Travel Guide to Kathmandu and its Attractions

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal is a haven for tourists. The moment you step off the plane you’ll feel you are in another world altogether. The sights, sounds and smells are a prelude to the excitement, adventure, and exhilaration that await you in this enchanting city.

Kathmandu has attracted tourists ever since Nepal first opened its doors to foreigners in the 1950’s. The first visitors were the mountaineers who came here with dreams to conquer the highest peaks in the world including Mt. Everest. Gradually it became a haven for the hippies who flocked here in the 1960’s and 70s in search of the ultimate Shangri-la at the end of the trail.

Visitors to Kathmandu seek enlightenment in the heart of nature, in the serene Buddhist monasteries, and in the magnificent Hindu temples. It is believed that once upon a time, the number of temples in Kathmandu equaled the houses of the people who lived in the city. Gradual urbanization, however, took over, yet even now you can find a medieval temple tucked away in almost every street in Kathmandu.

Today, tourism is a major industry in the city and indeed in Nepal. Look around and you will find a host of swish shops, Internet cafes, swanky restaurants and hotels jostling for space with the palaces and temples. Visit the stretch from Durbar Square to Thamel, the haven for trekkers and backpackers, and you will be amazed to see the number of people who have converged here from across the globe to experience the intoxication of the city.

Away from the tourist hotspots, a heritage walk of Kathmandu will reveal its amazing cultural and artistic legacy. Temples resplendent in marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillis and rice, and tiny workshops unchanged since the Middle Ages, will transcend you to another era, to another time, when life was less complex, pleasures more simple, people more warm, and beauty more abundant.

Things To See

Kathmandu, with its hundreds of palaces, shrines, temples and statues dotting the narrow streets, resembles an open air museum. It is then little wonder that the city was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Standing in complete contrast are a bewildering number of casinos, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, and bars. The peaceful co-existence of two diametrically opposite worlds under a handful of sky is what draws people to the beautiful city protected by the majestic Himalayas.

Thamel: Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu. A stroll through the meandering alleys can be an intoxicating experience. Here, pedestrians jostle for space with rickshaws, cows, bikes all next to the bazaars piled high with spices and silks. The narrow streets from here lead to Kathmandu’s main tourist attraction, the Durbar Square cluttered with remarkable Newari temples and palaces.

National Museum: Located at Chhauni near Swayambhunath, the museum houses an impressive collection of ancient artifacts, statues, paubha scroll paintings, medieval weaponry and relics of the earthquake of 1934. The museum opens daily from 9.30 AM to 3.30 PM, except on Sundays, Mondays and government holidays.

Changu Narayan Temple: Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, this beautiful temple, embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings, has one of the finest and oldest specimens of pagoda architecture.

Chobhar: Situated nine-kilometers southwest of Kathmandu, this place is a must visit for nature enthusiasts. There is a famous gorge here from where the water of the valley drains through. There is also a small but postcard-perfect temple of Adinath on the hilltop from where you can take in the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountain peaks.

Dakshinkali Temple: The temple is dedicated to one of the most important Hindu goddesses. It is an important pilgrim spot for the Hindus who visit it in large numbers for offering prayers and sacrifices. The place has been developed as a picnic spot.

Heritage Walk: The Heritage Walk enables you to explore some of the lesser visited though equally fascinating historic sites in Kathmandu. The walk starts at Teku, south of old Kathmandu and weaves its way to Wonder Narayan, a 17th century temple dedicated to the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu. After a stop at Hyumat Tole, proceed to Kusah Bahi, a Buddhist courtyard built in 1754. The next stop is the Narayan Dewal, a beautiful temple dating back to 1865. You will see Tukan Baha, built in the 14th century as a replica of the Swayambhu stupa. Walk to the Ram temple at the Ramchandra Dewal and then reach Jaisi Dewal, a huge Shiva temple built in 1688. Stroll to Kohiti where you can study the Buddhist and Hindu sculptures in this sunken water fountain. You will also pass by Chikan Mugaland and Atko Narayan Dewal. The Walk also takes you to the namesake of the city, the Kasthamandap pavilion. The final destination is the Bhimsen Dewal, built in 1655 and dedicated to the main deity of local traders.

Festivals and Events

Nepal’s colorful heritage finds rich reflection in its festivals and events. The festival calendar begins with the celebration of the Tibetan New Year in January/February. The celebrations are marked by processions at Bodhnath and Buddhist ceremonies at Swayambhunath and Jawlakhel near Patan. February also sees the celebrations of Shivratri, a festival dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Colorful celebrations take place at the Pashupatinath Temple.

Holi, a festival of colors, is celebrated in March while April/May is the time for the month-long chariot festival to honor Machhendranath, the god of rain. Buddha Jayanti, or Lord Buddha’s birthday is celebrated with enthusiasm at Swayambhunath, Bodhnath, and Jawlakhel in Patan in May/June. Hindus stage the colorful Indra yatra, or chariot processions with masked dances and animal sacrifices to honor Indra, the god of war and weather. Tihar, or the Nepalese version of Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated in October/November.