A Heritage Hotel, and then Some, Hotel Vajra

vajra-hotel

Vajra Hotel. Image: flickr/Leon Kovacic

Hotel Vajra is touted as a budget hotel and suitable for those on the lookout for cheap accommodation, but that’s only a small part of it. It’s a heritage hotel that has few equals in Kathmandu. Here are some revealing suggestions of people who have stayed here during their trip to Kathmandu. “The back packer section is just as nice as the more expensive rooms.” “Rooms in the new wings are a lot nicer.” “Stay on the ground floor!” “Get a balcony room if you can.” “Try to get a room in an upper floor.”

Of course, you do have to make for some allowances when cheap hotel rooms are what you are going for. So, take these advices as well from a couple of seasoned travelers: “There are several different levels of room quality depending upon your budget, and I enjoyed a private room in the trekkers’ house. These rooms can get a bit cool at night in November, so you may have to use your sleeping bag as an extra comforter,” and “Make sure you book a room with a bathroom. Or else you will have to use one down the hall.” Sensible words, no doubt. However, there’s so much more to this heritage hotel that you won’t mind making whatever adjustments are needed.

The art gallery, for one thing. It’s called the October Gallery and also includes the Naga Theater with an international artists’ ensemble, Studio 7, and Kalamandap, a classical Nepali performing art institute. The art gallery showcases traditional and contemporary works by talented Nepali and Tibetan artists besides also having regular exhibitions of works by artists from other parts of the world visiting Nepal. Studio 7 was founded more than two decades ago. At any one time, performers may be from countries across the world, and they include actors, musicians, and dancers. Plays are based on diverse subjects; for example, from Life Story of 100,000 poems of Milarepa to The Mahabharata to Brecht’s Three Penny Opera. Studio 7 has a style of its own that it incorporates into all its plays. They call it “Magic Realism”. Kalamandap has performances every Tuesday evening at the Great Pagoda Hall, and these are performances that aren’t to be missed, consisting as they do of exotic tantric dances performed by extremely adept dancers to beguiling music. In case you have the inclination, and the time, then you can immerse yourself deeper into Eastern arts by enrolling in a class at Kalamandap where you can learn traditional dance, music, and vocals.

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Oh yes, cheap accommodation is not all that this heritage hotel has to offer. There’s so much more. The architecture, for another thing.  They describe it as a fusion of the East and the West. The hotel was designed by someone well versed in organic architecture, Phil Hawes, who has had the honor of working with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff, two masters of the subject. What Hawes did was this: he made the building earthquake proof, and he put a pagoda roof on top; he used local materials and employed skilled local artisans to make elaborately carved doors and windows reflecting the traditional Newar style of Kathmandu Valley. The interiors are no less than the exteriors, especially the Great Pagoda Hall, which has a ceiling fresco painted by Tibetan artist Rinchen Norbu that is pretty eye catching. You’ll also see a fine wall fresco in the restaurant painted by a well known Tamang artist by the name of Bimal Moktan. Another thing this heritage hotel has going in its favor are its beautiful gardens, and yes, the terrace restaurant adjoining the Great Pagoda Hall (The Pagoda Restaurant), from where you get an outstanding view for miles around. There’s another restaurant as well, The Explorer’s Restaurant, and both offer wholesome and delicious fare. Then, there’s the Sunset Bar right up on the rooftop, and yes, it goes without saying that you get lovely views from here too.

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Hotel Vajra. Image: flickr/Leon Kovacic

Before concluding, it should be mentioned that Hotel Vajra also has a library called the East-West Library that has a fair collection of Tibetan and Sanskrit books beside other books on subjects like management, philosophy, ecology, natural history, and so on. Indeed, this heritage hotel has many more things to offer besides its 51 well furnished rooms that include cheap accommodations for the budget traveler in its Trekker’s House and 23 other rooms in the old wing, as well as 3 suites and 18 deluxe rooms for the more affluent in the new wing.

Here’s what Lonely Planet has to say about this heritage hotel: “Across the Vishnumati River in the Bijeshwari district, this is one of Kathmandu’s most interesting hotels in any price category. The brick complex feels more like an artists’ retreat than a hotel, with lush gardens, a library of books on Tibet and Buddhism, a fine rooftop bar and an ayurvedic massage room. All the rooms in the old wing are unique (the cheapest share bathrooms), so take a look at more than one. If you are in the new wing…try to score a balcony…”

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