Strolling on our way from Roma to Polanco, we passed the Hotel Camino Real. It has an awesome facade by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and I’m sure an equally mod interior to match.
Most exciting was the fountain in the entry. It was unlike any we had previously seen. Instead of the normal geysers and sprays, this was an homage to the oceans power; a constant swirl of motion and just mesmerizing to watch.
Kathmandu, Nepal, Chaos. There is an oasis, a few hundred square meters has been set apart from smoke and noise and pollution and poverty. Where man-made beauty still reigns and the gardens sprawl. Where birds can rest free and you can get an idea of what could be.
In 1934 the great Bihar earthquake -magnitude 8.1- destroyed a large portion of the buildings and houses in Kathmandu, and it has never quite recovered. In the decades following, most locals oped for reconstruction in a more ‘modern’ concrete style. The traditional architecture was thought a reflection of poverty, and the intricately hand-carved door frames and windows were seen insomuch as their ability to burn. This great purge would have seen the entire architectural heritage of this Himalayan city go up in smoke, had it not been for Dwarika Das Shrestha and his family.
During the late 1950’s Dwarika Das Shrestha acquired the land where the majestic Dwarika’s Hotel lays today, and commenced the construction of his family home. Integrating the ancient hand-carved windows, columns, frames that he had been acquiring and collecting. Thus starting the preservation of Nawari craft-work – the Newa are the indigenous people of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – and more importantly Nepal’s cultural heritage as a whole.
In 1964 Dwarika Das Shrestha (DDS), in order to fund his growing collection of traditional Newari wood carvings, added a rental apartment to his growing estate. In the following years DDS, realizing that the technique as well as the objects themselves were becoming extinct, he hired three of the few remaining Master Newari wood carvers. To ensure that this intricate craft would not be lost to time, he also created an apprenticeship, to confirm this important knowledge was passed on to new generations. This heritage workshop extended beyond the woodworking, into the other ancient crafts of Nepal such as terracotta sculpture and brick-works.
To sponsor his growing crafts passion and workshop, DDS started renting rooms at his ever expanding compound. Adding new buildings with the new and restored pieces now coming out of the workshop. As an hotel, it grew slowly, organically and it had not yet reached its peak when DDS passed away in 1992. His wife and daughter continued the development based on his original concept sketches. Today the Dwarika’s Hotel is still managed by the family.
There are three different restaurants situated in the hotel: Mako: featuring Japanese cuisine. Toran: with a little of everything from Nepali bbq to sandwiches and pastas, set as a perfect outdoor lunch in the hotel’s courtyard. And Krishnarpan, probably the best restaurant in the country and an experience untoward itself. We recommend leaving a stay at Dwarika’s and this finest of meals for the end of your trip, ensuring you leave full of contentedness and hope.
The multi-course dinner at the Krishnarpan Restaurant begins when the traditionally adorned server brings that evenings menu, individually addressed with your name, printed on hand made paper.
First to arrive was a Samaya Bajee, an assortment of hors d’oeuvres which are usually served during religious ceremonies; representing good luck and prosperity. Included are tender lentil patties, puffed rice, toasted soy beans, stewed tomato and salad. After so many weeks of Dal Bat, the change is welcome and heart-warming. Just being in the ambiance, one can feel great things ahead.
Then was Chatamari, a Nepali rice crepe filled with vegetables along with vegetable Momos (traditional Himalayan dumplings) accompanied by a sweet-spicy mango chutney. At this time was also the serving of the traditional alcoholic Rakshi poured from a copper decanter. While this millet based alcohol is integral to Nepalese religion and tradition, it is not enjoyable, except as a test of your inner strength; which might be what it is used for in ceremony!
The courses kept manifesting and would need an entirely separate article to do them justice
– Gundruk Ko Jhol – a curry made from fermented mustard leaf broth with soybeans; accompanied with Sada Bhuja, steamed Himalayan rice; and Dal Jhaneko, spiced red lentils.
– Aloo Tareko, a signature Newari Dish of fried potatoes and peppercorn
– Tarul Ra Lasun Ko Tarkari, stir fried yam with spring garlic chives – Saag Jhaneko, sauteed spiced spinach – Pharsee Ko Tarkari, pumpkin curry – Golbheda Ko Achar, stued tomatoes
– Lapsee Ko Achaar, plum pickles
After all of these dishes, you are in a state of near bliss, contemplating gastronomic enlightenment when arrives the mind-bending Panchamrit: a mixture of five nectars used in Hindu worship, milk, sugar, yogurt, ghee, and honey.
Dwarika Das Shresth legacy to Nepal is unequaled; and he is one of the world’s great men. Thanks to his passion for preserving Nepal’s cultural heritage, the government and other entities started restoring semi-forgotten sites along the Kathmandu valley. Had it not been for his steadfast belief and desire to see his country regain its former glory, we would not even have know what the world had lost.
The much hyped and reviewed Condesa DF in Mexico City (DF) easily lives up to its reputation as a top design hotel. From its prime location, adjacent to a lovely art & tree filled park, in the chic Condesa district – think NYC’s West Village – to its distinctive triangular form, everything about the Condesa DF sets it apart.
The main interior is an open triangular courtyard looking up 5 flights to the happening roof-top bar and the sky above. White shutters line the interior catwalks, creating an openness during the day and a protective barrier when closed at night. Dangling down the center is a vine of silver horns, splaying out like the bells of a foxglove, emitting a low murmuring of ticking and tocking – with a grandfather clock’s steady comfort rather then an alarm clock’s annoying reminder of time passing. The restaurant’s elegant white tables fall within this surrounding whiteness with a few protected rooms along the sides for enclosed dining. One of these contains an excellent shop filled with some of the choicest jewelry seen in all of DF – at surprisingly good prices. A second side room is a library filled with photo & design books dedicated to Mexico’s deep cultural and art scene.
We stayed in a Balcony-View Room. It was small, but well appointed with a very comfortable bed and excellent pillows (something often lacking!). The balcony turned out to be a window overlooking the tree’s that filled the street below. It was quite lovely to wake up, throw the curtains and gaze upon the flowing leaves while gathering in the fresh air and listening to DF’s ever-present songbirds.
The shower was like standing under an 80 foot water-fall – pressure that would give a Japanese Onsen competition. Fantastic! Interestingly the toilet was the only ‘industrial’ item to be found in the entire hotel. It could have come from a high-school or hospital. Once again the bathroom was on the smallish side, but nicely laid out and cleverly hidden behind folding partitions.
If there was anything to pick on at the Condesa DF, it was that the room seemed designed more for a single person then a couple. There was only a single key that combined as an electrical shut-off and the safe-box was locked via credit-card over code. This made it hard to be on separate schedules. One night I ventured out to meet a friend at a local night-club. We wound up having to take apart the key ring so the room had power and I need not wake anyone on returning home. But these were small inconveniences and easily managed.
The staff was pleasant and consistently polite and helpful. Our night’s stay included one of the more expansive and impressive continental breakfasts seen to date; containing a self serve bar of home-made granola, cereals, fruits, yogurts, along with honey, milk and cottage cheese. The was also an excellent selection of breads, alongside quality portions of smoked salmon, prosciutto, salami, white and hard cheeses, tomatoes, compotes, hard eggs, butter and creamed cheese. Decanters of fresh orange, carrot & grapefruit juice offered a vibrant start to the day. The coffee was as good as anywhere we found in Mexico – which means not great, but drinkable (There seems to be a tendency to dilute and over-boi)l. There is also an a-la-carte menu with huevos rancheros and other delightful Mexican dishes. Be sure to take a substantial breakfast to start your day, as you need the calories for the never ending activity that is sure to follow in the wonderful city of Mexico DF.
The steam room and “spa area” are the weak point of the Condesa DF. They seem an after-thought, a requirement tossed in to earn an extra star rating. Luckily, the tempest-like shower more then makes an adequate “spa experience” and is conveniently located right in your room!
A quick note on taxis:
We have never encountered a city where the rates and hustling in taxis is so widespread. This is something that should really be better regulated. So if this is the kind of thing that annoys you, please keep in mind to specify you want a ‘taxi-meter taxi’ when you order a car service AND to specify to the driver to use the meter. Otherwise the hotel (and every business in town apparently) will order what they term ‘a more elegant car’ – which is really the same car without the taaxi paint – and the rates can be up to 7 times the taximeter rate. We paid between 20 & 120 pesos for the same ride, until we got our head around the costs. Do not be put off by this, just know it.
Mexico City (DF) is a safe and amazing city, full of grand architecture, strong design and culinary artistry. The Condesa DF is a lovely home-away-from-home to base yourself. Centrally located on a quiet block in a leafy section of town; each evening we were happy to return, get cleaned up and every morning we awoke excited and energized!