Kathmandu • City of Shangri-La
Kathmandu is the largest city and capital of Nepal. Once thought to be the fabled and inaccessible Shangri-La, Kathmandu is now a hub for independent travellers as well as a growing vacation spot catering to all budgets.
Kathmandu is the gateway to tourism in Nepal. The city stands at an elevation of approximately 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley of central Nepal. It is surrounded by four major mountains: Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun, and Chandragiri.
Historically, the Kathmandu Valley and adjoining areas were known as Nepal Mandala. Until the 15th century, Bhaktapur was its capital when two other capitals, Kathmandu and Lalitpur, were established.
The city has a rich history, spanning nearly 2000 years, as inferred from inscriptions found in the valley. Religious and cultural festivities form a major part of the lives of people residing in Kathmandu. Most of Kathmandu’s people follow Hinduism and many others follow Buddhism. There are people of other religious beliefs as well, giving a cosmopolitan culture.
Kathmandu‘s sister cities (Lalitpur Patan) and Bhaktapur are integral to Kathmandu‘s cultural heritage, tourism industry, and economy; therefore UNESCO‘s World Heritage Site lists all three cities’ monuments and attractions together under one heading, “Kathmandu Valley-UNESCO World Heritage Site”.
Kathmandu is the 7th most poluted city in the world (2017)!
Poor roads and streets, holes, dusty lanes and fumes of petrol fill the air. Clear skies are rare and people use face masks to help stop breathing in toxic dust, but no face mask will stop breathing in the fumes. Rivers are littered and smell terribly of waste.
Is such a shame a place that one would imagine to be green and in a mountain valley, and instead found more dust clouds and blocked skies. A very serious issue.
Swayambhu aka Monkey Temple – A site on a hill overlooking the city with a large stupa and other Buddhist and Hindu iconography. One of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the country. There are 350 steps to the top. Aside from the views over the city and the ancient carvings in every available space, it’s crowded with monkeys mingling with the visitors. The base of the hill is a 30 minute walk from Thamel, or take a taxi or rickshaw. This is one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
Boudha Stupa in Boudha. One of the most sacred sites for Tibetan Buddhism. This huge stupa is one of the largest in the world. It is located to the north-east of Dwarikas’ Hotel and just to the north of the airport area. This is another World Heritage Site.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum – This is the former Royal palace which was turned partly into a Museum and partly into the Foreign Ministry after the abolition of the monarchy in 2009. Now you can visit the splendid Halls of the main building of the palace. Giant fruit bats hanging from the tall trees and 20 foot-tall bamboo around the otherwise modern (and still well secured) former palace are a sight, especially around sunset when the bats depart en masse.
Thamel Chowk – a tourist neighbourhood with many restaurants and shops.
Freak Street – Historic street where western hippies seeking enlightenment would stay. Now just a few restaurants and hotels.
Pashupatinath – An important Hindu temple to Shiva in the form of Lord of Animals. See monkeys, cremation, sadhus and meditation caves. Morning or sunset are great times to go. There are stairs on the East side of the river leading to the Boudha Stupa (a short walk away).
Garden of Dreams – Relax in this walled garden close to Thamel and the former Royal Palace. Beautifully renovated in partnership with Austrian government. Currently has two pavilions depicting two of the six annual seasons in the Hindu calendar.
Budda Neelkanth Temple – An Idol of Bhagwan Vishnu in a sleeping position surrounded by water is an extraordinary cool and calm experience.
Kathmandu Durbar Square – This ancient square is crowded with palaces and temples, including the current incarnation of the Kasthamandap or “Wooden house” that gives the city its name. The square has been occupied since the construction of a palace around 1000AD. This site is the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal.
The Square is particularly fascinating in the very early morning as all the various merchants set up their wares and when many devotees make their offerings at the various shrines and temples. In Nepali, Durbar means “palace” and this is where the monarch was crowned and from where he ruled.