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It's highly unlikely you'd include 'Kathmandu' and 'dull' in the same sentence!
Our capital city just gets bigger and bigger. A seething mass of humanity and everything that goes with that. Colourful, chaotic, alive, aromatic......Kathmandu is an assault on the senses.
Kathmandu still retains buildings with ornate, carved, wooden Newari windows (just look up), hidden temples, fascinating local street markets, buddhist stupas and the soaring pagodas of Durbar Square. To many, Kathmandu is a bit like Glastonbury Festival gone mad sometimes.
For shopping we highly recommend Pilgrims Book House in Thamel. Most of the large range of goods for sale are of a higher quality and with fixed prices too, there's no haggling. You'll also find a mind-boggling range of trekking related items, from fakes to the real thing in Kathmandu.
Dining wise, you're spoiled for choice. Everything from the cheap and cheerful, to high end dining in 5 star hotels. You'll find everything from traditional Nepali style, Tibetan Momo bars, Thai, Szechuan, Pizzas and Burgers, as well as some rather good European style bakeries. One particular delight are the numerous relaxed courtyard/garden cafes. Very handy to escape into when Kathmandu itself becomes too much.
Thamel is the main tourist area, a maze of winding, narrow streets crammed with a dazzling array of shops, bars, cafes & restaurants. Thankfully it's now "vehicle free" between 0800hrs-2200hrs
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What to see in Kathmandu-The "Big Four"
Dominated by the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar (or Hanuman Palace) and flanked by a statue of the monkey god Hanuman, there are also erotic carvings to discover too on the Jagannath Mandir in the north of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Study the Kala Bhairav and you'll see Shiva portrayed as a fierce god, replete with a garland of skulls, eight arms carryong six swords, as well as an axe and a shield. In the north east of the Durbar Square is the amazing three-tiered gilded Taleju Mandir-the largest temple in Kathmandu.
Needless to say, the Durbar Square is usually very busy with tourists during the day and is probably what most first time visitors to Nepal imagine Kathmandu to be like, however most people's "ideal Kathmandu" isn't actually Kathmandu, but the neighbouring (and much smaller) city of medieval Bhaktapur.
That apart, the Durbar Square in Kathmandu is a truly magnificent sight and definitely worth a visit.There are actually over 50 temples and ancient monuments. Look out for the Kasthamandap (House of Wood), that dates from the 12th Century and is the original "centre" of Kathmandu.
Perhaps better known as the "Monkey Temple", this ancient Stupa sits on top of a hill on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The original site dates back over 2,500 years and marks the place where Manjushri discovered the lotus of the valley lake. It's believed that the entire Kathmadu Valley was in fact a huge lake at one time. The best way to approach Swayambunath is to walk up the stone steps and through the woodland. Look in the trees and you might see Kites. Of course as you reach the Stupa you won't be able to miss the monkeys (rhesus macaques), they are everywhere....literally!
As well as the main Stupa, there are statues of Buddha, Ganga and Jumana, masterpieces of Newari bronze art. On clear days, there are great views from up here across the sprawling city and the entire Kathmandu Valley, as well as tantalising glimpses of the Himalayas too.
If you need a little peace, pop into the nearby adjacent gompa, or retreat to one of the nearby cafes.
Located on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River, which is the divide between Kathmandu and the next door city of Patan, Pashpuatinath is the most important Hindu site in the Kathmandu Valley.
As Lord Pashupati, Shiva is worshipped here from far and wide as a lingam (phallus).
On the ghats is where you will likely see a cremation in progress. The ashes being scattered into the river.
Pashupatinath is also where you'll find Sadhus (holy men), some are real, some are fake making some money posing for photo's with tourists.
During the day it can be very busy with tourists here. We suggest a guided tour to Pashupatinath in the evening, when most tourists are back in Thamel and dining. Evening time is very ethereal and atmospheric, it's when the locals come to pray and there's also the daily Aarti (lamp floating) ceremony to observe.
Also known as Bhoudha, Bouddha, Bodnath and is the largest stupa in Nepal. A truly breathtaking sight too and one that you'll not be able to resist taking lots and lots of photo's of from every possible angle.
The immense white dome has the all seeing eyes of the primordial Buddha on all four sides of the tower structure, which is set on concentric, ascending terraces in the mandala pattern.
Around the base are prayer wheels and images of Buddhist deities. The local area is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and whom come here to perform the kora. Their ritual clockwise circuit of the stupa. Late afternoon is a good time to observe this and for the best views, head up to the balcony of an overlooking cafe
As with everything else that we do at Snow Cat Travel, we can create a custom guided tour of Kathmandu to suit. All you've gotta do is ask! Generally, most first time visitors to Nepal prefer a FULL DAY GUIDED KATHMANDU TOUR, which is naturally with a specialist Kathmandu City Guide, but also with a private vehicle in order to get around and visit the "Big Four". Some of the tour is by default on foot to explore the sights, particularly the Durbar Square and some of the fascinating backstreets of "old Kathmandu".
We highly recommend getting us to arrange a night tour of Kathmandu though. This is best enjoyed on foot and gets you out of "touristy Thamel" and into the labyrinth of a part of Kathmandu that few seem to realise exists. But, it's here that you'll encounter the locals coming to pray and make offerings at their local temples, colourful night markets and fascinating hidden court yards. A wonderful insight into the secret life of the old parts of Kathmandu.
As mentioned above, an additional evening visit to Pashupatinath to observe the locals at prayer and the Aarti ceremony is also memorable experience
Kathmandu Images - Click to Enlarge