Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal is the first stop for all those visitors touring the country by air. Situated at an altitude of 4423 ft above the sea level and covering 218 sq. km, Kathmandu has been the source of fascination to visitors over the years. Kathmandu is one of the major cities beside Bhaktapur and Patan of this Kathmandu Valley.
The existence of this valley is not yet clearly known but legends believe that Buddhist Goddess Manjushree is responsible for making this valley inhabitable. It is believed that she had slashed a passage through the surrounding hill to drain out the primordial waters of the valley. Is it true or just another mythological myth, the result was a spectacular setting, which has brought endless praises from the pens of great poets of Nepal. Surrounded by mountain and hills, today Kathmandu is hustle and bustle of a city, which Manjushree would hardly recognize as her own handiwork. Over centuries, today a refined urban civilization has emerged being built on unique synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism. Dynasties came and went until; Late King Prithivi Narayan Shah unified the whole country in the 18th century. He is the ancestor of our present King.
Trade and arts has flourished in this valley. The monument of Buddhism and Hinduism in the valley has given the city a rich cultural mix of tradition and beliefs. It is the place filled with prayers, gods and legends, which have given, rise to numerous monuments and shrine and have become world heritage sights. Among the monuments, Kasthamandup the huge rest house for travelers of that time is said to have been built from a wood of a single tree is the source from which Kathmandu Valley derived its name.
One of the biggest Hindu Pilgrim in this continent, Pashupatinath is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is dated 1696 AD. The temple has golden roof and silver doors and is famous for its superb architecture. Shiva is considered to be the greatest Hindu God and is also worshiped as God of fertility, Lord of the beast. This monument lays 6 Kms to the east of Kathmandu near the international airport. Cremation platform, well-decorated Sadhus “the holy man”, monkeys in the jungle, sacred river Bagmati and seldomly snake charmers can also be seen in its premises.
Muslim invaders leveled the old buildings of the shrine in the 14th century and its stone lingam smashed to dust, but it again rose back behind retreating backs. The premises of then Pashupatinath is believed to be build before 400 AD. Successful monarchs added votes temples; their images and their subjects donated their wealth just to buy a hasty entrance into heaven after their death. Today, earnest Hindus are brought here before they take their last breath as myth claims that they can enter heaven if they take their last breath in this holy shrine. Non-Hindu is not allowed inside the premises of this Holy shrine.
One of the biggest Stupa in Asia, dedicated to Lord Buddha is situated 6 Kms Northeast of Kathmandu. Approximately 45 monasteries around this Stupa are found and their actual date of existence is not known. It stands 36 meters above the ground and presents one of the most fascinating specimens of Stupa design. Boudhanath, a world heritage site is also known as Khasti or dew drops as it is said that the builders had to use dewdrops to mix the mortar because Kathmandu was suffering from a severe drought during its construction. Tibetan goods shops, prayer wheels, pink–robed lamas are seen in its premises. Boudhanath is believed to be erected by Lichchhavi King Mana Dev in the fifth century AD.
Adjoining to this Boudhanath Stupa is the temple of Harati Mata, the Hindu Goddess. This shows the religious harmony between the Hinduism and Buddhism. A short distance off, the small Stupa at Chabahil and the 4th and 5th century statuary that litters its surround is all that remains of Buddhist convent founded by the widowed consort of the 3rd century prince.
The Stupa is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal and its establishment is linked to the creation of Kathmandu Valley out of a primordial lake. Swoyambhunath is also known as Sengu and is listed in the World Heritage site. This Stupa is situated at the top of 77m green hillocks and lays 5 Kms west of Kathmandu. This shrine is famous pilgrim for both the Hindus and Buddhist of Nepal. Because monkey is closely associated with this shrine, this shrine is also known as Monkey temple.
Swoyambhunath, “The self existent” is a gigantic Stupa located on a hilltop and houses images of important deities of both Buddhists and Hindus. Swyambhu, is perhaps the best place to see the religious harmony between the two religions? Harati Mata Temple, devoted to Goddess Harati Mata, the Goddess of Small Pox is situated in the premises of Swoyambhunath. In the shadows of the posing structure and architecture; daily surge of devotees can be found faithfully offering their prayers to the gods. Swoyambhunath is the major landmark of the Kathmandu Valley and looks like a beacon attracting hundreds of people towards it.
Budhanilkantha temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is situated at about 9 Kms to the north of Kathmandu City. Lord Vishnu is regarded to be the god who maintains life. Here in this temple tall Vishnu Statue is found reclining on a bed of cosmic serpents partly submerged in the holy pond.
Nagarkot lies 32 Kms towards east of Kathmandu. Situated at an altitude of about 2175m above the sea level, Nagarkot is considered to be one of the best hill stations of the Kathmandu valley.
A good drive from the city to Nagarkot is worth for spending a night or two in the hotels, resorts found in the hill station. Nagarkot is very famous among tourists visiting Nepal and hence lots and lots of tourist standard hotels along with one 5 star luxurious hotel are available here. Nagarkot is well known for its fresh air breath, escaping from Kathmandu’s pollution to get a good view of Himalayan Ranges including Mt. Everest. Sightseeing around this hill station includes mountain houses, hay roofed huts, panoramic view of mountains, village strolling etc. Nagarkot is one of the vintage points on the rim of the valley; from where on a clear day the magnificent High Himalayan can be viewed. A quiet cool spot that embraces several peaks in atmosphere make this walker’s paradise. Sunset and Sunrise is best seen from spots from Nagarkot and is very famous among tourists.
PANAUTI/ NAMO BUDDHA
One of the recommended to visit while in Nepal is Panauti. Hike to Panauti from Dhulikhel. One can make combined tour of Dhulikhel to stay next day hike to Namobuddha and return to Panauti. Dhulikel is another hill station; a Newar town situated 30 Kms southeast of Kathmandu on the side of Arniko Highway.
Dhulikhel is popular for its natural beauty and ancient tradition. Himalayan ranges from Karyolung in the east to Himalchuli in the west can be viewed clearly in the early morning.
Better to make a combined trip to Dhaksinkali, Kirtipur and Chovar. Chovar is popular gorge from where according to myth it is believed that Goddess Manjushree slashed a part of the hill to drain out the primordial water of the valley. The temple of Adinath is located on the top of the hill and Temple of Jal Vinayak, which houses the image of shrine on a massive rock, which represents Lord Ganesh, is situated beyond Chovar Gorge.
This place is named after the temple of Gokarneshor Mahadev; one of the name of Lord Shiva. The name of this place is derived from the religious name and is located about 10 Km northeast of Main City of Kathmandu. Most of the Hindu people got to offer their worship to this place once a year during July/August who have lost their father before. So, the day is called “Father’s day or Gokrne Aunsi” on the dark moon day. Afterwards, one can enjoy the Gokarna Safari Park, which is close by to this temple. This park attract the visitors as picnic spot, to enjoy the nature with the animal like spotted deer’s, monkeys, birds etc after all this place also offers one of the best Golf course close to the city.
Eighty kilometers southwest of Kathmandu at an altitude of about 2400 meters lies Daman. It is located on the Tribhuvan Highway between Kathmandu and the town of Birgunj. One can see world’s highest peak extending in one glittering are from the Far West of Dhaulagiri to Far East of Sagarmatha. Other peaks are Annapurna III, Phurni Chuyachu, Choba Bhamre and Gaurishanker. Round trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Tansen, Lumbini, Narayangargh is very rewarding.
This another hill top viewpoint and a quite countryside retreat, which lies north west of Kathmandu and takes about one hour, drive. This hilltop faces a skyline of mountains like Gauri Shankar, Choba Bhamre, Langtang, Ganesh Himal, Manaslu, and Hiunchuli on the northern part from east to west. There is a lodge with restaurant to stay overnight to view the sunset or sunrise.
This is the botanical garden located 18-Km southeast of Kathmandu inside the quite jungle of Godavari. Many collections of different species of flowers and herbs. Literally it is a vernacular translation of special flower. Godawari is a big village setting of extreme natural beauty south east of Patan perched at the foot of Mt. Fulchowki. Fulchowki at the altitude of 9050 ft above the sea level. It is infact the hill surrounding the Kathmandu Valley, a good spot for hiking. Rhododendron of various kinds of colors from snow white to dark red grows wild on the slopes. It also has rich forest abound with different varieties of flora and birds. It has numerous orchid species.
Dhaksinkali lies 28 Kms towards south from Kathmandu Valley. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali, who is considered as bloodthirsty goddess according to Hindu Mythology. Many devotees visit this site on Saturday and Tuesday and they sacrifice animals to this goddess. The victims include the fowl, birds and sheep in general.
As most of the places in Nepal, this spot is also named after goddess as this place has a temple dedicated to Goddess Barahi. Bajra means the Thunder and Barahi means the bearer or holder so, in total Bajrabarahi means the powerful goddess of Thunder bearer. One can find a beautiful pagoda of the Goddess built by the Malla King of Patan centuries ago. This tranquil place is located o the famous Newar village “Lele” which is popular for handicrafts, clay works and agriculture. Most of the Newar Tribe gather in Courtyard of the temple during the festival and feast themselves enjoying the life with relatives and friends.
Changunarayan is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is considered to be one of the oldest shrines of the Kathmandu Valley. It is said to have been built in 323 AD by King Hari Dutta Varma of Lichhavi Dynasty. This temple is situated at the top of hill north to Bhaktapur City and is 153 meters above the Kathmandu Valley level. This temple is two storied and is built in pagoda style and is richly decorated with sculptures and carvings. To the ethnic Newars it is known as “Sako Changu”.
Those who are interested to do short 3 hours hiking, can hike from Tilkot (30 min down from Nagarkot) to Changu Narayan is good to view while hiking on the ridge of green hill that passes through small villages. From the Changu one can see Bhaktapur and Sankhu on either side of the hill.
DURBAR SQUARES IN THE VALLEY
All the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley have its own Durbar Square. Actual meaning of Durbar is Palace. From 14th to 18th century, the Malla Kings was ruling Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur were three independent states then while whole Nepal was divided into 54 small states. During the unification of Nepal, these three cities were also unified on 1768 AD. The palaces of Mallas of these states are interesting sites of this time. All three Durbar Squares are listed in world heritage sites.
KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE
The Durbar square with its old temples and palaces focus the religious and cultural life of the people of the valley. This falls to be the historic seat of the past royalty, particularly belonging to the Malla Dynasty. The age-old temples and palaces epitomize the religious and cultural life style of the people. The interesting things to view include Taleju Temple, Nautale Durbar (the nine storied palace), Nasal Chowk, Gaddi Baithak, Statue of King Pratap Malla, Big Bell, Big Drum, Sweta Bhairab, the residence of Goddess Kumari (The living goddess) and also Numismatic Museum. The temple of Ashok Binayak is also known as Kathmandu Ganesh or Maru Ganesh and Kasthamandup after which the name “Kathmandu” has been derived. This Kasthamandup is believed to be built from woods of a single tree and was erected as the rest house for travelers of those days. King Laxmi Narasingha Malla erected this monument in the beginning of the Sixteenth century. The Monkey God called Hanuman guards the main Golden Gate in the premises. He is the king of the monkeys and a faithful servant to Lord Ram. Being guarded by a sole protector, the gate itself has come to be known as Hanuman Gate. With a commercial umbrella suspended above his head and wrapped in a scarlet cloak, he squats on a stone plinth to be respected by hundreds of Nepalese Hindus. In the premises of Durbar Square, the most famous site to visit is the residence of Goddess Kumari, the Living Goddess. The temple and holy quadrangle with a Buddhist Stupa at the center form the residential quarters of the Chaste Virgin Living Goddess. The traditional building has profusely craved wooden balconies and window screens. The non-Buddhist and the non-Hindu visitors may enter the courtyard called the “bahal” but may not proceed beyond the stairs. The Goddess Kumari acknowledges their greetings from the middle window of the balcony particularly saved for Her alone and snapshot is strictly prohibited.
PATAN DURBAR SQUARE
Patan is also known as Lalitpur, the city of fine arts. Patan has the most impressive Durbar square on the valley. This premise was also built by the Malla Kings and stood as the capital part of the city till the 17th century. The square is built of ancient palaces, temples, shrines and statues noted for their exquisite carvings. Beautiful stone baths, repose images of river sprites, great golden audience windows, 14th century terra-cotta temples and 17th century stone. A terra-cotta shikara temple, each brick bearing an image of the Buddha. A Blackstone entrances to temples of gold and exquisite 5-storey pagoda from the 14th century, earliest of the standing temples. Spring legend tells us rise in the holy lakes of Gasainkund to the north of Kathmandu. And walks through the side streets of the city, still busy today with the tap-tap of hammers and chisels and bronze and wood as the descendants of the creators of this ancient splendor carry on the trade ancestors. This Durbar Square includes three main courtyards, the first being the Keshab Narayan Chowk which we have gotten to enter through the Golden Fate and under the Golden Window; the second being the Taleju Bhawani Chowk; and the third being the Sundari Chowk carrying the Royal Bath. The single stone pillar on, which sits late King Yog Narendra Malla facing the Taleju Bhawani Temple to, the cardinal direction of east and the Titanic Bell to its right are also worth mentioning. The last of the Malla dynasty was late King Tej Narsingh Malla.
BHAKTAPUR DURBAR SQUARE
Bhaktapur is the best-preserved city of the Kathmandu Valley. The Durbar square of this city contains numerous temples and monuments of wonderful nature. Here around the Dattatrya Square, the 9th century markets grew gradually, spreading to the Taumadi Square with this 3 tiered temple of Bhairab and great 5 storied temple to the Goddess of Light and Space and finally to the magic of the main Palace Square. The first striking city mark would be the 55 Window Palace built by late King Bhupatindra Malla with which the three remaining kingdoms of Kantipur, Lalitpur and Kirtipur envied a lot. This jealousy often leads to some political stiff as well. The 55 Window Palace is the only type in the whole country. The first ten windows decently face west, thirty-five face south and the remaining ten face east. The Golden Gate, the Titanic Bell, the Stone pillar of late Bhupatindra Malla and the Chayslin Mandap looks gorgeous. Entering the Golden Gate of the 55-window palace, Taleju Bhawani temple and Royal Bath. Taleju Bhawani temple is found in every palace of the Kathmandu Valley, as she is believed to be the protector of the city. The Royal Bath looks glamorous with the image of the Serpent God in the middle of the sanatorium although the waterspout has completely dried up.
There are more than 50 Buddhist Monasteries in Kathmandu Valley and half of them you can find with the area of Boudhanath Stupa. Boudhanath Stupa is the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and around it has sprung up, what can be called- “Little Tibet”. Dhiya Gonpa is one of the oldest monasteries in Boudhanath. Thangu Gonpa runs a school for monks and for outsider children at Coudha and also has a retreat center in Namo Buddha. Chechen Shedupling Gonpa has a very special statue of Shakya muni called “ Chhowo Rimpoche” very similar to Lhasa Chhowo, which is extremely famous. It has one retreat center in Pharping. Jamchhe Lhakhang has a special statue of Lord Buddha called Jawa Shapma which is known as future Buddha. Shechen Gonpa has very special statue of Lord Padma Sambava and three temples where they attain daily worship. Samteeling Gonpa, which is also, one of the oldest monasteries in Boudhanath as a Mongolian monk established it fifty years ago. Kopan Gonpa is also popular for its retreat center. These with Ka Nying Gonpa and small several monasteries are the main monasteries of Boudhanath area.
For those entire cliffs hang out there, Kathmandu offers a roster of stonewalls that make for an experience of a lifetime. Now of late, Rock-Climbing has become a popular sport in Kathmandu, which offers some really terrific places for rock climbing. Nagarjun, Balaju, Shivapuri and Budhanilkantha are some of the places where you can try this sport.
The best way to explore the Kathmandu Valley is on a mountain bike. Good bikes can be rented from many shops around town.
Nepal is a paradise for bird lovers with over 8oo species, almost 8% of the world total of birds. Among them almost 500 hundred are found in the Kathmandu Valley alone. The most popular bird watching spots in Kathmandu are Phulchowki, Godawari, Nagarjun, Bagmati River, Taudha and so on. Get your binoculars and look up in the trees.
Only awe-stricken silence can come close to matching the experience of going on a mountain flight to encounter the tallest mountains of the earth. Mountain flights offer the closest possible aerial views of Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga and the Tibetan Plateau. Mountain flights appeal to all categories of travelers and have become a popular tourist attraction of Nepal. For those who are restricted by time or other considerations from going trekking, these flights offer a panoramic view of the Himalaya in just one hour.
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