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The Complete Guide to Kathmandu

What is it about Kathmandu that inspired Bob Seger and Cat Stevens to pen songs, Pico Iyer and Satyajit Ray to write novellas and Dev Anand to film his Hare Rama Hare Krishna there? A magnet for climbers, mountaineers and hippies since the ‘60s, Kathmandu is the gateway to Nepal dotted with ancient temples and sacred peaks. Thousands come here in the hope of scaling Mount Everest, the Annapurna range and Mustang Valley.

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What to See and Do in Kathmandu

The city is named after Kasthamandap (literally ‘wooden shelter’) that once stood in the historic Durbar Square but collapsed during the 2015 earthquake. Originally built as a rest house for travellers, the Kasthamandap stood at the intersection of two ancient trade routes linking India and Tibet at Maru Square. As per legend, all the timber for the two-storey structure was obtained from a single tree and no iron nails were used. There are a number of places to visit in Kathmandu. The Durbar Square complex has nearly 50 temples with the Kumari Ghar (where the virginal living goddess is enshrined) and Shiva Parvati Temple in the outer quadrangle. The inner quadrangle has the Hanuman Dhoka with elaborately-carved wooden windows and panels with the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum and the Mahendra Museum. Don’t miss the larger than life stone image of Kala Bhairava found at xxxx.

While exploring, a map of Kathmandu will certainly guide you better to find various tourist attractions. The old capitals of the Malla confederation across the Kathmandu Valley—Kantipur, Kirtipur, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, which is also known as Patan—are charming fortified cities with durbar squares lined with pagodas and monuments. At Bhaktapur, see the Lu Dhowka (Golden Gate), the Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar (Palace of Fifty-five Windows), the five-storey Nyatapola Temple, Pottery Square, Peacock Window and Hanuman Ghat, a collection of lingams (including Nepal's largest). At the centre of Lalitpur is Patan Durbar Square, with Krishna Temple, Golden Temple (Hiranya Varna Mahavihar), Rato Machhendranath Temple and the Taleju Bhawani Temple dedicated to the Malla clan’s deity. The Durbar squares of Hanuman Dhoka, Bhaktapur and Patan, along with the massive Buddhist stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath and the ancient Hindu temples of Pashupatinath and Changunarayan, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and constitute the Seven Monument Zones. Kopan monastery is also one of the famous Buddhist monasteries where you can take up meditation courses.

Located on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of the city, the 5th century Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. Tourists flock to the temple of Lord Shiva, worshipped as the Lord of Animals, to witness Hindu rituals of life and death. Also worth a look is Budhanilkantha, a large statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on a bed of snakes, the largest stone carving in Nepal. As per legend, the entire Kathmandu Valley was once a vast lake with a ‘self-manifest’ lotus in the middle. Manjusri, the Boddhisattva cut a gorge with his divine sword and drained the lake to create the present Kathmandu Valley, making it fit for human habitation. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower became the Swayambhu stupa. The painted eyes of Lord Buddha on the dome looking in all four directions has now become an iconic symbol of Nepal.

Where to Eat

From Thakali thali to Newari cuisine, buff momos and Nepali daal bhaat to Continental spreads catering to western tastes, Kathmandu has it all!

  • Thamel House, Thamel

    Traditional Newari-style restaurant that serves impeccable food, especially veg and non-veg thalis and raksi (Nepali rice wine), to the accompaniment of local song and dance
  • Kaiser Café, Thamel

    An atmospheric dining venue set within the historic Garden of Dreams (entry Rs.200) with excellent Continental cuisine.
  • Krishnarpan, Dwarika’s Hotel

    A slow dining experience like the ritual feasts of the Newari community, this traditional fine dine serves meals ranging from six to twenty two-courses on traditional brass and earthenware, by hostesses representing Nepal's diverse ethnic communities.
  • Mustang Thakali Chulo, Thamel

    Simple Nepali eatery serving great momos, fried rice and daal bhaat. A traditional sit-down section on low stools rounds out the experience!
  • Kathmandu Steak House, Thamel

    If you are a meat lover, there’s no better place for steaks in Kathmandu than this! Ask for the mustard or garlic steak, served medium-rare, accompanied with steamed vegetables and fries.
  • Rosemary Kitchen & Coffee Shop, Thamel Marg

    This small café off a Thamel side street allows you to dine indoors by candlelight or in the nice quiet garden. Try the homemade fresh baked ravioli, beef bourginon, Rosemary chicken and yoghurt cheesecake.
  • Blueberry Kitchen & Coffee Shop, Thamel

    Great fusion restaurant serving Continental and Nepali fare—from momos, daal-bhat, choela (local BBQ), aloo sandeko to excellent Thai wok noodles, Blueberry special chicken, yoghurt cheese cake, carrot cake with ice cream and Nepali organic coffee.
  • The Old House, Durbar Marg

    Franco-Nepali fusion food served in a 200-year-old home with a serene courtyard and vertical garden. There’s sandwiches and salads, or a five-course tasting menu, in addition to signature dishes like Nepali spicy chicken, pork skewers, lime trout, chicken leg with olives, bacon and wine sauce, to be washed down with excellent coffee and dessert.

Where to Party in Kathmandu

Kathmandu has a buzzing nightlife and Thamel, with its bars, restaurants, karaoke joints and live music venues, is party central. Jatra Café and Bar, The Rum Doodle Bar and Restaurant and Tom & Jerry Pub are the pick of the backpacker bars in Thamel. There are plenty of cover bands floating around town but for good live music, catch quality Nepali rock, reggae and R&B at House of Music on Amrit Marg. The swish JBar on Tridevi Marg is more Downtown Manhattan than Thamel, and plays chill-out music to be paired with its extensive cocktail menu. If you are the Buddha Bar sorts, then you’ll love the cool ambient vibe of Tamas Spa Lounge, with drapes, candles and Buddha statues for the vibe. Beyond Thamel, New Orleans Cafe is a Kathmandu institution where every evening local bands play rock and blues in the courtyard dominated with pub tables. Rox Bar at Hyatt Regency Kathmandu has good live jazz and attracts a posh crowd. Upstairs Jazz is another great jazz venue with the valley’s best talent on show on Wednesday and Saturday.

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Where to Stay in Kathmandu

Here are some of the best hotels in Kathmandu where you can take abode:

  • Kathmandu Guest House, Thamel

    A legendary Kathmandu hotel that started off as a 13-room lodge that hosted hippies, artists and mountaineers in the 1960’s. Recently refurbished, they also run Maya Manor Boutique Hotel at Hattisar Sadak and Park Village at Budhanilkantha.
  • Dwarika’s Hotel, Battisputali Road

    A stunning heritage hotel of brick and wood using century-old doors, windows and pillars collected by the hotel’s founder Dwarika Das Shrestha. For a Japanese meal stop at the excellent Mako’s. The Pancha Kosha Himalayan Spa with a pool reminiscent of the 12th century Malla dynasty baths, ensures a trip back in time.
  • Hotel Tibet International, Boudha

    This Tibetan hotel with traditional architecture and clean comfortable rooms is close to the Boudhanath stupa. On a clear day, views of the stupa and snow-peaked mountains from the rooftop terrace are amazing.
  • Dalai-La Boutique Hotel, Thamel

    A lovely boutique hotel with hand-made dacchi itta (local terracotta bricks) façade and 25 rooms between the old and new wings. The traditional Nepalese architecture uses tikijhyā (lattice windows) and 50-year-old hand-carved dhunge dhara (stone water taps) adorning the courtyard.
  • Kantipur Temple House, Chusyabahal, Thamel

    A traditional eco-friendly hotel with lovely Nepali architecture, helpful staff, beautiful rooms and gardens with daily yoga on the roof. Strictly adheres to a no plastic policy.
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What to Buy in Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a shoppers’ delight with Buddha heads, colourful masks, Tibetan beads and chains, bright funky T-shirts and traditional souvenirs to take home. Posters of Mount Everest and the Annapurna Range are also popular collectibles. Folk Nepal is a fair trade handicrafts shop. Trawl the markets of Mangal Bazaar or hop into a Thamel store to pick up embroidered T-shirts with mandalas, Buddha eyes or ‘Yak Yak Yak,’ ‘Tintin in Tibet’ and ‘Hard Yak Café’. If you’re not into hippie clothes, try the more upmarket shops on Durbar Marg for western style clothes or browse through Kathmandu Mall on New Road. The towns of Bhadgaon and Bhaktapur are famous for the Newari black cap called Bhadgaule topi or you could pick up the striped traditional Dhaka topi. Patan, one of Nepal’s ancient kingdoms is called the ‘City of Living Art’ and has several artisans selling paintings, metal sculptures, singing bowls and masks. To pick up traditional Nepali curved daggers or khukris, head straight for Khukri House & Handicrafts in Patan Industrial Estate. Drop by at The Peacock Shop near the Peacock Window at Bhaktapur and pick up pottery and terracotta artefacts while exploring Thimi. At tourist hubs like Bouddha and Swayambhunath locals can be seen working on paintings, thangkas, mandalas and stone sculpture, making it a good place to buy directly from the artists.

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6E & Cheeky

Kathmandu's original traveller’s haunt Freak Street—the old backpacker street of Jhochhen Tol near Durbar Square—was popular as a hippie haven in the 1960s and 1970s. Though it pales in comparison to the glitzier Thamel, it’s still a quaint experience to explore on your own. Another tourist neighbourhood growing in popularity is Jhamel, a local name coined for Jhamsikhel to rhyme with Thamel. While in Thamel, go bar hopping, catch live music gigs or traditional Nepali dance and drama and down some raksi. For a secret soak in a hot spring bath head to Royal Hana Garden in Lazimpat open after 3pm, Thursday to Saturday. The restaurant serves authentic Japanese meals but book your bath in advance as it’s a small place. While you’re at it, get adventurous with Kathmandu’s street food—kachila, choila, baph mah: mah: (buff momos) and sandeko. Get onto a Buddha Air mountain flight to catch the sunrise over the world’s highest peaks or book an adventure tour. From the world’s highest canyon swing at The Last Resort to abseiling down a waterfall at Borderlands or go rafting down Nepal’s steepest river Bhote Kosi (described as the most fun you can have in Nepal with your clothes on), there’s lots of hair-raising adventure on offer. Kathmandu is also a great place if you like gambling or trying your luck at slot machines or other games. All the top casinos are located in 5-star hotels—try the old-world charm of Casino Royale at the iconic Hotel Yak and Yeti, Casino Anna at Hotel de l'Annpurna, Casino Everest at Hotel Everest, Casino Nepal at Hotel Soaltee Holiday Inn Crown Plaza and Casino Tara at Hyatt Regency. Visit in October-November and you can catch the week-long jazz and world music festival Jazzmandu.

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