Kathmandu city, a multicultural melting pot which is greeting the early dawn of modern-day urbanization yet keeping its deeply rooted cultural essence alive and intact.
Kathmandu’s rich diversity in arts and culture can be attributed to the fact that once it was a trade point and route between two distinctive civilizations, India to the south and Tibet to the north.
This resplendent city has more to this than meets the eye. At first glance, the chaotic buildings, boisterous crowd and exasperating traffic can be off-putting but once you start exploring even a narrow gully or a chowk, you will be astounded with how much it has to offer to gratify the wanderlust in you.
Nepal is a country with majority of its population practising Hinduism, therefore, the city boasts of temples small to big, ancient to newly erected. They are literally all around the city.
The temples are not merely religiously significant but also aesthetically fascinating.
Temples like Pashupati Nath and Changu Narayan have been listed as the World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Since Gautam Buddha the founder of Buddhism has his birthplace in Nepal, hence there has always been a harmonious coexistence between the followers of these two religions.
Stupas like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath (also known as ‘ The Monkey Temple’ which sits atop a hill) are frequently visited by both Hindus and Buddhist pilgrims. Kapan monastery is also another worth visiting shrine located in a serene tranquil hillside suburb.
There are three Durbar square complexes in the city each located in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Historically once the royal palace of the monarchs of the respective cities, they have one of the highest concentrations of intricate arts and craftsmanship on display.
One can marvel at the ancient engineering and architecture enjoying the legendary folklores behind the construction of some of these monuments.
Located towards the south-west side of the city, Chandragiri Hills is one of the highest elevation points of the valley. It is said that this is the very point from where late King Prithvi Narayan Shah first viewed Kathmandu valley and was awe-struck by the beauty of it.
Thus, he decided to annex it in his unification movement of then fragmented kingdoms. Accessible through ropeways cable cars which is one of the major attractions, take you all the way up to the point from where the entire Kathmandu valley can be observed.
Relish the picturesque view of the mountain ranges from The Everest to Annapurna.
Right from the rooster crowing hours the hustle and bustle of the city wakes Kathmanduites up.
Strolling around the heart of the city especially Thamel, Asan and Indrachowk you will see fresh organic produce filling the streets with some breakfast stalls here and there serving hot tea and local savouries. The atmosphere is filled with incense’ fragrance coming right out of the temples where almost all people go to worship, the first thing they do getting up in the morning.
Many tiny shops some of which are hidden deep inside the narrow alleys sell the rare herbs and spices whose aroma itself is potent enough to galvanize any passerby to commence his day the best way.These palces by day time completely transform themselves into different yet even busier market places. They do not just confine themselves into groceries but the several arrays of shops exhibiting countless items only invigorate every shopaholic’s spirit.
You can splurge on premium garments and fabrics like Cashmere and Pashmina or purchase trekking gears and jackets for your Himalayan adventures.
Metal and brassware, traditional weapon ‘Khukuri’, the unconventional unique national flag, traditional costume with ‘ Dhaka Topi’-the hat and handicraft products (dolls, masks, jewellery, wood carvings), all of them would look great on your souvenir list.
Lastly, do not be reluctant in bargaining. Yes, though most products are sold at throwaway prices a little bit of cheeky bargaining is allowed in your Kathmandu shopping spree. Take a hint from the locals.
If you are an aficionado of fine arts then don’t think twice before getting your hands dirty and creating your own Nepalese artwork.
No more restraining yourself into being simply an admirer or an amateur photographer when you can participate enrolling yourself in one of many art form classes in Kathmandu.
Try your hands on Thangka painting which are meticulous Buddhist themed colourful paintings.
Stone and wood carving workshops are also available in the city to bring out the diligent craftsmanship in you. You can also gain experience from the city’s traditional pottery masters in their workshops on how to mould clay into making Nepalese pots of various shapes and sizes serving different purposes.
Also if you have ample time make sure you visit around Patan the renaissance city of Nepal as it has some of the best galleries to give you the idea of Nepalese fine arts scene.
Embark on the culinary odyssey to one of the most underrated cuisines in the world. Sharing strong cultural resemblance to its neighbour to the south Nepalese delicacies are heavily influenced by Indian cuisine.
Traditional ‘ Dal Bhat Tarkari’ is the staple food of Nepal and they enjoy both vegs. and non-veg. versions of it.
Talking about Nepalese food one ought to mention about Momo. Momo is every Nepalese’ preferred dumpling dish. This endearing food is almost synonymous to the national cuisine of Nepal loved by people from all walks of life around the city.
Nepalese dumplings have either meat or vegetable stuffing inside and are available around Kathmandu. From classic good old steam momo to various modified versions of it, you can try any of those to excite your palette.
Another must-try is the Newari cuisine native to Newari people, one of the indigenous communities of Nepal and the early inhabitants of the valley. They offer numerous food items in a platter mostly made from buffalo meat alongside spicy beans, lentils, curry, flattened rice, eggs and of course their traditional beer and homemade liquor.
Places like Kirtipur and Harisiddhi have really popular Newari restaurants with local ambience to give you the authentic experience of a Newari feast.
While you are at it, try ‘ Juju Dhau’ (King of yoghurts) of Bhaktapur. It is made in a clay pot and usually served in the same as a Newari dessert. The name itself is tempting, with a thick creamy texture and rich taste no wonder it is called King of yoghurts.
With the influx of Tibetan diaspora in Nepal in the mid-1900s and the frequent trips made by Newari merchants to Tibet around eighteenth-century a lot of Tibetan dishes like Thukpa, Thenduk, Khapsoey, La-Phing were introduced in Nepal. They became even popular after they got fused with local herbs, spices and seasonings and today they are available in most of the eatery joints around the valley.
Also wandering around the bazaar you will come across many small yet surprisingly delicious food stalls, fancy restaurants, cafes, patissiers’ and coffee brewers to wake the glutton in you.
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Since the city is surrounded by hills you are pampered with a plethora of options to choose from for your hiking destination.
Perfect escapade from the busy city life, these hiking spots are easily accessible through roadways and somewhat mildly challenging, therefore, making them suitable family affair. Not only you get to have great scenic views of the valley and mountains afar from these vantage points but also you will get to see rare flora and fauna along the way.
One big natural arboretum, these hiking spots are a haven for plantsmen or for those who seek to be a botanist someday. Not to miss the pristine rivers, refreshing cool fresh breeze, local shrines and friendly interaction with the residents will only enhance your trip experience.
You can visit these places if you plan to hike: Budhanilkantha-Shivapuri trail, Godawari-Phulchowki, Kakani, Champadevi hiking, Sundarijal-Chisapani-Nagarkot.
Culturally diverse Nepal has many festivals and Jatras for every season of the year.
It is said that there are more than fifty festivals celebrated by Nepalese every year. Some are celebrated annually while there are some which occur once in five years or even twelve years.
Festivals and Jatras galore, only a handful of them get national and provincial holidays, nevertheless, even small Jatras are celebrated with great gusto.
Festivals in Nepal are zealous celebrations have their own stories to tell. They are accompanied by holy rituals and after that, the delicacies prepared specially for these festivals are offered to the deities which later are enjoyed by the family and crowd.
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A living testimony to a bygone era of Nepalese monarchy, the museums in Kathmandu, The Narayanhiti museum and Patan museum let you peek-a-boo at the lives of the royals who ruled Nepal as a Hindu kingdom long ago.
Many palaces have been turned into museum and the palaces themselves are mention-worthy for their enigmatic Hindu themed architecture and the spellbinding interiors as we go through every corridor, room and courtyard.
These palaces come alive with the belongings of their once occupants and have furniture, life-size paintings, armour and artillery, regal attire, stone idols on display to name a few.
Nepal is the home to an only living goddess in the world Kumari who is believed to be the incarnation of Taleju Bhawani.
It is believed that her spirit resides in a young virgin’s body until her menstrual cycle begins, thereafter she vacates the body beginning another rigorous process of searching new Kumari who would replace the previous one. Eligible girls are strictly selected from Newar community’s Shakya clan who have to meet several criteria.
Though there are many Kumaris across Nepal, royal Kumari of Kathmandu reigns supreme. She is worshipped occasionally on different festivals and resides in a beautiful Kumari house (Kumari Ghar) next to Kathmandu Durbar Square.