Kathmandu - The Gateway to Nepal

Guest Contributor | July 4th, 2013

Stepped in more than 2000 years of history, Nepal’s capital is a colourful and chaotic melting pot of Asian cultures and traditions. It is the first stop for the majority of visitors and contains two fabled cities - Kathmandu itself andPatan City separated by the holy Bagmati River.

It is a heaving place overflowing with traffic, incessant noise of honking cars, sweet incense mixed with more unpleasant dump smells and cows and dogs wandering all over the city and feeding off the steaming piles of rubbish. Masses of people push their way along the cobbled, narrow alleyways with hooting taxis, rickshaws and motorbikes trying to overtake them. And then among the countless rows of little shops and street markets there are mesmerising sights of exotic temples and monuments which beauty will definitely stay in your memory.

Most tourists end up in Thamel, a tourist-friendly area with many shops, cafes, fast food joints and restaurants and ,most importantly, a chilled-out hippy vibe. With its warren of winding lanes offering cheap accommodation, gift shops, restaurants and trekking tours it’s easy to shop around, tuck into traditional Nepalese dishes such as ubiquitos dhal and curry, momos (dumplings) or a noodle soup (between $2 to $7 pre meal) or just grab Everest beer and watch the sun set from your hotel roof garden.

The best place to start exploring the city is the dazzling and iconic Durbar Square in central Kathmandu (Ganga Path; Admission Fee 500 NPR), a series of palaces, courtyards and temples like Hanumandhoka Palace, Kumari Ghar or Taleju Temple. The Durbar Square is the UNESCO World Heritage site and the variety of Hindu temples and pagodas is truly astonishing. Check out the Kasthamandup wooden temple, which legend says was built from a sigle tree.

There are more UNESCO sites on the outskirts of Kathmandu. One of the biggest and most important stupas in the world is the Boudhanath Stupa built in the 12th century and 40 metres tall. The all-seeing red, white and blue eyes of Buddha are painted on all four sides and surrounded by hundreds of fluttering prayer flags, prayer wheels and Buddha images. (location 6km east of central Kathmandu; Admission fee 50 NPR)

Another famous stupa which crowns a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley is the 5th century Swayambhu Stupa (The Monkey Temple). The painted eyes of Buddha watch all pilgrims ascending stone steps up the steep hill. The site offers a fantastic view over the city and the valley  with distant mountains on the horizon. It is very popular with pilgrims and red-clothed Buddhist monks spinning prayer wheels, circling the stupa, while herds of Rhesus monkeys run around in noisy groups.

If you are interested in Hindu traditions you should visit the Pashupatinath Temple on the banks of the Bagmati River. One of the most sacred Hindu temples of Lord Siva, it lies 5km east of the city centre. Religious pilgrims and sadhus (holy men) travel from all Nepal and India to visit this sacred site, take ritual dips in the Bagmati River or participate in cremation ceremonies along the riverbank.

Kathmandu can be confusing as it boasts another famous Durbar Square just south of the Bagmati River in Patan City. Like its counterpart in central Kathmandu it is an enchanting complex of palaces, courtyards and pagoda temples. One remarkable monument here is the 17th century temple dedicated to the Hindu God Krishna built from stone and with rare stone carvings.

Kathmandu is full of contrasts with many unusual temples presiding over the city squares waiting to be discovered. It throws everything together and leaves you both exhausted but exhilarated.

Words: Artur Swistak

Kathmandu, Nepal

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