Kathmandu is full of vibrant and colourful hotels for both trekkers and dharma seekers, however the Shanker Hotel is seriously authentic and must not be missed. The outside needs a little paint and the barman doesn’t know how to make a mojito, but it’s not often you can eat, drink, sleep and be treated like royalty at a historic Kathmandu palace.
Soul-seeking travellers love Nepal, it’s one of the hottest destinations at the moment, and with hotels like the Shanker that ooze old world charm and sophistication – it is no wonder.
“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures” – Lovelle Drachman
Nestled in a quiet oasis, discreetly hidden off the busy and chaotic streets of Kathmandu, Hotel Shanker is a luxury heritage hotel which opened its doors to travellers in 1964. Prior to this it was a Rana Royal Palace, built in 1894.
This is one hotel that knows how to make a lasting first impression. Upon arriving at the hotel I was whisked out of the taxi by two hotel bellmen and escorted up the stairs to the entrance. ‘Namaste’ I was greeted by a sharply tailored doorman who was dressed in red, had white crisp gloves and black polished shoes – which I swear I could see my own reflection in. He pushed open the heavy glass door to make way for me to step inside the dramatic foyer.
Stepping through into the main body of the hotel, you enter a world that disappeared over a century ago. Big crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, exposed wooden beams line the roof, carved pillars stand tall from the floor to the ceiling and intricately carved Nepalese windows look out onto four acres of perfectly manicured lawn.
Hushed to a brown leather couch I was served fresh ginger tea as I went through all the formalities of checking in. While nearer by, a row of Nepalese bellboys stood to attention, awaiting instructions.
Besides the grandeur of the foyer the thing that strikes you first is the silence. There’s no noise or crowds, and in Nepal such space is itself a symbol of wealth.
A hotel can break or make a holiday. While I love a luxury hotel, when seeking out a great hotel there are more things to consider than the finest thread sheets and five-star butler service. It is about the little details that give a hotel character and charm. And Hotel Shanker does not disappoint.
Escorted to my room by two bellmen, walking down the exotic hallway I stopped to admire the wooden pillars, carvings, and colourful paintings along the way. Flashes of Indiana Jones came to my mind and I was secretly looking around for any hidden doors that may lead to ancient treasure – it truly is a place that inspires a traveller’s imagination to soar!
The smell of English rose filled my hotel room as soon as I cracked open the window which overlooked the perfectly manicured gardens. A lady wearing a colourful headscarf who was working in the garden below looked up and gave me a friendly wave. The hotel room was simple yet had everything that the traveller needs. It is the attention to the little details that make Hotel Shanker stand out, it is the chocolates and fresh flowers on arrival and the palette of royal colours, fabrics, and furnishings that create a rich and colourful experience. Looking around the room it is evident by the carved windows and gold gilded ceilings that the rugged hands of Nepalese craftsmen and carpenters had worked hard to build an architectural masterpiece that is characterised by exquisite and authentic objects d’art.
After a hot bath it was off to dinner at the hotels in-house restaurant Cozy Kailash. They served up a buffet which was a fusion of Indian, Chinese and Nepalese. I opted for an authentic Nepalese experience and scooped onto my plate the Dahl Baat, a traditional Nepalese dish of lentils and vegetables. Earthy and aromatic with turmeric and laced with chilli slices, garlic and cumin seeds – it was not bad on its own, but scoop it up with a freshly baked roti, top it with yoghurt and spike it with the tart lemon pickle and it was to die for. Throw in on the side a big glass of cold Everest beer and a friendly chat with Nischal my waiter, it was the perfect meal.
After dinner I headed back to my room, walking the creaky wooden hallways of the former Rana palace I was almost expecting an old whiskered Rana prince to come shuffling around the corner. Turning the key in the lock of my door I was bid goodnight in whispers by the evening housekeeping staff.
Breakfast was quite the lavish affair and I have to admit it was my favourite. The buffet is included within the room rate and it caters for all tastes and cravings – from blueberry pancakes, bacon and eggs to creamy bircher muesli. A freshly made omelette [before my vegan days], a spicy tomato juice, fresh pressed coffee, friendly service and a newspaper: for me there was no better way to start the day.
After breakfast you can hit the busy streets of Kathmandu, it is about a 10 minute walk to Thamel: the city’s main hub for restaurants and shopping. Or you can retire to the poolside bar where the tables and sun lounges sprawl into the garden, great for unwinding with a good book and a cheeky early morning Gin and Tonic.
However amongst all the mystic and beauty of Hotel Shanker, it is definitely the friendly staff that made the stay worthwhile. They all went out of their way to ensure I was happy and comfortable, and meeting them in the hallway they would always smile and greet me with a soft ’Namaste’. And as far as the really bad mojito – well let’s face it, I got what I deserved –you should never try to be taken to Cuba while sitting at a bar in Nepal. I was quick to learn my lesson and my next round of cheers was with a big mug of Chhaang, otherwise known locally as Nectar of the Gods.
This is not just a unique place to stay; it’s a shrine to the artistic and architectural traditions of Nepal. The hotel creates the perfect balance of luxury, opulence and heritage. I can’t wait to return.
You can visit Shanker Hotel at www.shankerhotel.com.np