The Kathmandu Rundown
The capital of Nepal is so fraught with age-old mysticism and spiritual import, the UNESO World Heritage Kathmandu Valley can barely contain it. Surely, no other city on the planet looks or feels like this. The incessant deluge of arrivals, all answer-seekers in some way, from Hindu holy men to Animist shamans, grungy backpackers to wealthy wheelers from China and India, sinewy Himalayan-bound mountaineers to lost Western souls, invariably prove the irrepressible pull of Kathmandu.
Smack dab in Kathmandu Valley, that most venerable lodestar of civilisation in the heart of the Himalayas, the linchpin metropolis of Nepal is home to a transcendent ensemble of Hindu and Buddhist shrines, monuments, temples and stupas. As a result, the once cut-off city vibrates with incomparable energy and cultural vitality. Come with your questions big and small, come to take mechanical stock of a nonpareil UNESCO World Heritage city, come to party in dodgy Thamel, drop out on Freak Street or meditate in monastic bliss. Regardless of affiliation, agenda or ideology, Kathmandu is a most inclusive and hospitable pilgrimage city.
Kathmandu’s Top 10
10. Siddhartha Art Gallery displays a priceless and peerless collection of native Nepali art.
5. Boudhanath’s stupa is arguably the most popular photo op in Kathmandu and one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal.
9. Jaisi Deval Temple is an ancient Shiva shrine with overt phallic symbology.
4. Chabahil is a small area of Kathmandu significant as the site of the oldest stupa in the valley.
8. Kathesimbhu Stupa is a Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage site par excellence.
3. Swayambhunath is the Monkey Temple complex of Kathmandu and a site of devout spiritual ritual.
7. Tribhuvan Museum houses a collection of artefacts that, in many ways, trumps the exhibits over at the National Museum.
2. Changu Narayan Temple is a Hindu temple to Vishnu that dates back to the 4th century.
6. Pashupatinath Temple, as one of the most venerable Shiva temples in the Hindu world, is part of the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO inscription.
1. Kathmandu Durbar Square is the ancient royal plaze of the city and the focal point of the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Narayanhiti Royal Palace – This intricate palace complex is now a museum after Nepal was declared a republic.
- Boudhanath Stupa – This holy cultural icon in Kathmandu drew Tibetan refugees in the 1950s.
- Pashupatinath Temple – This Hindu temple on the banks of Bagmati River is believed to be the oldest Shiva temple in Nepal.
- Kathmandu Durbar Square – This old square houses the royal palace, temples, fountains,and monuments.
- Changu Narayan – This magnificent,ancient temple has many artefacts from the Lichhavi period.
Kathmandu Art & Culture
- Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) – Believed to be about 2,000 years old, this is one of the most holy place for Buddhists.
- Kasthamandap – Believed to have been constructed out of a single tree, this religious pagoda is also known as the “Pavillion of Wood”.
- National Museum of Nepal – Shows an extensive collection of Nepalese art from past to present.
- Hanumandhoka Palace – This complex has three museums with royal artefacts and clothing.
- Kumari Ghar – This palace in the centre of Kathmandu showcases the tradition of worshipping Kumari Devi living goddesses.
- Freak Street – This street was famous as a home for Western hippies and attracts tourists for shopping and eating.
- Babar Mahal Revisited – This warren of shops offer nice handicrafts, clothes and art, albeit at tourist prices.
- Thamel – The area has a number of shops selling pashmina shawls and paper products.
- Bluebird Supermarkets – There are two locations of this supermarket, which sells food to fuel your trek.
- Tea World – Buy high-quality teas and spices here, or simply learn about them.
Gay & Lesbian Kathmandu
- Club 2000 – A popular mixed club and also a gay hangout in the Sundhara district.
- Fire Club – This club has a gay-friendly environment and is happening on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Reggae Bar – This bar has a friendly attitude and live music.
- Babylon Discotheque – Located in Kathmandu’s Sundhara district, this mixed club is popular with gay men.
- Club Dynasty – This Kathmandu club has a mixed crowd and is on Darbar Marg.
- Nagarkot – A great trekking spot for watching surrounding mountain peaks, sunrise and sunset.
- Hanuman Dhoka Square – Walking around this square may produce live monkey encounters.
- Buddha Neelkanth – This sleeping Buddha surrounded by water is a popular attraction.
- Kathmandu Valley – This area has a number of historical villages and sacred sites.
- Chitwan National Park – These jungle lowlands feature safaris from the back of elephant.
- Take a mountaineering expedition with Broad Adventure.
- Enjoy a thrilling canyoning adventure with Chhango Adventure Canyoning in Nepal.
- See a football match at the Dasarath Rangasala Stadium.
- Cheer on the popular Nepalese U-18 cricket team.
- Join in a white-water rafting tour in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu is a fairly small city of just over 50 km<sup>2</sup>. With close to 1 million people, however, the capital of Nepal has a population density in line with just about every major metropolis in India.
Thamel is the de facto tourist a.k.a. itinerant, nomadic backpacker ghetto of Kathmandu. As a place to meet and network with other travellers, plan a mountain trek or simply crash, William Burroughs style, and let the city wash over you, Thamel is without peer. The foremost enclave is rife with hotels and restaurants.
Lazimpat is a more affluent residential district of Kathmandu, with middle to high-end hotels, shops and restaurants. Landmarks of note include the Narayanhity Palace Museum.
Baluwatar, in northeast Kathmandu, is a plush, upscale embassy district where the official residence of the Prime Minister is the most obvious point of interest.
No trip to Kathmandu is complete without a tour of Kathmandu Valley, which consists of Kathmandu District, Lalitpur (Patan) District and Bhaktapur District and covers about half the total area of London. Though Patan and Bhaktapur have separate city status from the capital, they inseparably abut Kathmandu to form one metropolis. Indeed, hearty tourists can walk from Kathmandu Durbar Square to both Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares to complete the UNESCO World Heritage Kathmandu Valley trifecta.
Kathmandu Eat & Drink
Nepali cuisine, in all its heterogeneous iterations, has yet to be exported in the same manner as, say, the culinary traditions of India. The country’s small stature and very landlocked-ness most definitely plays a part, which makes the subsequent discovery of various national dishes that much more of a revelation. Nonetheless, hungry tourists in Kathmandu can just as easily score a slice of pizza at midnight as a bowl of raw, marinated buffalo meat.
Chang Cheng Restaurant (Thamel) serves terrific, fiery Sichuan cuisine to appreciative Chinese businessmen.
Old Tashi Delek Rest (Thamel) is a go-to eatery for Kathmandu vets, with a menu that runs from Tibetan to Tex-Mex.
Koto Restaurant (Durbar Marg), with a variety of good sashimi and soba, proves how eclectic the restaurant scene in Kathmandu has become.
Royal Hana Garden (Lazimpat) is a tony Japanese restaurant cum onsen far from the Thamel and Durbar Square hordes. The one place in Kathmandu where you can reserve a table and a thermal bath soak.
Thakali Kitchen (Lagankhel Road) cooks up the kind of Nepali food Kathmandu grandmothers approve of.
Bhojan Griha (Dilli Bazaar) serves solid Nepali staples but is worth a trip for heritage landmark digs alone.
Chez Caroline (Bijulibazar Road) is a swish, expat haven of French cuisine.
Royal Park Guest House (Basantapur Square) is the best spot in Kathmandu for a rooftop lunch.
Kumari Restaurant (Hattisar Road) is a chillout, backpacker dive with unfussy comfort food.
Fire & Ice Restaurant (Tridevi Marg 219 Sanchaya Kosh Bhawan) does basic Italian justice and even whips up a passable espresso.
Kathmandu celebrates a diverse range of annual events, even outside of the Hindu and Buddhist holiday calendar.
Tihar, Festival of Lights is a rough equivalent to Diwali and, indeed, coincides with the foremost Hindu holiday. The five day festival consists of five distinct pujas, or worships, from dogs to cow dung.
Holi, the annual Hindu spring festival, is a colourful, mirthful occasion in Kathmandu.
Dashain is a 15 day national festival in Nepal (as well as Bhutan and parts of India) that coincides with the annual harvests in September and October. The roots of the pan-religious festival extend into Hindu, Tantric and Animist traditions.
Teej is a fast and feast festival for women, predominantly of Khas ethnic origin, that takes place over three days before Ganesha Chaturthi.
Indra Jatra, or Yanya Punhi, is a processional holiday that venerates Indra, the Hindu deity of heaven.
Himalayan Blues Festival inundates Kathmandu, of all places, with a taste of the Mississippi Delta every November.
Jazzmandu/Kathmandu Jazz Festival lures a decent lineup of artists to the Nepali capital in late October for a set of concerts, workshops and improv jams.
Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival is a competitive cinefest with open-air events and conferences for avid AV fans.
When To Go
It is safe to say that km² for km², few nations have a climate as multifarious as Nepal’s. High elevations, sharp shifts in altitude and other topographical factors deliver a slew of various meteorological conditions to Kathmandu, often in the same day, and instill a discernible sense of steely resolve among the weather-beaten populace.
Though the Kathmandu Valley resides in a warm temperate zone, parts of the capital city evince aspects of a humid subtropical or even highland climate. As a result, visitors never know what to pack. Come in summer and you may need those gloves and coat you left at home.
More often than not, however, from May to September the temperature in Kathmandu wavers between 60°F (16°C) and 83°F (28°C). This is also monsoon season in the city, when 85% of Kathmandu’s annual average precipitation total of 1,425 mm falls. Because winter nights can dip as low as 37°F (3°C), albeit with daytime highs of 64°F (18°C) in January, the best weather targets comfort-wise may well be March and November.
What To Miss
One has only to look back at the history of Nepal to know that the political situation in the capital can be temperamental and volatile. Visitors should steer clear of demonstrations, rallies and the like and stick close to reliable tour operators for timely guidance. Incidents with regard to foreigners are relatively rare, however, with only a handful of consular interjections made on behalf of British nationals every year.
The usual advice when it comes to transnational nuisances like pickpockets, fraud artists and all-around petty thieves is just as applicable in Kathmandu as well. Crafty predators love a good crowd and easy distractions. With that, exercise utmost caution in touristy areas, bars, clubs, bus stations, marketplaces and Tribhuvan International Airport.
The most persistent hardship travellers in and around Kathmandu face on a regular basis, however, has more to do with geography and weather. Nepal is a ripe base for adventure and ecotourism and attracts countless trekkers and climbers to the capital for reconnaissance and sorties into the remote, rugged hinterland. It is here where visitors need to be most vigilant and on their guard. As a safety measure, in fact, foreign visitors to national parks are now obligated to register with the Trekking Agency Association of Nepal. Other precautions adventure tourists should take include good travel insurance, expert local guides (be wary of charlatans) and top-of-the-line equipment. A satellite phone is never a bad idea when you find yourself in the vicinity of the Himalayas, under the gargantuan shadow of Mount Everest.
Tribhuvan International Airport is the only international hub in Nepal and, as such, the chief gateway to the country at large. The airport serves destinations like Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Delhi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai and Singapore. Most hotels offer a complimentary ride into town, as the airport is only 6 km from Durbar Square. Visas are a requirement for British nationals and available in pounds on arrival at the airport. Passports should be valid for more than six months.
More intrepid long-distance travellers can opt for a bus to Kathmandu from a wide variety of destinations within Nepal and India. While the scenery is rightfully spectacular, the ride can wreak havoc on the nerves and digestive system. If you have the constitution and fortitude, however, the bumpy journey can prove most memorable - and rather affordable at that.
Kathmandu’s urban plan lacks some basic street signs, in any language frankly, and can subsequently confuse tenderfoot tourists. While some parts of the city are pedestrian-friendly, others are best explored from the relative comfort of a taxi (negotiate fares and/or check the meter in advance). For longer forays into the valley and to pilgrimage sites, most visitors arrange a private car and driver.
A sacred, venerable city, the capital of Nepal offers the romantic promise of spiritual adventure. Known as one of the most attractive cities in the world, Kathmandu is a nexus point of ancient civilizations. Truly, the city of 1 million people is a time warp and while modern in many facets, harkens back to mystical traditions to find balance even today.
Within Kathmandu Valley in the heart of the Himalayas, the area is replete with notable Hindu and Buddhist shrines, monuments, temples and stupas. As such, the remote and beautiful city is awash with a cultural vitality the likes of which most tourists have never seen. Durbar Square is where most start off in Kathmandu. Home to several temples and the old royal palace, the plaza is the congregation point of first-resort in Kathmandu. Swayambhunath and Boudhanath are the most important pilgrimage sites in and around the city.
Despite a high elevation, a valley location provides the city of Kathmandu with mild weather for most of the year.
- Winter (December to February) 2-19°C
- Spring (March to May) 7-30°C
- Summer (June to September) 19-29°C
- Fall (October to November) 7-27°C
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