Kathmandu, rather like Timbuktu, has a mysterious, exotic and otherworldly allure to it; arriving there makes you feel like an explorer of a bygone era. Ornate palaces, temples and medieval squares are surrounded by fluttering prayer flags and soaring mountains. The capital of Nepal is an extraordinary place still waiting to be properly discovered.
Kathmandu is ideal for exploring by foot, as the intoxicating and ancient city offers a startling array of market stalls and craft shops to wander around and be tempted by, particularly in the old ‘hippy’ district Thamel, where Westerner’s flocked in the 1960’s to explore the delights that the hippy trail offered. Aside from the beautiful locally-produced goods found here, the Nepali’s are lively and cheeky people, who are considered to be amongst some of the friendliest in Asia.
Well-suited to those with an adventurous spirit, this colourful city is home to fascinating courtyards and chambers of the Royal Palace and Durbar Square with its highly detailed wooden temples that date back to the 12th and 18th centuries. Celebrated as one of the eight Cultural World Heritage sites by UNESCO, Durbar Square remains the beating heart of the city, despite being affected by the earthquake in 2015. It has a charming feel about it that verges on magical; locals can be seen conducting their daily puja’s at shrines to Ganesh, traders hawking kilos of dried fish and the resident cows doing their daily rounds. If you are after a particularly spiritual experience, make sure to visit Pashupatinath Temple Complex set on the banks of the holy Bagmati river for it is arguably the most important Hindu temple in the country with a palpable atmosphere.
Other highlights of Kathmandu include Swayambhunath Maya Chaity, a 2,000-year-old Buddhist stupa supporting a lofty conical spire capped by a copper-gilded pinnacle. It is also known as the Monkey Temple, owing to its resident population of characterful primates. Continuing the Buddhist theme, the Boudha Stupa in central Kathmandu which is surrounded by Tibetan galleries is very atmospheric. If you enter a gallery it is common to see artists painstakingly hand painting the intricate mandalas, some of which can be purchased as a memento of your visit. Bhaktapur is an enchanting ancient city with a labyrinthine of winding alleyways and a stunning palatial complex brimming with architectural gems, and certainly worth a half day visit.
Kathmandu sits at an altitude of 1,370 metres and is a base for the many mountaineers who are headed east to the Khumbu region where the mighty Mt. Everest is located, or north west to the scenic Annapurna Massif. This scene combined with the frenetic energy and combination of Hindiusm and Buddhism gives Kathmandu a vibe like no other.
>> Read our blog: Kathmandu: Insider's Guide
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
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