NEPAL  |  Kathmandu, Nepal Travel Guide
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Kathmandu, Nepal

Mask of Bhairava in Kathmandu, Nepal
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Kathmandu Travel Guide

Introduction

Kathmandu looms large on the Himalayan landscape. It's one of only two Himalayan capital cities in the world (the other being Thimphu, Bhutan), and the gateway to not only Nepal but the Himalayas, through which all those intrepid climbers headed up to Mount Everest must pass. It's a unique city, one of contrast, where tranquility meets urban chaos, Hinduism meets Maoism, Tibetan prayer flags provide the backdrop for newly-arrived tourists in Gore-tex jackets, and Western-style bars pour ice-cold Everest beer right next-door to inexpensive Indian and Chinese restaurants reeking of Eastern spices. Here, liberally sprinkled Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples are juxtaposed with contemporary hotels and a mishmash of assorted buildings, while locally-made handicrafts and a jumble of imports scream from unpretentious storefronts, and funky, iconic tuk-tuks vie for a piece of the city's streets alongside late-model SUVs. Here, temple monkeys scramble all over the city's wooden core, while Tibetan incense and the universally-imbibed leafy-green herb (aka weed) happily mingle in the crisp mountain air as bells and gongs summon the heavens on earth. And nothing, and nothing, is likely to change that in the foreseeable future.

Location

Kathmandu is situated in the Kathmandu Valley in the Himalayan foothills at an elevation of 4,600 feet (1,400 meters), more or less at the heart of Nepal – a country bordered on its west, east and south by India and along its north by Tibet.

How to Get There

Kathmandu can be reached by air directly from cities in India and Thailand, such as Delhi, Kolkata, Singapore, Lhasa and Bangkok, with Nepal Airlines, Indian Airlines, Thai Airways, Silk Air and some 14 other carriers servicing Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, acknowledged as " The Gateway to Nepal." There are even direct flights between Kathmandu and Amsterdam on the Dutch carrier Arkefly. Within the country, Kathmandu is linked to Pokhara and other Nepalese cities and towns by road, albeit by buses that are rarely on time and memorably uncomfortable.

Sightseeing

At the top of the list of Kathmandu's attractions are Durbar Square, the historic heart of the city, filled with temples and shrines dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses; and the ancient "wooden city" on the south bank of the Bagmati River, known as Patan, which has the added bonus of a museum as well as stalls and shops selling Buddha statuettes, colorful masks, jewelry and handicrafts. Among other places of interest are Freak Street in the commercial part of town, which once was the epicenter of Western hippiedom; the Royal Palace and grounds, where you can tour the royal halls and visit the Narayanhiti Palace Museum; and the walled Garden of Dreams, located close to the palace. Of the stupas, the top ones are the Great Stupa of Boudha, which is the largest of the Tibetan shrines outside Tibet, and Swayambhu which is a 30-minute walk from Thamel and is among the most sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal. Thamel, too, particularly the area around Thamel Chowk, is well worth a visit as it is the hub of Kathmandu's tourist activity, with no dearth of restaurants, cafés, boutiques and shops located there.

Main Neighborhoods

  • Durbar Marg - This is Kathmandu's premier neighborhood, brimming with luxury hotels, upscale restaurants serving international cuisine, discos, bars, shopping malls, brand-name showrooms and high-end boutiques. Also known as "King's Way" and generally regarded as the heart of Kathmandu, Durbar Marg is the posh version of Thamel (see below), popular with tourists, with the Royal Palace compound and consequently the Narayanhity Palace Museum at the north end of it.

  • Thamel - Kathmandu's tourist hub cum party central, packed with inexpensive lodges, eateries, pubs, bars, music venues. Popular with the international crowd, including expats, backpackers and tourists of virtually every stripe. Here one can get a whiff of the local flavor as well as slices of back-home trappings. Thamel is actually an area of several streets, right by Thamel Chowk.

  • Jhamsikhel/Jhamel - Lying largely between Jhamsikhel and the hilltop Jawalakhel, across the river from the popular Thamel, Jhamel is an upmarket area catering mainly to Kathmandu's resident expat community, with its core street, also known as "Restaurant Lane," offering up a good selection of restobars, pizza parlors and often enough live music venues.

  • Jhocchen Tole/Freak Street - Another popular tourist area, just west of Durbar Marg and the city center, adjacent to the Basantapur Square and the historic and touristy, UNESCO-sited Durbar Square. Freak Street is actually epicenter of the 60s and 70s Western hippiedom, still lined with hotels, shops and restaurants, albeit without the hippie atmosphere of yesteryear.

  • Asan - The most authentic slice of Nepal you're likely to find in Kathmandu, located smack in the center of the city. There are traditional Newari houses here, with an ethnic resident population to match, together with a colorful bazaar that draws people from all across the city for its offerings of local handicrafts and other merchandise, and some of the most festive traditional celebrations in Kathmandu.

  • Lazimpat - Lively residential area bordering Thamel, with several good hotels, restaurants, department stores, shopping centers, embassies, schools and colleges. Lazimpat is located just 20 minutes from Kathmandu downtown, and is one of the city's principal areas of interest, right up there with Thamel and Durbar Marg.

  • Baluwatar - Upscale residential area in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace in northeastern Kathmandu. Has independent shops as well as a shopping complex, a couple of embassies, and the prime minister's official residence.

  • Boudhnath - Hub of the Tibetan expat community, including Tibetan exiles and refugees, and home to the largest Tibetan Buddhist shrine outside Tibet, the Great Stupa of Boudha. Exudes a largely Tibetan atmosphere, with street shops catering to the local populace. Boudhnath lies in the eastern part of Kathmandu.

  • Patan - Historic wooden "city" on the south side of the river Bagmati, with a well-visited Durbar Square (this one is different from the one in central Kathmandu).

How to Get Around

Kathmandu has "blue" and "green" buses that circle the city on the Ring Road and can be ridden for about Rs20 per trip. You can also get around Kathmandu on foot, or by rickshaw or taxi, the price for which can be negotiated beforehand (haggling is commonplace). Rickshaws and taxis are commonly available in the city, particularly in the touristy Thamel area.

Where to Party

For a night on the town in Kathmandu, head for Thamel, the entertainment district of Kathmandu, where most of the pubs, bars and clubs are located. As for picks, for the young lot, particularly independent international travelers, one of the best places in Kathmandu to meet up and party is the Rum Doodle Bar and Restaurant, where one can also sample the local Everest Beer. Another good place for travelers to connect is the bar-cum-restaurant, Electric Pagoda, also in Thamel, which has a fully-stocked bar and offers authentic Mexican food. For dancing, the best options are the Galaxy Discotheque at the Everest Hotel in New Baneshwor and the Fire Club in Thamel.

Where to Eat

For a good selection of dining options, head to Thamel, the touristy area in the heart of Kathmandu, where you can find cheap to moderate to expensive restaurants. Among the more popular choices is the Roadhouse Café at Thamel Chowk, where Westerners can feel at home with American fare. For a more formal experience, there is Delices de France in the Ganesh Man Singh Building, offering traditional and gourmet French cuisine in a Himalayan setting.

Where to Stay

For those on a small budget, good options for lodging are the Kathmandu Guest House (Rs35-Rs95) at Thamel Chowk and the Kantipur Temple House (Rs55-Rs105) at Jyatha Tol. For bigger budgets, the choices include Crowne Plaza Hotel Kathmandu-Soaltee (Rs130-Rs280), centrally located near Durbar Square; the Hyatt Regency (Rs150-Rs550) at Taragon Boudha; and the Raddisson (Rs105-Rs210) at Lazimpat near the Taleju Temple and the Royal Palace, which typically receives mainly European visitors.

Know Before You Go

  • Best Time to Visit: October-November and February-April
  • Cost Per Day: US$15-US$45 (Rs1300-Rs4000)
  • Currency: Nepalese Rupee NPR (US$1 ~ Rs90)
  • Electricity: 220-240V - 50Hz
  • Phone Code: +977 1
  • Population: 975,000 (largest city in Nepal)

Nearby Destinations

© Indian Chief Travel Guides

Last updated November 28, 2013
Posted in   Nepal  |  Kathmandu
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