspired cocktails served at your wicker deckchair as you read ancient texts from the library.
Those hoping for a deeper relaxation can try the Pancha Kosha Spa, which blends the appeal of Eastern philosophy with more modern treatment techniques.
Toran, the hotel’s all-day restaurant, serves a banquet-like selection of Eastern and Western options for breakfast, and Mako’s offers an authentic taste of Japan. But it’s Krishnarpan, Dwarika’s ‘slow’ restaurant, that attracts the locals in flocks.
A traditional restaurant that serves long-forgotten Nepali cuisine once reserved for maharajahs, it’s a time warp where patrons sit cross-legged, sipping home-brewed spirits and eating Chinese and Indian dishes. Meals can run up to 22 courses, and the vegetables are sourced from the hotel’s own farm.
At a time when the world’s supposed top hotels are becoming homogenised, Dwarika’s is one of a few that still offer guests a sense of heritage that lets them forget temporarily which century they’re in.