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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrCapital of Nepal – Kathmandu was once the haven for the hippies during the 1960s. All along, the city has also been the melting pot for mountaineers from different corners of the world to reach the Himalaya.
On reaching Kathmandu you may find that you have entered a land of the Occident. The cyber cafes, tea, and coffee shops, Irish bars, western music, dance bars, and a host of foreign tourists will surely give you an aura of the western culture within this Himalayan land. But do not get blown away by its superficial looks. Nepal has a lot to offer from its local culture and traditions and you will be able to find put more about them once you dig deeper into the history of Nepal and its adjacent territories. Per say, the old temples, local Nepalese dance festivals, and their traditional markets in the city are still striking examples of Nepal’s cultural evolution even in the age of rapid urbanization.
The local people of Kathmandu speak Nepali language. English is well understood by the younger generation and the educated residents of the city.
As per the religious belief, most of the Nepalese people are Hindu while many are also Buddhist in and around Nepal.
History and DemographicsKathmandu is the largest city in Nepal. According to historical studies, Kathmandu is as old as 2,000 years. The sister cities of Kathmandu city such as Lalitpur, Patan and Bhaktapur together constitute the ‘Kathmandu Valley’. The rich tradition and influx of tourism in these three cities has led to their enlistment to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kathmandu got its name from a type of Hindu temples called ‘Kashthamandap’ better translated as ‘The wooden pavilion’ and they stand at an elevation of 4,593 feet, above the sea level. The Kathmandu city is shaped like a bowl and is geo-located right in the center of Nepal.
The rapid urbanization in the Kathmandu city has, of late, led to major traffic congestion and pollution in the township.
According to the census of 2008, the population of Kathmandu was greater than 700,000.
Although there is striking difference in the economic status among the Nepalese people in the upper hilly regions of Nepal, but in today's world most of the youth in this hill city, Kathmandu, are engaged in different kind of activities related to the city's ever expanding and thriving tourism industry. In fact, poverty is negligibly perceivable as a tourist in the open streets of Kathmandu.
Places to visit in KathmanduOne major attraction of Kathmandu is the easy accessibility of the Himalayan range. Many tourists flock to Kathmandu to enjoy white water river rafting, hiking, trekking, and also other forms of extreme mountain sports. In fact, if you plan to see Mount Everest, your first destination must always be Kathmandu. However, there are still some other attractions in the city which you should consider, even before you plan for your Himalayan adventure tour. Following, are some of the major tourist location to visit in this township.
Pashupatinath TempleThe gorgeous temple of architectural splendor stands by the right side of the Bagmati River. Pashupatinath Temple is around 3.1 miles away from Kathmandu city. Pashupati is another name of Lord Shiva and Pashupatinath means “the guardian spirit of Lord Shiva”. Earlier, entry to this temple was only meant for the Hindus. However, with the course of time, these rules were relaxed and now anybody can enter its sacred premise.
In regards to the establishment of the temple, there are no such clear records to indicate the date of the foundation of this holy abode. However, it is clear from certain historic manuscripts that the temple was rebuilt in the 17th century by the glorious ruler of Nepal, Bhupatindra Malla. The two-storey temple has been built in the architectural style of the Buddhist Pagodas. The dome on top of this temple is made of gold and its four main entry points to the temple are wrapped with unblemished silver.
The ancient Hindu cremation ground of Kathmandu, which lies by the side of the Bagmati River is located close to Pashupatinath Temple.
BoudhanathAnother important religious landmark in Kathmandu is Boudhanath, which is a Buddhist stupa . The massive mandala of the Buddhist stupa is the largest in Nepal. Boudhanath is located around 7 miles from the central of Kathmandu and lies on the north-eastern side of the town. The stupa, where it stands now, is located beside one of the early trade routes from Nepal to Tibet. Sources say, that the Tibetan merchants used this stupa as their resting place and offered obeisance to Lord Buddha, before beginning their journey back home. Boudhanath also falls under the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Old Freak StreetAs the name suggest, its history reveals the uniqueness of the location. Old Freak Street is located on the south of Durbar Square in Kathmandu. During the 60s and 70s, the street was famous for the hippies. Apart from Indian spirituality, the main attraction that drew such a large number of hippies from the West into this township was more for the free availability of hashish and other forms of narcotic drugs within the territory. Earlier hashish and cannabis were legal in Nepal as the hashish stores were run by the erstwhile Nepalese government. However, once you visit Nepal now, do not expect it to exist anymore. As the present Nepalese government, after 2005, has gotten strict against the legalization of cannabis, these former narcotic shops slowly got abolished, which have now been replaced by cheap hotels, restaurants, and souvenir stores. However, there are still many enthusiastic travelers, those who still visit this street just to get a feel of the much-talked-about place.
Thamel ChowkThamel Chowk is one of the most exciting places in Kathmandu. If you plan to buy souvenirs or do some last minute shopping before you embark on your Himalayan journey, Thamel Chowk is probably the best place you'll find in the city to meet your needs.
Thamel Chowk also has a creepy side. As night descends, you see cheap women cladded in skimpy clothes all around in the locality, as Thamel Chowk is also a famous red-light area in Kathmandu.
Durbar SquareIt is the oldest part of Kathmandu where you will get to see Kasthamandap, the wooden temples from where the city derived its name. Durbar Square is fascinating in the morning as the merchants’ set up road-side stalls and devotees flock here to offer their prayers in various temples and shrines present in the area.
You may get hounded by the local guides, while moving through this locality- but nevertheless to be truthful, you really don’t need any guide for visiting this locality. So it’s always better to be courteous to them, but at the same time, decline their offer. As a foreigner, you need to pay 750 NPR to enter Durbar Square. The entry point security will give you a day pass to let you in and if you are enamored by the beauty of the place and would like to visit again, you can opt for a multiple-entry pass from the place’s site office, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the main zone. However, do remember to carry your passport and a passport-sized photograph for completing your aforesaid documentations. The whole process to convert your day pass to multiple-entry pass is just a matter of a few minutes. Some of the major sacred landmarks located inside the square are Mahendreswar Temple, Indrapur and Vishnu Temple; Kal Bhairav Temple, Krishna Temple; Saraswati Temple, Sweta Bhairav Temple; Kumari Palace, Bhagwati Temple; Narayan Temple, Shiva Parvati Temple; Maju Deval, Taleju Temple; Hanuman Dhoka, Ashok Binayak; Shiva Temple, and others.
Of all the temples located in the old square, be sure to visit the Taleju temple and Hanuman Dhoka temple. Taleju Temple is one of the oldest temples in the square and the architecture of this temple is of the Newar i style.
Himalayan Adventures in KathmanduAs you visit Nepal, your focus will always remain on experiencing some Himalayan adventure and Kathmandu is the best place for planning such events. If you intend to trek in the Kathmandu valley and have less time to spare, you can opt for the Nagarkot trek, which takes around two days. Nagarkot is the best location to view the surrounding mountain ranges in and around Nepal during sunshine or sunset.
If you propose to take a breathtaking look of the Himalayan range and also mix with the local villagers, Shivapuri Hiking Trek is sure to be your best option. The trek takes around five days and it is well worth it, if you can spare some time.
Another good trekking route to view the Himalayan range is the Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trekking Trail. The trek takes around five days as it will take you to Dhulikhel and Nagarkot from where you can view the gorgeous Himalayan range, priding themselves as the tallest mountains in the world.
In case, if you are not satisfied with trekking and are looking for some adrenaline rush, it’s best to try out bungee jumping while staying in Nepal. The jumping spot is located at a distance of, around, three hours’ drive, east of Kathmandu city, and is near the borderlands of Tibet. This location is the third-highest bungee jumping spot in the world.
Another beautiful option while in Kathmandu, is to avail of an hour long flight to explore the Himalayan serenity. The local airlines of Nepal conduct such tour and it costs around $ 197 USD for an hour long trip in the air. All these local Himalayan tour flights depart in the morning, between 6:30 AM – 9:30 AM.
Kathmandu is also famous for its bookstores as there are some shops in the city which has an excellent collection of books. If you have some spare time on your hands, they are also really cozy places to relax in for hours.
Major Festivals of KathmanduIt is good to see that the people of Katmandu are still proud of their traditions despite the major influence of western culture in this town. The regional people of Kathmandu still celebrate the days that are marked for the major festivals in the region. If you are in Kathmandu and happen to witness a festival by happenstance, be sure to check it out as you can really feel the spirit of the Nepalese culture and traditions during these auspicious days. The major festivals celebrated every year in Kathmandu are Holi, Janai Purnima, Gai Jatra, Teej, Yenya, Dashain, Tihar, Maha Shivratri, and last but not least,
Traveling in KathmanduThe best way to get around the city is by foot. But that is only good for short distances. Other than that, the different modes of transportation available in Kathmandu are:
- Rickshaw: If you are to travel relatively small distances, you can avail of a rickshaw. However, be sure to check the fare beforehand. The fare of the rickshaws goes up after dark, especially if you need to reach some lesser populated areas within the township.
- Taxi: The taxis in Kathmandu are excellent modes of transportation, in order to travel in and around the Kathmandu valley. But the night service of the taxis are poor as it is hard to get a taxi after 11 PM. All taxis in the city are metered cabs so if you find any taxi driver disavowing the rule, just look for another one.
- Bus: There are several local buses that operate in and out of the Kathmandu city. Buses are cheap in the region and it is also the best option if you are looking to mingle with the local people while traveling through Nepal. Moreover, the conductors of the buses are generally very co-operative and they usually assist any tourist, to guide them on their journey.
How to Reach KathmanduThe Tribhuvan International Airport is situated around 3.1 miles from Thamel Chowk and is the main airport of Nepal, which connects this small Himalayan nation with several foreign destinations. Most of the international flights to this township are from Bangkok, Qatar, UAE and New Delhi.
Besides international flights, Tribhuvan International Airport also operates on domestic routes, connecting Kathmandu with other cities of Nepal, like Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Bharatpur, Biratnagar, Siddharthanagar, Tumlingtar, Bhadrapur, Simara, Lukla, and Dhangadhi.
Places to StayKathmandu is a tourist hot spot, and so there is an ample number of both big and cheap hotels in the city. For decent living you can check out the Avalon House, Alobar1000; Chillout Resort, Hotel Backpackers; Thorong Peak Guest House, Student Guest House; Hotel Ambassador, Hotel Harati; Kathmandu Guest house, Tibet Guest House; Hotel Garuda, Hotel Ganesh Himal; Shangrila Guest House, Sparkling Turtle Backpackers Hostel; Avalon House, Hotel Down Town; Hotel Impala Garden, Hotel Down Town; Hotel Easy, and others. Some of these hotels also offer pick up and drop off services from the airport.
For luxurious and glamorous living experience in Kathmandu, one can try Hotel d'Annapurna, Hotel Shanker; Yak and Yeti, Royal Penguin Boutique Hotel; Hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Hyatt Regency Kathmandu; and others.
Eating Out and NightlifeOwing to the large number of foreign tourists and the general western inclination, you won’t have any major problems looking for a suitable place to eat and drink in Kathmandu. There are many restaurants in Thamel Chowk where you will find them serving all sorts of cuisines. Some of the popular restaurants in the area are Aqua Java Zing, Café Mitra; Cozy Restaurant, Ace Cafe and Bar; Everest Steak House, Galaria; Happy Bubble Cafe, Himalayan Java; Krua Thai, La Dolce Vita; New Orleans, Thamel House Restaurant; Tashi Delek, Third Eye; Electric Pagoda, and several others .
There are even some good restaurants on Freak Street, like the Ganesha restaurant.
Nepal is famous for both tea and coffee and some of the best places to taste them are The Coffee Point, Mike's Breakfast, Alchemy, Bakery Cafe, Chobhar Cafe-Restaurant, Higher Ground Cafe, and Himalayan Java.
If you are trying to find a calm place to relax in the morning, check out Chobhar Cafe-Restaurant. Located around 5.0 miles from the main city, sipping a cup of tea or coffee over here with a splendid view of the Himalayas is really a fascinating and unforgettable experience.
For alcoholic beverages, some common names in this towns are Tom and Jerry's Pub, Tongues and Tales, Irish Pub Lazimpat, Full Moon Club, Celtic Manang, J Bar, New Orleans Cafe, Pub Maya and others. Some of these bars even have live bands playing rock and roll or DJs spinning the turntables to entertain the crowd.
SouvenirsThamel Chowk is the best place to buy souvenirs in Kathmandu. Besides, there are also many other areas like Freak Street where one can buy local Nepalese woolen items.
Best Time to VisitTo enjoy Kathmandu in pleasant weather, the best time to visit the town is from September till the end of April, but definitely not during the monsoons that sets in from June and continues till the end of August.
However, to get the best view of the Himalayan peaks and if you want to enjoy the chill in the air, Kathmandu is a beautiful place to visit during the month of January when the temperature in Kathmandu city drastically drops below 36 °F.
Tips for the Travelers
- Buy a travel map as there is a lack of directions in the streets of Kathmandu.
- Do not exchange money at the airport as they offer lower rates.
- There are frequent power cuts in the city during the summer season. So be sure to carry a spare light to avoid any unforeseen events.
- Be sure to follow the current news as they highlight important information about any possible issues in this politically affected territory.
- Avoid walking in the dark areas. Even if you do, be sure never to travel alone.
- Always drink mineral water.
- NPR (Nepalese Rupee) is the local currency of Nepal. Most of the hotels and shops prefer accepting US Dollar over their national currency in this township.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Dec 08, 2014