The Nepalese capital is tantalising and a great place to soak up some Himalayan spirit, says Audley specialist Andy
Buzzing markets and friendly locals in colourful dress combine to make Nepal’s capital a truly intoxicating and evocative city to explore.
Durbar Square is the centrepiece, where temples, palaces and golden gates create a magical outdoor theatre. On the outskirts of the city, the simplicity of the towering white Buddhist stupas at Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are striking. Set among the backdrop of the mighty Himalaya mountains, Swayambhunath offers magnificent views across the valley, while Boudhanath is encircled by Tibetan shops and intricately detailed monasteries.
The whole of Kathmandu offers a lively and unique atmosphere with myriad cultural treasures waiting to be discovered.
Swayambhunath Temple (1, see map)
At the heart of this ancient religious complex is an immense stupa surrounded by a variety of temples and shrines. Swayambhunath is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal and its history dates back to around the fifth century. Decorated beautifully, the dome of the stupa is gilded with 20 kg of gold. Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus, and many come here to pray and chant.
Boudhanath Temple (2)
Home to one of the largest stupas in the world, Boudhanath is one of the city’s main attractions. When Tibetan refugees started to arrive in Nepal in the 1950s, many settled in the area around the temple, which led to the construction of over 50 Tibetan monasteries. The area has a strong Tibetan feel and many monks can be seen wearing traditional Buddhist clothing. The streets nearby are filled with shops selling colourful prayer flags, prayer wheels, butter lamps and incense.
Pashupatinath Temple (3)
Ten minutes’ drive from Boudhanath, this is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the world, located on the banks of the Bagmati River. The temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and a walk around the complex gives you a great feel for Hinduism in Nepal. Many saddhus (holy men) with painted faces, long beards and colourful dress can be seen here having their photos taken.
Durbar Square (4)
One of three such squares in the Kathmandu Valley, this one is located in front of the old Royal Palace. The palace is decorated with elaborately carved wood-framed windows and panels, and is home to two museums. At the south end of the square, down a narrow passage, you will find the Kumari Chowk. This gilded cage contains the Raj Kumari, a girl chosen via an ancient and mystical selection process to become the human incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga. She is worshipped during religious festivals and makes public appearances at other times for a fee paid to her guards.
Surrounded by Newari houses, the busy district of Thamel is just a short walk from the city centre and is a great place to discover Buddhist stupas and Hindu shrines concealed among busy bazaars. Known as the backpacker heart of Kathmandu, it is filled with guesthouses, bars, restaurants and shops that sell everything from clothes to CDs. It’s also the best place to find all you need for trekking trips into the Himalaya.
Thamel House (6)
Located in the Thamel district, this is a great inexpensive restaurant serving traditional Nepali cuisine. Thamel House has entertainment covered too, as you get to see locals perform traditional dances while you enjoy a hearty meal.
One of the most famous and highly regarded restaurants in Kathmandu, Krishnarpan is one of the city’s few fine-dining restaurants. Situated inside Dwarika’s Hotel, it offers six- to 22-course meals, reminiscent of those relished by the ancient kings. It’s the perfect place to indulge and embrace local cuisine in the most regal of ways.
Chez Caroline (8)
An ideal place for foodies, this stylish outdoor café/restaurant offers French-influenced meals and is the city’s best place for steak. This is the ideal place to visit after an afternoon shopping in the Babar Mahal Revisited complex.
Dwarika’s Hotel (9)
Dwarika’s is one of the city’s finest and a true heritage hotel housing an extensive collection of artefacts from the 13th century onward. It’s also ideally situated for exploring the Pashupatinath temple and the Buddhist stupa at Boudhanath.
Hotel Tibet International (10)
A new property within walking distance of the UNESCO-listed Boudhanath stupa, the Tibet International is a luxury boutique hotel with opportune surroundings. A privileged location and elegant décor — inspired by traditional Tibetan architecture — make for a comfortable and enchanting stay.
Kathmandu Guest House (11)
Simple but comfortable, this Kathmandu Guest House is in a great central location at the very heart of the Thamel district. Although close to many restaurants and shops, the property is surprisingly quiet. Right on your doorstep there are restaurants serving the best of local cuisine, shops offering traditional clothing and souvenirs as well as modern amenities, and narrow streets along which cultural treasures can be found.
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