For many travellers to Nepal, Kathmandu is not much more than a place to arrange tours and trekking in other parts of the country, whether to the Annapurna region or the Khumbu region and mighty Everest. But no matter how tired your feet, make sure you venture gently out to explore some of this fabled city. Here are a few recommendations:
Patan is one of the three separate medieval cities that once existed in the Kathmandu Valley but is now a southern suburb of Kathmandu itself. It seems there are a number of theories but it may have been founded c. 299AD. The Patan Durbar Square is a mass of monuments, temples and palaces. There are some beautiful sculptures tucked in quiet corners and decorative motifs everywhere. It’s no wonder it is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Patan square and its surrounding streets are also a magnet for trade, with street vendors and their fragrant wares. Even after the earthquake damage, Kathmandu Durbar Square is well worth exploring.
The Swayambhunath Stupa, and its eyes, are probably one of the most famous images of Kathmandu. The Buddha’s eyes, and eyebrows, are certainly striking beneath the fluttering prayer flags.
It is also known as the Monkey Temple because of the holy monkeys living near and it is reached by a long stair climb guarded by monkeys grooming each other (can’t say if these were holy monkeys but they were cute).
Apart from the stupa this is a large temple complex that is an important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists (even for Tibetan buddhists). There are burning dishes of coals and the air is thick with the fumes of smoke and incense.
Apart from the monkeys, even the goats want to get in on the act. The views out over the city is uninspiring unfortunately, but you can’t have everything.
The Kumbheshwor temple of Shiva is not far from Patan Durbar Square and is the oldest temple in Kathmandu, dating back to 1391. It is also an important place of pilgrimage.
It is often crowded with people waiting in long lines to make puja to the lignams. Many women come here making offerings for long life and to find a good husband.
There were also a number of dubious-looking holy men who had set up ‘shop’ providing elaborate pujas, advice and tikka to young devotees.
There are also a number of elaborate conduits or public baths nearby for washing (see also photo at top).
There is no doubt that the fleshpots of Thamel offer great Kathmandu R&R in between or after trekking expeditions. There are $1 cocktails, what can I say. And fresh juice stalls. And showers. But sometimes even the cyclo drivers look bored.
Make sure to visit a few Thamel institutions such as KC’s, Helena’s or the Pumpernickel Bakery. And of course Rumdoodle, named for W.E. Bowman’s novel of an eccentric Englishman who climbs the world’s highest peak at 40,000-and-a-half feet. Everest summiteers have been calling in at this bar here since 1982, with illustrious names such as Sir Edmund Hillary, Reinhard Messner and Rob Hall leaving messages.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Kathmandu in Nepal? What did you see and what do you recommend?
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