Kathmandu City Sights
Kathmandu city is a riot of sounds colours and smells that can quickly lead to sensor overload. Whether you are travelling down the loud chaotic streets in a rickshaw or wandering the streets and gazing at the medieval temples of Durbar Square dodging trekking touts and tiger balm sellers in Thamel, Kathmandu can be an amazing and exhausting place.
Take a walk through the backstreets and find the capitals rich culture and artistic heritage, with hidden temples decorated with marigolds and hobbit size workshops with people going about their daily business. Thamel has a huge selection of trekking agencies, bakeries, restaurants and shops but dont spend all of your time here go out and see the real Nepal, it wont be a wasted journey.
Top sights around Kathmandu that first time visitors must see:
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square
This is was where the city’s kings were once crowned and legitimised, and from where they ruled (‘durbar’ means palace). As such, the square remains the traditional heart of the old town and Kathmandu’s most spectacular legacy of traditional architecture.
The Swayambhunath Stupa
This is one of the crowning glories of Kathmandu Valley architecture. This perfectly proportioned monument rises through a whitewashed dome to a gilded spire, from where four faces of the Buddha stare out across the valley in the cardinal directions. The noselike squiggle below the piercing eyes is actually the Nepali number ek (one), signifying unity, and above is a third eye signifying the all-seeing insight of the Buddha.
The entire structure of the stupa is symbolic – the white dome represents the earth, while the 13-tiered, beehivelike structure at the top symbolises the 13 stages that humans must pass through to achieve nirvana.
Formerly the residence of the Malla kings, the section of the palace surrounding Keshav Narayan Chowk now houses one of the finest collections of religious art in Asia. The museum is a national treasure and an invaluable introduction to the art, symbolism and architecture of the valley. You need at least an hour, preferably two, to do this place justice, and it’s worth taking a break at the Museum Café before diving in for another round.
The first stupa at Bodhnath was built sometime after AD 600, when the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, converted to Buddhism. In terms of grace and purity of line, no other stupa in Nepal comes close to Bodhnath. From its whitewashed dome to its gilded tower painted with the all-seeing eyes of the Buddha, the monument is perfectly proportioned.
According to legend, the king constructed the stupa as an act of penance after unwittingly killing his father. The first stupa was wrecked by Mughal invaders in the 14th century, so the current stupa is a more recent construction.
Despite being clogged with garbage and black with pollution, the fetid Bagmati River is actually an extremely sacred river; Pashupatinath is the Nepali equivalent of Varanasi on the sacred River Ganges. The cremation ghats along the Bagmati are used for open-air cremations, but only members of the royal family can be cremated immediately in front of Pashupatinath Temple. The funerals of 10 members of the Nepali royal family took place here after the massacre in 2001. Fires burned here day and night after the 2015 earthquake as hundreds of families dealt with the human cost of the disaster.
Garden of Dreams
The beautifully restored Swapna Bagaicha, or Garden of Dreams is one of the most serene and beautiful enclaves in Kathmandu. It’s two minutes’ walk and one million miles from central Thamel. The gardens and its pavilions suffered neglect to the point of collapse before they were lovingly brought back to life over a six-year period by the same Austrian-financed team that created the Patan Museum.