Kathmandu - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Kathmandu


Presided over by snow-covered mountains, the Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by verdant agricultural hills scattered with traditional villages and brick houses, rich in ancient holy temples and shrines used by both Buddhists and Hindu worshippers reflecting a great wealth of culture and tradition. Most of Nepal's ethnic groups are represented in the Valley, particularly in Kathmandu itself, but it is the Newars who are the original inhabitants responsible for development and the splendid art and architecture in the cities.

The Valley is the cultural, political and commercial centre of Nepal and encompasses three cities: Kathmandu the capital; Patan, which has been enveloped by the growing Kathmandu outskirts; and the medieval city of Bhaktapur. For the unprepared visitor, the capital city of Kathmandu can trigger a sensory overload - it is a heaving city of both intriguing and unpleasant smells, incessant noise and pollution, and sights that etch themselves on the memory. Cows wander the streets of the old city, stepping between steaming piles of rubbish and hooting taxis, and narrow alleyways overflow with spices, vegetables and handicraft shops. Throngs of people thread their way along bustling cobblestone streets lined with structures from an ancient architectural heritage, which lead onto open squares surrounded by temples of all shapes and sizes. The largest city in Nepal and the nation's historical centre, Kathmandu throws together a blend of the country's varied population and boasts a distinctive, age-old religious influence visible in the daily life of its inhabitants.

Fascinating as this city is however, many people choose to stay outside Kathmandu in one of the Valley towns or mountain resorts and restrict their visit to day trips; or they base themselves in the tourist-orientated Thamel district of the city that offers modern bakeries, smart hotels and upmarket restaurants, along with pushy handicraft and cannabis sellers.

Information & Facts


The Kathmandu Valley has a mild climate most of the year, situated at an altitude of 4,297 feet (1,310m). Summer temperatures range from 67-81°F (19-27°C), and in winter temperatures are between 36 and 68°F (2-20°C). During the rainy monsoon season between June and August, there is an average rainfall of between 7.8-14.7 inches (20-37cm) in Kathmandu. May and June can be very hot and humid until the monsoon rains bring relief. In spring (March to April) and autumn (October to November) the temperatures are pleasant with occasional short bursts of rain, while November to February are dry, but can be very cold, especially at night.

Getting Around

The public bus system in Kathmandu is perhaps best not attempted, unless by the seasoned traveller, as buses tend to be crowded and unreliable, leaving only when buses are full to bursting. Taxis are available and are usually found outside hotels and shopping centres. Passengers should ensure the meter is switched on, although fixed prices can be negotiated for sightseeing. Auto rickshaws ( tempos) are a good option and usually operate on fixed routes, while pedal rickshaws are best used only for short trips. Bicycles and motorcycles can be hired, but pollution and heavy traffic make this a less preferential option. Bicycle theft is also common. Self-drive car hire is not available and cars come with a driver, but this is usually an expensive option and traffic is invariably heavy, making it slow going. It is perhaps best to negotiate the city on foot.

Nepali is the official language. English is spoken in all major tourist areas.

The official currency is the Nepali Rupee (NPR), which is divided into 100 paisa. As change can be a problem it is recommended that visitors have a supply of small notes handy. Tourist activities are often quoted in US Dollars and it is advisable to carry new dollar bills in varied denominations. Both Euro and US dollar travellers cheques are widely accepted in tourist areas and can be cashed easily in most banks and major hotels throughout the country. There are ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards are accepted in many tourist hotels, shops, restaurants and travel agencies. Banks and moneychangers are present in all tourist places and in the major cities; all receipts from foreign exchange transactions should be kept so rupees can be exchanged back into foreign currencies on departure. Cash is needed when trekking.


Most of the nightlife in Kathmandu is based in Thamel and on Freak Street, and there are also quite a few bars to be found near Pulchowk in Patan. Music is not allowed to be played after 10pm but many bars and clubs stay open till later than this. There is nightlife information in the Kathmandu Post and The Himalayan Times. Popular bars in Kathmandu include Tom & Jerry's Bar and the Tamas Spa Lounge in Thamel, and the Absolute Bar in Patan. Tongue and Tales as well as Celtic Menang also have glowing reputations. Underground Bar in Thamel, and the Galaxy Discotheque in Hotel Everest, are Kathmandu's most trendy club venues. Nightclubs in Kathmandu generally have a cover charge. Live music can be heard at the Reggae Bar and G's Terrace, while New Orleans Café is good for jazz. Popular casinos include Casino Nepal at the Soaltee Crowne Plaza Hotel, as well as casinos at Yak & Yeti, Hotel de l'Annapurna and Everest Hotel. For movies, try the Kathmandu Mini Vision in the Kathmandu Plaza.


Shopping in Kathmandu offers a variety of goods ranging from authentic local handicrafts to religious souvenirs. In Kathmandu, there are shops in the Patan and Bhaktapur areas that trade in bronze and copper goods such as Buddha idols, while Pokhara is good for Gorkha insignia banners, flags and medals, as well as Newari artefacts such as wooden statues and figurines. There are also many shops in Kathmandu selling hand-woven cotton fabric and clothing. Nepalese souvenirs include Tibetan carpets, thangkas and paubhas (scroll paintings), Terai baskets and traditional rice paper. Kashmiri shawls, Tibetan robes and embroidered kaftans are also very popular, and there is a lot of religious paraphernalia for sale at Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. However, the most sought-after treasures are the rare lime-green tourmaline gems.

Lying just 22 miles (35km) east of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, also known as the City of Devotees, was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley during the 14th to 16th centuries, and the wealth of fabulous architectural showpieces, soaring pagodas, richly ornamented houses and medieval layout is testament to this period. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is filled with palaces, temples, statues and squares connected by a maze of largely pedestrian-only streets. The main central square, Durbar Square, boasts many architectural attractions, including the Golden Gate, the 15th-century Palace of 55 Windows and several statues of ancient kings. The second main square of Taumadhi is presided over by the graceful Nyatpola Temple, the tallest in the Valley atop a five-story platform. Bhaktapur is also the centre of traditional pottery and weaving industries in the Kathmandu Valley.

Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in the Kathmandu Valley at about 131 feet (40m) tall, and one of the largest and most important Buddhist stupas in the world. The all-seeing red, white and blue eyes of Buddha are painted on all four sides of the stupa, similar to Swayambhunath, and surrounded by hundreds of fluttering prayer flags, prayer wheels and small images of Buddha. It is central to the Tibetan culture in Nepal and is said to date back 500 years. Buddhist festivals are a hive of activity when thousands of Buddhists join together to join in the sacred rituals, such as the Tibetan New Year, or Lhosar, in February every year.

Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Changu Narayan Temple is situated on a ridge overlooking the Kathmandu Valley, and is one of the oldest and most impressive examples of pagoda architecture in Nepal, believed to be 1,600 years old. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is known for its incredible woodcarvings, metal inscriptions and stone statues adorning the courtyard, all dating between the 5th and 13th centuries.

Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durbar Square is the religious and social heart of Kathmandu's old city and is a complex of palaces, temples, shrines, statues and courtyards built between the 12th and 18th centuries by the ancient kings of Nepal. The square is a queer assortment of the old and the new - elaborately carved architectural features and curving roofs provide shelter for cows, beggars and weary tourists; Brahman priests and painted Sadhus perform rituals and pose for photos, while souvenir sellers and rickshaw drivers compete for attention among the crowds. Stone lions guard the gates to the Old Royal Palace that contains a number of courtyards and the Narayanhity Durbar Museum. Set into the palace wall is a 17th-century stone inscription written in 15 languages; it is believed that milk will flow from the spout below if anyone deciphers the entire inscription. On the other side of the square, the Kasthamandap Temple is an open pavilion topped by a pyramidal tower, said to be created from the wood of a single tree. It is purportedly the Valley's oldest building, and the city of Kathmandu derives its name from this ancient temple.

One of the most sacred Hindu shrines in the world, Pashupatinath is one of the major temples devoted to Shiva (Pashupatinath) on the Indian subcontinent and attracts thousands of Hindi pilgrims each year. Shiva is the patron deity of Nepal. The Temple of Pashupatinath stands on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, a tributary of the Ganges, and is renowned for its beautiful architecture. It is surrounded by numerous other temples, shrines, statues and pagodas making it a temple complex, rather than just a temple.

The complex is home to Kathmandu's funeral ghats, a series of cremation platforms spread along the river where the bodies of Hindus are burnt and the ashes scattered into the holy river. The complex swarms with Sadhus (holy Hindi ascetics) and Shiva devotees daily, meditating and praying on the steps throughout the temple. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pashupatinath is also one of the richest temples in Nepal, having received a great deal of wealth from kings and aristocrats in devotion to the god. The temple buildings are closed to non-Hindu visitors, but the site can be enjoyed by all.

One of the three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley, Patan (officially called Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City) has a rich cultural heritage known for its fine crafts, evident in the elaborate architecture, stone carvings, and metal statues found all over the city. A centre of both Buddhist and Hindu culture in Tibet, Patan is home to more than 1,200 monuments. One of the most stunning is the Krishna Mandir, a stone temple with magnificent friezes built in the 16th century. Patan Durbar Square is also a good place to see beautiful examples of palaces, temples and shrines, and the stunning stone carvings in the Sundari Courtyards. The entire city of Patan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Of the 14 national parks and reserves in Nepal, the Royal Chitwan National Park is the oldest and the most popular safari destination for visitors. Situated in the sub-tropical Tarai lowlands, the jungle is home to endangered animals such as the one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal tiger. Other animals include leopards, wild elephants, Indian bison, sloth bears, crocodiles, pythons, monitor lizards, pangolins, and over 400 species of birds. There are different ways to explore the park, but elephant-back safaris are the most popular. Jeep safaris, guided walks, overnight jungle expeditions and canoe trips are also available. There is a wide choice of accommodation ranging from luxury camps or hotels within the park, to budget options on the outskirts.

The golden spire of the 5th-century Swayambhu Stupa is adorned with a colourful fluttering of prayer flags; it crowns a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley and offers fantastic views over the city of Kathmandu. Swayambhunath is one of the most recognisable symbols in Nepal and the painted eyes of Buddha watch all those who ascend the worn stone steps. The Swayambhu Stupa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal, and is at the source of the Valley's mythical beginning. Legend has it that the history of the Valley began with the draining of an ancient lake by an Enlightened Being to reveal the Valley and a lotus flower was transformed into the hill and the shining light became the stupa itself. Swarms of pilgrims and red-clad monks circle the complex, spinning the prayer wheels, while the scores of monkeys that give the temple its nickname, Monkey Temple, prance about in irreverent groups. Interestingly the temple complex is scattered with shrines and statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities and the assortment of pilgrims from both faiths characterises the country's unique religious harmony.

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