Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal is basically a natural bowl surrounded by hills. In geographical terms, they call it a valley, but it kind of reminds me of a bowl filled with different types of ingredients which makes the dish tasty as a whole. Nepal generates a lot of income from the tourism industry and Kathmandu might be the center of this whole national business. One thing that is inevitable is that a person that comes to Nepal from outside via flight must land in Kathmandu first. This is because our country has only one international airport, called the Tribhuwan International Airport and it lies in the capital city for obvious reasons. Since people start their journey from here, most of them explore a little bit of this city before heading to their destinations. Kathmandu is a fun place to visit and spend time along with an exploration of cultural diversities.
The city has a proud and rich history that dates back to the 12th century. It's a city and it’s the capital, so you might want to make up your mind at seeing crowds. As frustrating it might get for some individuals, we cannot do anything to make you avoid crowds while exploring. Instead, take this chance to meet up with strangers, share bits of your journey, and improve your social skills. No one knows you here so if you end up messing some conversations no one will remember it anyway. It is one of those perks of visiting a foreign country. Just don't engage in heated debates or quarrels though.
To make this process easier for our guests, we have researched and brought together a list of places that might fit into your starter pack. To make the list interesting, we have put a different kind of experiences so that you will at least get the taste of everything vital. Also, there is no need to follow the numbering of the places as an order for visiting. Just pick up a random place, read some information, and get packing. Going through every choice will confuse you and you might end of panicking. So, let's get on with the list.
1. Boudhanath Stupa: Let's start our journey with a touch of Buddhism in the capital city. Boudhanath Stupa stands as one of the most sought-after tourist attractions to this day. In terms of visiting difficulty, it lies just seven kilometers away from the center of Thamel. Well, we have not introduced anything on Thamel, but I don't think we need to talk about it. Whenever a tourist visits Kathmandu, he or she is immediately directed towards Thamel. It is like a gathering place for tourists. Let's not stray from our main discussion and discover more about the amazing beauty of Boudhanath Stupa. A stupa is a place where the Buddhist devotees go and worship Buddha; sort of like a temple for Hindus.
The structure is huge in itself, so once visited; anyone can recognize this unique place from different corners of Kathmandu. The first visit will definitely be your most memorable. The traditional touch and the tranquility of the place will immediately draw you towards Buddhism and its roots. Talking about roots, the Boudha Stupa is believed to have been built around 600 AD. Surprisingly, this is the same time when the then reigning Tibetan King decided to convert and follow the path of Buddhism. Along with this fact, there are several other reasons the Buddhists find this place very sacred.
The problem with most of the cultural sites of Nepal is that they were scared during the 2015 earthquake. If you are not aware of 2015 disaster, Nepal faced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which shook the whole country to its roots. Luckily, we were able to keep the casualties to a minimum, but the old and historic places received quite the damage. Considering the condition of other sites, Boudhanath did not get too much damage. Keeping the dark times aside, the best time to visit this stupa is at night. During the day, the place will be a bit lively with other visitors. So, come to the place when it's a bit dark and the local citizens burn butter lamps and incense sticks to offer their prayers.
After you have feasted your eyes on the Boudhanath stupa, ask the locals or your guide to show you Ka-Nying Sheldrup Ling(White or Seto) Gompa which lies on the northern side. This is also another Buddhist structure that looks like Boudhanath but has a white color. Ka-Nying Sheldrup is the place where the Buddhist monks gather to learn Tibetan Buddhism.
2. Durbar Square: Taking the Thamel as a focal point, head towards the south with the help of your navigation tools to reach the Durbar square. We are very sorry to tell you that the place has lost its original touch due to the earthquake. The original builds have received heavy damage and the renovation is still going on. No one can predict the true disasters of nature, but we are to blame for the level of damage. The cultural places and heritages were meant to be repaired from time to time. Eventually, we lost several of the important places due to the recklessness of our Government.
Anyways, Durbar Square still maintains its place in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The funny thing is people often confuse this place with the Durbar Square located in the Bhaktapur region of Kathmandu. The main attraction of the Durbar Square region is the several temples, monuments, the stupas, and the history they carry. Collectively, they elevate the attraction level of the place. After you have spent your night in Thamel, just wake up the next morning, grab a cup of coffee and head 700 meters to enter the Durbar Square premises. If you don't like strolling around too much, just find a nearby temple to sit down and enjoy the scenery. The place will be filled with youngsters, officials running here and there for their jobs, and just random people feeding the pigeons for satisfaction. If you are the type of person that has to explore the whole place, here are some of the important structures:
· Seto Bhairab: Seto means white in Nepali. Seto Bhairab is a religious site which worships the god Bhairab according to Hindu religious beliefs. For those who are not familiar with Hindu gods, the structure might look strange and might resemble a creature. The carving is said to be made in 1794 and still remains protected to this day. Every year on the occasion of Indra Jatra (a festival that is meant to worship the Hindu God of rain 'Indra'), hundreds of pilgrims attend this place. This festival generally falls in the month of September.
· Jagannath Temple: This is one of the oldest structures of the Dubar Square region. Here, you will find something you rarely see in holy spots. The roof struts of this structure have several erotic carvings. The carvings are original so yes, they were there, to begin with. The main purpose of those carvings is to educate the people on the art of sex also called "Kamasutra" (Sanskrit word). Moving on, the temple has three doors that can be used to enter the temple premises. But, only one door is available for entrance and exit as per the regulations.
· Taleju Temple: If you ask people about the most magnificent temple in the whole Durbar square region, they will undoubtedly point towards the Taleju temple. This temple has maintained its beauty for a long time and stands as one of the major tourist attractions. It is a Hindu temple but, getting access to the temple is a bit hard. The temple itself lies at 35 meters high and holds twelve other smaller temples. The whole structure is surrounded by four gates.
· Mahendreshwar Temple: Mahendrashwar temple is all about worshipping the almighty Shiva, one of the three major gods of the Hindu religion. The place is always lively with pilgrims and tourists. You can easily recognize this temple by its unique structure. The temple has a golden umbrella that has religious importance of its own.
Well, this concludes the overall visit of Durbar Square. Of course, we barely scratched the minimum when it comes to the exploration of this site. But, I hope this list will at least help you find out the must-visit destinations.
3. Swoyambhunath: Another Buddhism representative structure that makes Kathmandu more special. If you visit Boudhanath Stupa and think it is big then wait until you get to the Swoyambhunath temple or Stupa. The structure is quite visible from different corners of the capital city and is also famous among visitors with the name of "Monkey Temple". The place occupies its rightful place in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds so much historical and religious values. When you reach the top of the stupa, you will have a delicious 360-degree view of Kathmandu. No trip to Kathmandu is complete without seeing this place at least once.
Since the place is such an important part of our culture and country, the Government and the people make sure this place retains its beauty all year long. Decorated with player flags and "Manas", you will almost feel Tibetan vibes in this area. Make no mistake, you will find tons of locals and tourists in the venue but, do not let anyone suck your joy from your travel. Take your time and enjoy the small details and moments as you visit this beautiful temple. And this is relevant for all the places on this list. Anyways, the best time for anyone to visit the Swyambhunath is around 7:30 in the morning. I know, getting up early is a challenge for many, but doing so will provide you a better opportunity of enjoying the tranquil part of the place. The skies will have just begun to spread the sun's rays and there will be fewer crowds.
Swoyambhunath is a round structure like any other Buddhist stupa and there is a correct way to walk around this place. Try walking in a clockwise direction around the main structure. This is called kora and you will find several locals walking around in such a manner. By doing this, you will avoid unnecessary running and bumping into people. We also have some guidelines to help you enjoy your stupa visit to the fullest. We are going to list some places nearby the destination. Be sure to check them out.
· Great Thunderbolt: When you approach the stupa from the Eastern Stairway side, you will come across a gigantic brass molded into the shape of a thunderbolt. Don't worry, it does not mean there is a danger of high voltage live wires or a symbol of danger. Instead, the symbol is a representation of enlightenment. In pure Buddhist terms, the thing is known as the thunderbolt of Dorje.
· Eastern Stairway: In the earlier point we mentioned something about the presence of structure in the Eastern Stairway. So, what is this stairway anyways? Actually, the Swoyambhunath stupa is accessible in two different ways. Either you take a roundabout road to the Stupa on your vehicle or you tests your athleticism on the stairway. Well if you are all about exploration and stuff, why not go through the stairs? One thing that will cause you some problems is the monkeys. They will grab or try to steal your belongings, especially edibles. Be sure to properly pack them inside your backpacks.
· Western Stupa: To get to this place you need to come back to the main entrance. From there, head towards your left direction along the path that is cobbled with stones. At the end of the road is a Gompa that will provide you an excellent view of the Kathmandu valley. It will be a total bluff to say that you will see the whole valley, but you will certainly see a great view.
· Buddha Amideva Park: This one of those underrated destinations which pack a great punch but gets little attention due to little information. The Buddha Amideva Park consists of three giant statues dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Believe it or not, the statue is made up of gold and shines brightly on sunny days.
Another bonus adventure for our tourists might be the Natural History Museum. The museum will be a kind of mind freshening tour for you away from the constant religious visits. The place shares its similarities with Trafalgar Square located in London. The entry fee is cheap and they will charge you an extra 50 NRs for the camera.
4. Thamel: The most popular tourist attraction in Kathmandu has to be Thamel. I mean, if I walk on the roads of Thamel I feel like I just entered the foreign territory. The fancy restaurants, hiking stores, street foods, souvenir shops, and the soothing smell of incense sticks create a different kind of mood for travelers. While most places in Kathmandu will feel like out of ordinary, Thamel area will make you feel like a home. Home in a sense that you will find many other adventurers in the place exploring and going through items to take back. This is the reason most tourism based industry is well-developed in Thamel areas. You will literally find hundreds of traveling and tourism service providers, handicraft sellers, and pubs to spend your relaxing night time. As a whole, we have some places you will find interesting:
· Thamel Marg: Let me tell you beforehand, the streets of Thamel are confusing. People not familiar with the roads might end up reaching elsewhere. Make sure you have a proper guide or a map of the whole place. The Thamel marg is the main street which is fun to stroll and experience the Buddhist culture. As you walk around the area, you will find buildings connected with prayer flags. The soothing aroma of incense sticks, the humming sound of singing bowls, and the drooling smell of momos will surely attract you. Take a good view of the cultural influence, check out some necessities, and fill your bellies with local foods for the experience. You will most likely find the shops similar and the price of items will also vary.
· Mandala Street: Mandala Street is often compared with the back streets of Melbourne, Australia and we can clearly see the reference. The street seems a paradise for introverts with book stores, cafes, and fairy lights. You can relax on the Mandala street with a coffee on the table, a book on your hand, and the peaceful view of the streets. For good coffee experience, find a Himalayan Java Coffee and spend quality time with a honey latte.
Traveling is definitely fun, but taking back something for the loved ones at home is also another kind of joy you receive by giving. People also call them souvenirs which will help you remember the experience you had on the place when you look at it later in your life. With that said, some of us are too selective for gifts. Also, the streets are filled with potential souvenir items and this might confuse you. Thamel surely has a lot of options, but if I had to narrow it down, these items might be a good idea:
· Pashminas: So, what is Pashmina? A pashmina is a fine quality of wool obtained from four different types of Cashmere goats. In Nepal, most Pashmina products get extracted from Chyangra or the Himalayan goat. The products are made from the finest hair in the goat's body which has approximately 12-micron fiber diameter. Due to its quality and production hassle, these are quite expensive. You can expect to pay around $50 USD for a single scarf. Of course, shops try to extract more money from tourists so do not shy away from bargaining.
· Singing Bowls: Nepal has specific bowls that can sing. Just kidding, singing bowls are a category of bells that are made out of the combination of tin and copper. After the whole thing gets composed, they are used to make sounds which are mostly used as a sound to calm the nerves. You have most likely heard the sound of these bowls if you have visited Buddhist religious spots. Generally, a wooden stick is used to make the sound. You have to gently tap the bowl to create a soothing and low-frequency sound. If you like the product, be sure to check for the originality of the bowl. You see, people often go home with machine-made bowls which is like a cheap copy of the original thing. Look for handmade ones that make original sounds.
· Prayer Flags: Okay, if you have some cash restrictions and do not want to take some expensive gifts. Then we have the perfect suggestion for you i.e. prayer flags. I mean, why not? They are super flashy, show cultural resemblance, and are easy to carry around. They are super easy to decorate and give you the whole Buddhism-related vibes. You can find these prayer flags in almost every gift shop around the Thamel area.
5. Freak Street: For anyone with knowledge of early Nepal, Freak Street is not something new. The place used to be called a paradise for hippies in the 60s era. The place now covered with incense smoke used to get covered with marijuana smoke. But decades later, the place has morphed into a completely different version. Now, the street is called Jochen Marg and there are tons of restaurants, shops, and interesting people wandering here and there. After you have visited Thamel, you can take some rest here and then move on. The description might not sound so appealing but, looking at a busy street with colorful people will lighten up your mood.
While you are the Freak street you could visit the below listed places for relaxation:
· Jessy Penny: Jessy Penny is one of those places where you go to hang out with your friends, sip some beer, talk about the daily happenings all while enjoying delicious foods. The place is also couple-friendly so, you can spend some quality time with your beloved.
· Kumari Restaurant: Kumari Restaurant maintains its historical appearance and ways to this day which is kind of appealing for originality seekers. For those who do not want expensive foods, this can be a good option for you. You can eat several local and international food items here with internet options.
· Morrison Café: The café has an interesting name despite being a Nepali restaurant, isn't it? Well, as you might have already guessed, the place adopted its name from famous songwriter and artist Jim Morrison. This place has rooftop seats which are fun for smokers and those who like to enjoy their food with the view of the surrounding.
6. ASON TOLE: ASON is all about the busy crowds and the markets. You might have come across the word "Bazaar" somewhere. This is the best introduction of bazaar you will ever get in Kathmandu. The alleys are filled with things you might never guess you will find in a local market. From colorful and exotic spice markets, flowers, posters, to locally-made alcoholic drinks, you will have a totally different experience in this place. The place holds a special meaning to sellers and growers that bring their products from the farthest points of Kathmandu on a daily basis.
ASON also brings lots of other offerings for those who like to explore the nooks and corners. Surrounding this interesting market place are some Hindu temples like the Krishna Temple and the Annapurna Temple. If you take a closer look at the positioning and the structure of these two temples, you will find that these buildings are sandwiched between two other buildings. The temple also has exotic wood carvings that represent the rich architectural culture of Nepal. The Annapurna temple represents abundance according to the Hindu belief system. Taking this belief with them, the markets are generally held underneath the temple near its entrance.
7. Garden of Dreams: The name itself sounds fancy, doesn't it? Well, the place will be fancier if you have a loved one beside you. If you are traveling with your significant other, look for no other place. The Garden of dreams is often called neo-classical and is a peaceful place away from the crowds and the noises. You can easily find the place with your map on the southern part of Thamel in the Tridevi Marg. Although the place is famous for lovers, the destination was built in the early 1920s for relaxation and rejuvenation of body and mind.
Do not let the outer appearance fool you as the walls and gates have become old and look old fashioned. As you get inside, the place welcomes you with a green grass field, lush trees, and ponds with lilies. All these elements make the place a mini botanical paradise in the middle of the capital city. First-time visitors often get surprised due to the resemblance of the place with some kind of European-inspired garden. Whatever the case, this place will help you detoxify all the tiredness from your body. The opening hours are similar to office hours and the price is very cheap too. I am not sure about the regulations regarding food and drinks. If they allow, be sure to take some chips and sodas for leveling up your relaxation time.
So, these were some of our recommendations for a mini-tour around the Kathmandu valley. There are many other places and including all of them would turn this article into a book so we tailored out the perfect places for a new visitor. Enjoy your time in Kathmandu. Jai Nepal.