Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is named after Kasthamandapa, a wooden temple constructed from a single tree in 1596. Kathmandu, a monument of wood, was called Kantipur, the city of glory, in the ancient time.
It is believed, Kathmandu was founded in 723 AD, however, the oldest stone idol in Kathmandu dates back to 4th century AD. In antiquity, Kathmandu was called Nepal, the land protected by a sage called Ne. Later the provinces dominated by the kings of Kathmandu were called Nepal. Nepal and her king have been mentioned in the Hindu Epic Mahabharata.
Kathmandu Durbar Square, Durbar Square Patan, Living Goddess Kumari are some of the tourist attractions in Nepal. There are over hundred places to visit in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square Itinerary
Distance: 500 meters
Duration: 1 hour (more if you visit the palaces and temples)
No. of temples: 50
No. of palaces: 3
Main attraction: Kumari Temple, Kasthamandapa, Nautale Palace, Hanuman Dhoka Palace, Kala Bhairav
Kathmandu Durbar Square is also called Hanuman Dhoka Durbar or Basantapur Durbar. Adjacent to New Road, Kathmandu Durbar Square is 30 minutes walk from Thamel, the major tourist hub in Kathmandu. If you are in the Kings’ Way, it will take you 25 minutes to reach Kathmandu Durbar Square. It is highly recommended that you visit Goddess Kumari and the Hanuman Dhoka Museum in Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
As you enter into Kathmandu Durbar Square from New Road, you will come across Nautale Durbar, the nine-storied pagoda style palace of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal. It was built in 1768. Adjacent to Nautale Durbar is Gaddi Durbar, the European style throne palace built in 1908. On the left side is Kumari temple, the house of Living Goddess Kumari. If you are lucky, you can find the Goddess looking through the window. If you want, you may enter the temple and pay respect to the Goddess in human form.
The exterior of Kumari temple is ornately decorated with wood carvings, and the mighty stone lions guard the entrance. The interior is adorned with Hindu and Buddhist symbols and idols of Hindu and Buddhist deities. The temple was built in the 18th century by the last king of Malla dynasty.
If you walk few meters west of Kumari temple, you will find Kasthamandapa. It is a three storied pagoda styled building, with the idols of Hindu God Ganesha installed in the four corners and Gorakhnath, the founder of Nath cult, in the center. There are many temples in Kathmandu Durbar Square. You can climb one of the temples, if you like, and see the entire Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Walk along the white European style palace and turn right. You will be standing in front of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar. It was the palace of medieval kings which has now been restored as a museum. When Nepal was a kingdom, the Kings were crowned in Hanuman Dhoka Durbar. There are many temples in the proximity of Hanuman Dhoka, the most famous are Taleju built in 1564 and the 17th century Kala Bhairava. Before 1950, government employees had to take the oath of office by touching the idol of Kala Bhairav.
Hindu Goddess cult is very popular in Nepal. Kumari is a girl of 3 – 12 years worshiped as the Living Goddess. She is equally venerated by Hindus and the Buddhists. In the past, every year Kings worshiped Goddess Kumari and got approval to rule the country for the following year. Now this tradition has been transferred to the President. Placing forehead on the Goddess feet is the part of Kumari worship.
According to the legend, in the middle ages Goddess Taleju visited the kings of Nepal in human form. Taleju is the Nepali name for Goddess Durga. One evening, in the 16th century, the then King Trailokya Malla was playing dice with Taleju. When the king was overcome with desire, the Goddess vanished. Realizing his mistake, the king performed worshipping. She then appeared in his dream and instructed him to choose a young girl and install her as her representative.
The tradition of installing a girl in Goddess Kumari form is strictly followed in Nepal. After rigorous rituals, a young girl from Shakya clan is chosen as Goddess Kumari. When Kumari shows signs of puberty, she is replaced by another girl. After the retirement, former Kumari settles in her normal life, even gets married.
Even though the tradition of Kumari began in the 16th century, there are early references in history when kings in Nepal worshiped a young virgin girl as Goddess Kumari. The cult of Kumari in Hinduism is very old and dates back to Indus valley civilization (2500 – 1500 BCE).
Durbar Square Patan
Durbar Square Patan Itinerary
Distance: 700 meters
Duration: 2 hours
No. of temples: Over 20
Main attraction: Royal Palace, Krishna temple, Shiva temple, Bhimsen temple, White Machhendra
City of Patan is couple of miles south of Kathmandu. Patan is renowned for wood carvings, stone sculptures, gilded statues and tantric paintings. Though not the main part of Durbar Square Patan, there are many must see temples and monasteries in Patan.
Kumbheshwor: a five storied pagoda styled temple built in the 11th century
Mahaboudha: the temple of million Buddha built in 1600
Hirnya Varna Mahavihara: the Golden Monastery built in the 13th century
Rudra Varna Mahavihara: a Buddhist temple built in the 6th century
Ashoka Stupas: four Buddhist temples built by Ashoka in 250 BCE.
Durbar Square Patan
Patan was established as a city in 299 CE. Ancient name of Patan is Lalitpur, which means the city of beauty. Patan is indeed beautiful with ornate wood carvings, stone sculptures, gilded statues, old palace, temples, monasteries, rest inns and natural springs.
In ancient Nepal, every city had an entrance gate. Patan Dhoka-gate is the only surviving gate. When you enter the gate and walk into convoluted lanes for 7-8 minutes, along temples, monasteries, rest inns, artists’ workshops, old houses with intricate designs, you will reach Durbar Square Patan.
As you walk into Durbar Square Patan, you can see the 17th century palace and a stone pillar where a king of Patan sits bowing to his guardian deity Taleju installed inside the palace. The exterior of palace has intricately carved wooden windows, doors and eaves. On the doors there are replicas of Hindu deities and engravings of Hindu and Buddhist symbols. The entrance of the palace has gilded door and gilded window just above it.
The palace in Durbar Square Patan has now been converted into a museum, where you can see the best wood and stone works in the country. The royal bath, inside the palace, is one of the finest examples of craftsmanship. It features magnificent stone artistry. Most of the architectural designs in the palace belong to 16th and 17th century.
In the Durbar Square Patan you can see a 21 pinnacled stone temple of Hindu God Krishna, which was built in 1635. Idols of Krishna and his consort Radha are installed in the temple. The walls of the temple are engraved with the scenes from Hindu Epic Mahabharata. Just in front of the three storied temple, Garuda, the carrier of Lord Vishnu is perched on the top of stone pillar. It is highly recommended that you also visit the temple of White Machhendra, which is in the proximity of Durbar Square Patan.
Temples in Kathmandu
No. of sights: 3
Duration: 1 hour for each sight
Boudha is one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in Nepal. Late afternoon is ideal time to visit Boudha because you will see few tourists but many locals lighting butter lamps, circling the temple, burning incense, and rotating prayer wheels. Visiting Boudha in full moon evening is highly recommended, you can see the vicinity lit up by thousands of butter lamps.
Swayambhu is a Buddhist temple on the hill, in the southern part of Kathmandu. Swayambhu is a whitewashed dome structure with gilded spiral and painted Buddha’s eyes. You can see the entire Kathmandu from Swayambhu.
Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. Non-hindus are not allowed inside the temple, but you can stroll in the proximity. Pashupatinath is in the eastern part of Kathmandu and on the bank of Bagmati River. The river bank is also used as open air crematorium. In Pashupatinath, you may watch corpse burn all the while thinking about life and death. Perhaps, you could experience spiritual upliftment! Visiting Pashupatinath during Shiva Ratri festival is highly recommended, you will see hundred of naked devotees of Lord Shiva.
Some Other Places to Visit in Kathmandu Valley
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Distance: 1000 meters
Duration: 3 hours
No. of sights: over 20
The city of Bhaktapur was founded in 889. It is about 5 miles east of Kathmandu. There are numerous temples and palaces in Bhaktapur Durbar Square dating back to 16th and 17th century. Some of the attractions of Bhaktapur Durbar Square are: Siddhi pond, Golden Gate, 55-windowed Palace, Bhairava temple, Bhimsen temple, Nava Durga temple, Nyatapola Square, and Dattareya Square. Changu Narayan temple is three miles north of Bhaktapur which was built in 323.
Built in 1970, Narayanhiti Palace was the official residence of Kings of Nepal. It covers 74 acres of land. After the King was overthrown in 2008, Narayanhiti Palace has now been converted into Narayanhiti Museum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2001, the then Crown Prince massacred the entire royal family – including his father, mother, brother and sister – inside the Narayanhiti Palace before committing suicide. The building where the royal massacred occurred was demolished by the last king of Nepal, the uncle of Crown Prince.
Narayanihiti Palace is in King Way (also called Durbar Marg). Some of the country’s best 5 star hotels are in Kings Way. There are curio shops, shopping malls, restaurants and delis (including KFC).
No. of sights: 3
Duration: 2 hours for each sight
National Museum of Nepal
National Museum, in Chauni, is close to Swaymbhu. It showcases extensive collections of weapons that Nepal used while fighting with the British, Chinese and Tibetans, in the 17th and 18th century. You can even see the jeep gifted to the King of Nepal by Adolf Hitler.
Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum is in the walking distance of National Museum. Different species of insects, amphibians, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates are collected in the museum. Natural History Museum showcases specimens of extinct species and prehistoric invertebrates.
Natural History Museum, Tribhuvan University
Natural History Museum in Tribhuvan University is famous for its stuffed animals. It is in Kirtipur, few miles south west of Kathmandu. Kirtipur also has a durbar square.
A masked dancer performing in public square
A masked dancer performing in public square | Source
There are numerous theaters in Kathmandu. Some of the regular theaters are Gurukul, Mandala, Naga, and Sarvanam. They all run regular shows. Gurukul organized Kathmandu International Theater Festival in December, 2012.
You can watch a movie in Kathmandu in just three bucks. Jai Nepal, Kumari, Big Cinema, QFX Central are some movie theaters and multiplexes in Kathmandu.
Daily Life in Kathmandu
Festivals and Public Performances
Kathmandu is famous for the public performances during the festivals. Throughout the year rulers and the ruled come out in the public squares to watch dance-drama, chariot processions, and worshiping of deities. If you are in Kathmandu, it is highly recommended that you watch Indra Jatra, Machhendra Jatra, Bhote Jatra and Gai Jatra.
In Kathmandu, it is more likely that you will be staying in Thamel area. Thamel is famous for budget hotels, restaurants, bars, gift shops, book stores, art galleries. In Thamel, you can find anything from mountain gear to Nepali spices and gems shops.
Paper Park: A shop that sells handmade paper and paper products
Tea World: Specializes in Nepali tea and Coffee
Aroma Garden: Specializes in aromatic oils, soaps, and incense
Pilgrims Book House: From New Times Best Sellers to rare books on Nepal, you can find anything in Pilgrims
Himalayan Java: In Java, you can drink coffee and tea either in European of Nepali flavor.
Rum Doddle Restaurant and Bar: Reviewed in Time Magazine as one of the world’s best bar, Rum Doddle is one of the best place to enjoy good food and drinks, and listen to live music.
Jatra: One of the finest pubs in Kathmandu offers live music on Fridays and free drinks to ladies on Wednesdays.
Tom and Jerry: A good club to hang out in Kathmandu
Nafa Art Gallery
Nafa is the best place to see Nepali paintings. Here you can see the world’s longest painting by a single artist in a single day.