Fact File

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series A day and a half in Kathmandu

A few years ago I found myself with just a day and a half to explore Kathmandu. This mini-series dashes through how to spend a couple of jam-packed days in Kathmandu Valley. 

Where should you eat in Kathmandu? What’s the Nepalese currency? Only got five minutes? Read on to find out the facts of this bustling hub of Nepal!

(Cadi Cliff)

(Cadi Cliff; Kathmandu)

Nepal, the landlocked country strategically located between China and India contains eight of the world’s highest peaks. Its capital, Kathmandu, is known as the ‘gateway to Nepal’ and has more than one million inhabitants and is the namesake of the Kathmandu Valley in the Himalayas. At an elevation of approximately 1,400 metres above sea-level its the country’s business and commercial centre, with the expansion of air services and roads making it the hub of the national transportation system.

The increase in air services has seen tourism become the main income for the city; the valley is a draw to tourists with its 2000 year old diverse history and its status as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, composed of seven different Monument Zones. Kathmandu hosts two of the most important Buddhist stupas, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, the Hindu shrine of Pashupatinath and the Kathmandu Durbar Square.

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Boudhanath

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series A day and a half in Kathmandu

Boudhanath: a place of pilgrimage. That’s what everyone seemed to say whenever I mentioned I’d be going to Kathmandu, that it’s a haven away from the clamour of the city, an ‘ancient jewel’, somewhere I really had to go.  I was a little surprised to find just how right they were; my only regret after the visit was that I didn’t have time to stay longer.

As one of the largest and most significant Buddhist monuments in the world, located in the north east of Kathmandu, it is surrounded by over fifty gompas (monasteries) and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Said to have been constructed around the 5th century AD, it’s an incredibly important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and in the past, when trade routes to central and western Tibet were fully open, traders, pilgrims and travellers sought blessing for safe passage here over the mountain passes at the stupa. The principal centre for Himalayan Buddhist worship and studies in the Kathmandu Valley, the alleyways around the stupa are full of small shops, rooftop cafes, small hostels and mandala or thangka art schools.

For a small fee of 150 Nepalese rupees (roughly £1) for a ticket and glossy information leaflet, I escaped the noisy rickshaw, moped, and car-choked streets to suddenly find a small area of calm. Whilst popular, the sheer size of Boudhanath means it doesn’t feel crowded.

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Pashupatinath and Swayambhunath

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series A day and a half in Kathmandu

A few years ago I found myself with just a day and a half to explore Kathmandu. This mini-series dashes through how to spend a couple of jam-packed days in Kathmandu Valley. 

Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Hindu Temple of Pashupatinath and the Buddhist Stupa of Swayambhunath should be on the list of any first time traveller to Kathmandu, as well as those that just keep returning again and again to the city.

(Cadi Cliff; Swayambhunath)

(Cadi Cliff; Swayambhunath)

While Buddhism and Hinduism live side by side as the main religions of Nepal, their manner and places of worship struck very different chords with me, and not always entirely pleasant ones, as a wide-eyed newcomer to a city in the rush of the Nepalese New Year (April 13th 2012 to us, 2069 to them!)

Clambering out of a dusty bus into the thick city heat of midday Kathmandu, the complex of Swayambhunath rises up atop the hill in the west of the city. The complex contains the iconic stupa, an assortment of shrines and temples with some dating back centuries, a Tibetan monastery, museum, library, shops and hostels. There are two points of access: the most traditional being the long stairway of a reputed 365 steps leading directly to the main platform of the temple, and the other being the road around the hill which leads to the southwest entrance. I visited the temple on New Year’s Day, and whilst always a popular place, my friends from the city assured me repeatedly it wasn’t usually this busy – London commuter crowds had nothing on the onslaught of people that day. We made for the southwest entrance, only a little quieter, and paid 200 Nepalese rupees (roughly £1.50) for a ticket.

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Thamel

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series A day and a half in Kathmandu

A few years ago I found myself with just a day and a half to explore Kathmandu. This mini-series dashes through how to spend a couple of jam-packed days in Kathmandu Valley. 

Everyone comes to Nepal for different reasons. Mine was trekking, but Kathmandu receives us all, and as a western traveller, you’re bound to end up staying (or at the very least shopping) in the Thamel District of the city.

(Cadi Cliff; Thamel)

(Cadi Cliff; Thamel)

As a popular tourist destination it finally received full Wi-fi in 2011, a luxury among luxuries, and is filled with travellers and students. It boasts a wide range of mountaineering shops where good quality, cheap gear can be found and most low-budget travellers view it as a tourist heaven. It’s the type of place that has everything, and I mean everything. Incense, tea, silk, pashminas, Buddha statues, prayer flags, prayer mats, alternative (‘hippy’) clothing, books, music, bakeries, maps, restaurants, hostels, walking gear, yak blankets, jewellery…  It’s the image I carried with me of Kathmandu long before I ever came: the busy streets, incense, rickshaws and eclectic mix of travellers make it fast paced and fun.

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