Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, is a chaotic, throbbing hub of existence to over a million people. Being the international arrival point for the majority of independent travellers eager to explore the nearby Himalayas or engage in eco-tourism initiatives, many choose to stay on for at least a few days to explore this vibrant, colourful capital.
Here are 5 of the best things to do in Kathmandu:
5. Get your bearings
One of the first things I do whenever I arrive in a foreign city is go walking. Leave the comfort of your hotel behind and the map too and go and get lost! Getting your bearings in a foreign place is one of the biggest joys of travel; you get a feel for the culture of the city immediately.
4. Visit Swayambhunath Stupa (Monkey Temple)
No stay in Kathmandu would be complete without a visit to Swayambhunath Stupa, one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal and one of the valley’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. Constructed high above the city 2,500 years ago, its golden spire painted with the eyes of Buddha soaring towards the clouds, a visit to Swayambhunath is a definitive experience for visitors to the capital.
Ancient carvings are to be found everywhere around this religious site, but this isn’t the only attraction! The temple’s unofficial name is the Monkey Temple, and for obvious reasons. Hundreds of Rhesus Macaques inhabit the area around the temple and, whilst they make for great photographs, they can be very bold so keep an eye on your belongings.
Climbing the full 365 stairs to reach the top is not for everyone, but if you’re able bodied, it’s a very rewarding way to arrive at this sacred place. Wafts of burning incense greet you as you arrive to witness devotees making their ritualistic circumnavigation of the stupa, spinning the many prayer wheels with every step.
3. Spend a day at Bhaktapur
Located approximately 20km east of Kathmandu city, a day trip to Bhaktapur, another world-heritage listed UNESCO site, and known as ‘Nepal’s Cultural Gem’ is definitely not one to be missed.
Filled with some of the finest religious architecture in the entire nation, it’s hard not to marvel at the intricate wooden carvings and fine terracotta tiling adorning the city. Wandering the dusty, narrow lanes aimlessly while observing local life really is the best way to spend the day. Artisans can be seen at work all over this medieval royal city, laying freshly made clay pots to dry in the sun or carving wooden toys and decorative items on the roadside.
2. Visit the Hindu Cremation Ghats
For an insight into the daily ritualistic practices of Hindus, head down to the cremation ghats located around the Nepal’s most sacred pilgrimage site, Pashupatinath Temple (again, UNESCO listed), by the banks of the Bagmati river.
Scenes are confronting at the ghats, with regular cremations taking place on funeral pyres along the riverbank in full view of all passersby; a marked contrast to the very private affair westerners are accustomed to.
From the crematory smoke filling the air, drifting upwards and mixing with the fog of winter, to the colourful sadhus (holy men) and monkeys inhabiting the areas around the temple, this Hindu cremation site undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression.
1. Boudhanath Stupa
As the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, Boudhanath (surprise, surprise another UNESCO listed site!) is one of Kathmandu’s most distinctive monuments. It is an important sanctuary for Tibetan Buddhists in a city dominated by Nepali Hindus.
The narrow streets surrounding the stupa are filled with Dalai Lama posters, Tibetan folk-medicine stores, artists’ workshops creating traditional Thanka paintings and restaurants serving delicacies such as yak cheese and the local Everest beer. To leave Kathmandu without visiting Boudhanath Stupa is to pass up a truly special experience.
Other great things to do in Kathmandu:
–Book an Everest scenic flight
–Wander the Thamel district
–Dine at famous Krishnarpan
–Shop for authentic souvenirs and gifts
Photography by Rachel Bale and Benjamin Last