Kathmandu, the capital, is the political, commercial and cultural hub of Nepal. Kathmandu is an exotic and fascinating showcase of a very rich culture, art and tradition. The valley embraces most of Nepal's ethnic groups, but Newars are the indigenous inhabitants and the creators of the valley's splendid civilization. It comprises the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, which were once independent states ruled by the Malla kings from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The three cities house seven UNESCO World Heritage shrines which are together listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture). The Valley is composed of seven Monumental Zones with three historical palaces within their essential urban settings (Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur), two Hindu centers (Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan ), and two Buddhist centres (Swayambunath and Boudhanath ).
The valley is also home to hundreds of other exquisite monuments, sculptures, artistic temples and magnificent art – reminders of the golden era in Nepal’s architecture.
Legend has it that the valley was was once a primordial lake ringed by verdant mountains until the Bodhisattva Manjushri raised his sword of wisdom and sliced a passage through the mountain walls (known as Chobar), draining the water and creating the first settlements. The voluminous waters of the lake gushed out, leaving behind a fertile valley capable of supporting large urban settlements over the millennia. The Gopala and Kirati dynasties were the earliest rulers here followed by the Licchavi (300-879 A.D.), under whom flourished trade and crafts.
But the valley’s remarkable cities with their ornate palaces, the superbly crafted pagodas and the monumental stupas are testimony of the artistic genius of the Newar craftsmen, the original inhabitants of the valley, whose skills were championed by the Malla kings and appreciated even by the Mongol rulers of 18th century China.
Places to see in and round Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Durbar Square: Listed as one of the eight Cultural World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Kathmandu Durbar Square is cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to the 12th and 18th centuries. The visit of Durbar Square includes the emple of Living Goddesses, who acknowledges the greetings of the devotees from the balcony of her temple residence, the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace, the historic seat of the Royalty; the magnificent Taleju Temple towering 40 meters. The capital takes its name from the giant pagoda of Kasthamandap, which is said to have been built of a single tree. The Kasthamandap has been destroyed in recent massive earthquake and will take some time to rebuild it. It has been the main focal point of the city’s social, religious and political from the Malla kings.
Thamel: It is one of the main touristic hub in Kathmandu and bustles with activities late into the night. It is almost centrally locted (just merely 10 minutes walk from the center), yet completely different from the rest of the city. All the tourist needs can be found here such as scores of hotels, rows of restaurants and bars, book shops, souvenir shops, cyber cafes etc.
Swayambhunath: Located approximately 4 km west of Kathmandu, Buddhist stupa this is said to be 2500 years old, The stupa which forms the main structure is composed of a solid hemisphere of brick and earth supporting a lofty conical spire capped by a pinnacle of copper gilt. Painted on the four sided base of the spire are the all seeing eyes of Lord Buddha. This hill is a mosaic of small Chaityas and Pagodas temples. It is one of the holiest Buddhist Chaityas in Nepal and oldest of its kind.
Pashupatinath: Situated 5 Kilometers east of Kathmandu city, Pashupatinath temple is one of the holiest/sacred Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Situated amidst a lush green natural setting on the bank of the sacred Bagmati river, the temple built in pagoda style has gilded roof and richly carved silver doors. Visitors will be permitted to view the temple from the east bank of Rivers Bagmati, entrance in the temple being strickly forbidden to all non-Hindus. Pashupatinath is the center of annual pilgrimage on the day of Shivaratri which falls in the month of February / March. Behind the temples are the cremation grounds. Chronicles indicate the temple existed before 400 A.D.
Boudhanath: This stupa, eight kilometers east of Kathmandu City is one of the biggest in the world of its kind and one of the most imposing landmarks in Kathmandu. It stands with four pairs of eyes in the four cardinal direction keeping watch for righteous behavior and human prosperity. This Buddhist stupa was built by King Man Dev at the advice of Goddess Mani Jjogini. It is built on an octagonal base inset with prayer wheels. The shrine is ringed by houses of Lamas or Buddhist priests. This is also the center of Tibetan Buddhism.
Kopan Monastery: Just north of the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath is the Kopan hill, which rises up out of the terraced fields of the Kathmandu valley and is visible for miles. The Kopan Monastery is a popular center for courses on Buddhism and other Tibetan related subjects and lies on a hilltop north of Boudhanath. This same hill is now the home of Kopan Monastery, a monastery in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism under the guidance of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. It is the home of 360 monks, lamas, teachers and workers. The monks come from all areas of Nepal and Tibet with ages ranging from seven to sixty years old. Visitors from all over the world come here to attend courses and enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of the place for study and practice.
Budhanilkantha: The largest Vishnu’s stone statue, suited about eight kilometers north of Kathmandu at the foot of Shivapuri range. Budhanilkantha literally means “Old Blue Throat”. Here one can see the image of Vishnu reclining on the bed of snakes dating back to 5 the centuary AD.
Kirtipur: it is a small town on a hill, 8 km southwest of Kathmandu. The ancient Newar township - with its brick-paved streets lined with typical red brick houses and tiled roofs, and temple squares - is a natural fortress. The temple of Bagh Bhairav which is holy to both Hindus and Buddhist, The triple roofed Uma Maheshwor Temple dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, The Chilanchu Vihara (stupa) are the main attraction of Kirtipur. Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s premier seat of education is located on the foothills of Kirtipur.
Chovar: The small picturesque village, 8 km Southwest of Kathmandu from where a panoramic view of the Kathmandu valley can be viewed. It is the only outlet for all waters of the valley and Legend has it that Bodhisattva Manjushree cut the mountain with sword to drain out the water. On the top of hill there is a temple of Adinath with a view of show capped mountains. At the bottom of the hill lies the oldest Ganesha of all, Jal-Binayak one of the four Ganeshas of the valley. The main image of the shrine is a massive rock, naturally carved.
Pharping: lying 18 km south of Kathmandu, Pharping is a small Newari town perched on a hilltop with Buddhist Monastery and now this pilgrimage sites have been taken over by large number of Tibetans. It lies on the way to Dakshinkali. The main attraction is an elaborate 17th century temple which houses a glided image of Goddess Bajra Jogini. The another sights is a cave and hand-imprint of the Buddhist saint Padmasambhav on the rock face. Now a days there is quite new monasteries have been built and some of them accept foreign students as well.
Dakshinkali: it is 25 km south of Kathmandu on the valley rim dedicated to Goddess Kali Temple (Goddess of Valor and Victory of over evil). It is located in a dark valley at the confluence of two streams, the shrine of Dakshinkali is the most spectacular of all Kali temples. The shrine is especially crowded on Tuesdays and Saturdays when animal sacrifices are offered to the deity signifying fertility and the procreative powers of the Female. The animals are presented to the priest who will ritually decapitate them with a khukuri knife and bathe the black stone image of Kali in blood.
Patan: 5 km from Kathmandu Patan also known as Lalitpur is the city of fine arts, enclosed withing 4 stupas said to be built in 3rd century AD, by Emperoro Ashoka. The city retains much of the old charm with its narrow streets, brick houses and multitude of well-preserved Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries (vihars) and monuments. Here you will visit the Shikahara style Krishna Temple built by King Siddhi Narshing Malla, Hiranya Varna Mahavihar - dating from the 12th century, the three-storied shrine, also known as the Golden Temple. A trip to the Tibetan Refugee Camp and the Handicraft Center will also be done while visiting Patan, where you will witness the hand weaving of Tibetan carpets and molding of metal statues.
Bhaktapur: Perched on a hill at an altitude of 1,401 m, Bhaktapur or Bhadgaon literally city of Devotees, is a major tourist destination. It is 14 km east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Highway that leads to the Chinese border still untouched by rapid urbanization and has managed to retain its brick paved roads, charming red brick houses and way of life that goes back to medieval times. Here you will visit Nyatapola dedicated to tantric goddess, Bhairabh Temple dedicated to Bhariav-the god of terror, Pottery square, The 15th Century Palace of 55 carved windows, Golden Gate etc.
Thimi: It is a Newar town situated about 9 km east of Kathmandu on the way to Bhaktapur. Besides farming, most of the people are engaged in pottery. Here one can witness the making of clay pots, flower vases etc and one can buy if they want. The two important deities are here; Balkumari temple dedicated to Mother Goddess, and Karunamaya-the Buddha of Compassion.
Changunarayan: The Temple of Changunarayan is situated on the ridge overlooking Bhaktapur at a distance of 15 m east of Kathmandu, is universally acknowledged as the most stately example of the oldest specimens of Pagoda architecture in Nepal from early 3rd century. The temple dating from the Lichhavi period is embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings. Changu is one of the ancient historical places situated on a hillock with conical shape.
Godavari: 10 km South from Kathmandu and 5 km of Patan, Godavai located on the lap of Phulchowki hill is well known of its prized butterfly population including rate collector’s items. It is best known for the green fingers of its inhabitants. The village is home to Nepal’s National Botanical Garden that has wide ranging collection of high altitude orchids and cacati. This place is also recommended for bird watcher.
Phulchowki: it is one of the most prominent peak 2829 m which encircles the Kathmandu valley. It is situated above Godavari Village. The sub-tropical forest is the richest for birds, over 570 species of flowering plants including wild roses, yellow jasmine, iris and other native flowers and wildlife in the valley. A jeepable road leads to the top of the hill where there is a Buddhist shrine. A youthful hiker stands a good chance of scaling the peak in a little more than three hours. Phulchowki is also a one of the last surviving ‘cloud forest’ in central Nepal.
Harisiddhi: this is small village, 10 k south from Kathmandu is a village of cultural and religious monuments. It is very unique village in the sense that no villagers wear leather shoe inside the village. Hence all visitors are requested to weather cloth shoes while visiting this village. The main attraction of this village is Goddess Harisiddhi Trishakti Bhavani and Four Storey temple. Harisiddhi Festival (Jalan Pyakha in local language) is the important festival is celebrated every year in Holi Purnima. The visit of this village is combined with visit of Godavari.
Sankhu: Sankhu is a small village 20 km north east of Kathmandy, one of the oldest Newar village holds pristine natural surroundings and offers a galore of culture and heritage of the Goddess Vajrayogini and Newar people. This village was the last stop for the traders going to Lhasa from 7th till 19th century AD. This place is also known as the Eighty Siddhas as there are four of five caves where the siddhas of India are said to have stayed. One of the cave is also said to have been the practice cave of Nagarjuna, and an image of the great master which was originally in the cave has been taken outside and placed some distance away.
Nagarkot: is situated about 32 km east of Kathmandu, popular hill station for sunrise and sunset. Nagarkot commands one of the broadest views of Himalayas (subject to weather permit) in the Kathmandu valley (8 out of 13 in Nepal) such as Annapurna Range, Manaslu Range, Ganesh Himal Range, Langtang Range, Jugal Himal Range, Rolwaling Range, Mahalangur Range (Everest Range) and Numbur Range with views of Kathmandu Valley and Shivapuri National Park. It is located between Indrawati river in the east and Kathmandu in the west. The top of Nagarkot commands accelerating views in all directions. The altitude of Nagarkot is 2229 m above sea level. From here different hikes (short hikes/day hikes)/trek can be done.
Shivapuri: Shivapuri village lies around 1050 to 2800 m above sea level and 12 km approx. from north of Kathmandu is the second highest point on the valley rim. It lies within the forested Shivapur Nagarjun National Park designed to protect the valley’s water supply. The vegetation consists of rhododendrons, mangolias, pine, oaks, many wild bushy colorful flowers etc. Mountain views of Annapurna range, Mt. Manaslu, Rolwaling range and Everest range in the far east which can be observed from some certain view-points along the trail. Together with during this valley rim trek offers you famous bird watching spots around inside Shivapuri Water shade and Shivapuri Wildlife Reserve. Recorded wildlife in the park includes mammalian species such as Himalayan black bear, leopard, jungle cats, and Rhesus monkey. The park is also home to 177 species of birds - species such as Kalij Pheasant, Common hill partridge, booted eagle, black eagle, sunbirds and more; this includes at least 9 threatened species; 102 species of butterflies, with a number of rare and endangered species; and 129 different species of mushrooms.
Nagarjun: is about 10 km north-west of Kathmandu, is nearest hill site of the valley covered by thick forest with historical as well as natural setting in Shivapur National park. The main attraction of Nagarjung is Buddhist shrines, Ancient caves and Jamocha view point (2130 m). From view point a panoramic view of the Himalayan range as well as Kathmandu valley and Swayambhunath stupa with two famous eyes of Buddha can be seen.
Kakani: is only 28 km north-west of Kathmandu, one can see the mountain landscape, a vast collection of majestic peaks stretching from Ganesh Himal to Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. Different wild animals and birds are available in the forest of Kakani. In Late winter Rhodondrons will grow wild to bloom and will stay blooming for couple of months making village more charming. As one of the most accessible settlements from Kathmandu over 2000 meters, this hill stationhosts a British Gurkhas welfare bungalow (photo at left) and a couple of simple hotels offering basic accommodation to travelers. A notable local industry is strawberry farming.
Dhulikhel: it is a scenic and ancient town situated 30 km east of Kathmandu on Arniko Highway (Kathmandu-Kodari highway) famous of natural as well as historical reasons. Located on a hilltop surrounded by lush greenery, the place has become a major tourist attraction. From there once can see a panoramic view of the Himalayan range (subject to weather permit). The main attraction of Dhulikhel is view of row of snow caped peaks, Devithan hillock renowned for viewing sunrise and sunset, historic newar settlement and artistic temples of the town.
Panauti: is the ancient village, 32 km south east of Kathmandu, situated on the bank of Puyamati river, carries huge religious and historical significance. The town proposed as a UNESCO world heritage site is full of ancients temples, indigenous tradition and cultural heritage. A leisurely walk through this tiny village will reveal its antiquity to the visitors, a must in Panauti is a visit to the 14th Century AD Hindu temple of Shiva locally known as Indreswor Mahadev. Houses constructed in medieval design, holy pilgrimage sites, artistic temple and important religious sites add to the attraction of this town.
Namobuddha: Namobuddha is one of the most important religious sites of the Buddhist after Swayambhunath and Boudhanath in Kathmandu, location at an elevation of 1750m and approx. 45 km from Kathmandu. The stupa and shrines built in this lovely green hill mark is very ancient and holy site. It is historically important place where prince sacrificed himself for the sake of a sick and hungry tigress and her cubs. Old historical stone slab depicting the story of this place can still be found.
Banepa: situated approx. 26 km east of Kathmandu is the capital of entire region in the middle of 15th century, this small commercially active Newar village city has catered to the people of the neighbouring areas unnoticed to its own past. This place is also considered to be a significant trade-route town to Tibet. Tour of village gives a good combination of history, rural life and scenic beauty. The main attraction of Banepa is Chandeshowri temple located 1 km approx. northeast of the town along river Rudramati and Dhaneshwar temple 1 km south. It is also well known for its eight different temples of Lord Ganesha, Narayanthan, Temple of Lord Narayan, Bhimshnthan, the temple of Bhimsen and eight different ponds.
Nala: is a small isolated village 27 km east of Kathmandu situated on the southern slope of mountain overlooking the beautiful green valley. It is a historical and religious place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The whole village has gained a mystical atmosphere due to its set up and a typical temple of Bhagawati a classic example of pagoda architecture. There is also a 9th Century AD temple dedicated to Lord Lokeshwor - a Buddhist God.
Palanchowk Bhagawati: It is located on a hill top and 56 km approx. from Kathmandu along the Arniko highway. The temple is considered as a center of faith among the followers of Hinduism. Here you will visit the Bhagawati temple, which houses one of the most beautiful and most important Bhagawati images in Nepal. The stunning image is carved of black stone and decked with jewelries. Many pilgrims visit the site, especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays, when sacrifices are made. The place also offers great views of Himalayan range, sunrise as well as sunset (subject to weather permit).