The busy city of Kathmandu hides more than a wonder. The city will amaze you with the richness of its cultural heritage as well as its dynamism and its insolent youth. Between historic circuits and gastronomic outings, shopping excursions and spiritual experiences; you would be carried away by the magic of Kathmandu.
The biggest attraction in Kathmandu is the Budhanath stupa. With a its height of nearly 36 m and history that dates back to the 5th century AD, the most imposing stupa in Asia will not fail to impress you. Take your time and be part of the thousands of Buddhists and other pilgrims from all over the world, perambulating around the dome of the stupa and let the spiritual atmosphere take control over you. While you go around the dome, you can admire the elaborate architecture of the monument, constructed in the form of a mandala, which symbolises the cosmos as per Buddhist beliefs. Kathmandu has numerous monasteries and other Buddhist sites. Some are imposing like the Swayambhunath or the Monkey Temple or more discreet such as the Shechen monastery, a pleasant place and not without its own charm, situated close to the famous Stupa.
Another place full of history and spirituality is the Durbar Square or “Hanuman Dhoka Square”, which is a must for any tourist. A formidable condensation of the local architecture, the famous square is the city centre of old Kathmandu, an ensemble of buildings and Hindu and Buddhist temples that have been classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Walking through the square, amidst hundreds of birds, you can easily imagine life in the city a few decades ago, when the Durbar Square was headquarter of the Nepalese royalty.
Taking a detour for shopping for Nepalese and Tibetan handicrafts is definitely worth the effort. You will find a number of stalls and small shops that offer everything – religious accessories, souvenirs, jewellery, statues, to name a few. Also worth visiting is Thamel, the hideout of the backpackers, where you can find antique materials of all kinds and also souvenir T-shirts, good but inexpensive books and all the material needed by a seasoned trekker. Do not hesitate to negotiate hard!
And if you like carpets, you will have your handfull at Jawalakhel Handicraft Centre, managed by Tibetan refugees. You can head straight to the first floor where you will find a collection which is rich in colours, motives, sizes and quality. You can also visit the workshop of the centre where you will be warmly received by the women working there and will be happy if you want to stay and watch them stitch the carpets, not an easy task which they carry on with a broad smile all the while. Near the handicraft centre, almost in the city centre, you will also find other cooperatives with a social objective proposing a variety of objects.
Another circuit that should not be missed lies in the small lanes that meander around the city centre. Visit this to see pottery and copper goods, wholesale dealers, tailors, etc. Durbar Square and its surroundings offer an ideal place to experiment the incredible energy of the capital city.
3. EATING AND DRINKING
As far as food is concerned, you can never have enough variety. Restaurants in Kathmandu have tried to integrate all world cuisines, with their flavours and colours. If you are someone who thrives on the local cuisine of the place you would surely fall in love with the Nepali Thali. Inspired by its eponymous Indian dish, Thali is available practically all over Kathmandu and it comes with a wide range of dishes, local vegetables cooked with spices, dal, grilled meats or curries. You will also find several Tibet dishes such as momos, thukpa and thenthuk.
These delicacies can also be found at Boudhanat, not far from the stupa. If you are looking for those restaurants which are not in the guide books and famous among the locals you can find a narrow lane, just next to the Himalayan cafe, where you will find an amazing range of cuisines served without any pretensions, They also serve delicious teas and typical, simple meals, which are very tasty and popular among the locals.
For those who remain nostalgic about their own traditional cuisines or other global cuisines, Thamel is the place to head to. Italian pizzas and pastas, sushis, Korean barbecues or French gastronomically delights, you can find it all here.
Kathmandu has an attractive list of activities for tourists to (re)discover. Yet, it would be a pity to limit the trip just to the city, when its surroundings overflow with potentials for outings. Less than an hour’s drive from the city centre lies Bhaktapur and its old city, which is a must for any tourist. B Bertolucci’s epic film Little Buddha was shot here. Bhaktapur will quickly seduce you through its successive buildings, that are typical to the Kingdom and are extremely refined. A promenade along its lanes and by-lanes and its grandiose squares will take you to the age where Bhaktapur, also known as “Shangri- La”, was a mandatory stop for traders moving between India and Tibet. For those looking for adventure, a number of travel companies propose trekking circuits of all levels and do not miss the famous sunrise spot at Nagarkot.
For those looking out for some more adrenaline rush, one of the highest bungee jumping sites in the world is located less than three hours by bus from Kathmandu, at the border between Nepal and Tibet. Here, we guarantee overwhelming emotions for those who dare!
A stay in Kathmandu is also an occasion to learn and enrich one’s knowledge. You can explore the benefits of meditation at Kopan Monastery thanks to a programme of 10 days or a month as per your liking or even study Buddhism at Rangjung Yeshe Institute. For yoga lovers, the Capital has a mix of centres offering various programmes. At Thameland in its surroundings, for example, you can try your hand on Bikram yoga or even the method of Pranamaya yoga.
A more authentic way to learn is to visit the different agents proposing a direct contact with the local population. Let yourself be inspired by Hidden Journeys Nepal If you wish to immerse yourself in the heart of Nepalese culture, Backstreet Academy offers a series of Nepalese cuisine and wood sculpting with local artisans. This will give you a good opportunity to socialize with the local communities!