As a traveller who normally tends towards the budget end of things — out of necessity, rather than preference — hotels are usually just somewhere to rest my head at night. It helps if they’re clean. During my visit to Nepal in October 2015, however, it was my pleasure to stay in Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu, the most beautiful hotel in Nepal. Even without having stayed at every hotel in the country, I can confidently say that.
Dwarika’s is practically a museum. Mr Dwarika Das Shrestha began to create the hotel in the 1950s. The story goes that he was out running one day and saw some people huddled around a fire, burning pieces of intricately carved scrap wood. This scrap came from old, traditional Newari homes (the Newars being the ‘original’ inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley). Dwarika knew that this was a horrible waste of Nepal’s heritage, so he began to salvage such pieces, which at the time were not yet widely appreciated for their cultural importance. At first, he just stored the artefacts; then he incorporated them into the design of his home. By the 1960s he began to create the hotel in earnest.
Dwarika’s started with a single antique window frame and slowly grew into the 86-room hotel it is now, with a pool, bar, library, shops, spa, multiple restaurants and conference centre. While it has all of the facilities of a regular luxury hotel, it is far from generic. The meticulously designed rooms and outdoor spaces are very similar to major tourist attractions in Kathmandu, such as the Patan Museum or the interior courtyards of the Palace at the Kathmandu Durbar Square. There is an onsite heritage workshop that employs skilled artisans to restore and create traditional woodwork, as well as glazed bricks and other traditional crafts.
While staying at Dwarika’s, I visited the village of Sankhu, situated in the northeast of the Kathmandu Valley. Sankhu is an old traditional Newari town, badly damaged during the 2015’s earthquakes. A lot of rubble is strewn around. Some brick buildings with traditional carved wooden doors and window frames are close to falling over. Yet the carvings were very similar to those on display around Dwarika’s Hotel. The only difference is that those in the ‘wild’ were in much worse condition.
The hotel is quite expensive. Even the onsite restaurants are pricier than other nice restaurants in Kathmandu. It would be a shame if the best traditional Newari craft was kept behind guarded gates at a luxury hotel, while villages such as Sankhu are left to rot and fall down. But that’s not what is happening with Dwarika’s Hotel. It has won numerous awards for its cultural preservation efforts. A work in progress, and the hotel continues to give money to various restoration projects around the Valley. They support small producers, women’s cooperatives and traditional cottage industries such as pottery, carving, brick-making and bronze work. So although visitors do need to be rather wealthy to enjoy the hotel, Dwarika’s is not just a hotel. It is an entire experience of cultural immersion.
(I was a guest of Dwarika’s Hotel, as a participant in ATTA’s Adventure Week Rebound Nepal. All opinions are entirely my own).
This piece originally appeared on www.wildernessmetropolis.com and is published here with permission. Photos by Dwarika’s Hotel and Elen Turner.