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Travel in Kathmandu - Holy Men

Travel in Kathmandu

When you arrive into Kathmandu Airport you'll probably be looking forward to recovering from your jetlag in a nice comfortable hotel. We can offer you different accommodation options in and around Kathmandu. There's plenty to see and do in the city and a little further afield, so we've listed the highlights for you. We've also included Pokhara; a laid-back town which is a popular starting point for treks into the Annapurna region of the Himalayas. 

You can include travel in Kathmandu as part of a bigger Nepal holiday. Take a look at our bite-sized Nepal tours for inspiration.

Please note: 
In several parts of Nepal, particularly in the west there has been some social unrest as a result of the Maoist fight for independence. Most of the unrest has occurred in remote areas rarely visited by foreigners and activities are not focused on tourists at all. When planning our trips we try to avoid these areas as much as possible and continue to monitor the situation very closely. For the most up to date Nepal information visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

Travel in Kathmandu: Thamel District

This is one of the most popular areas with travellers and it's where you'll find plenty of restaurants, cafes, market stalls and rooftop bars with great views across the city. Thamel also has a number of German bakeries serving up the most delicious freshly baked bread rolls, apple fritters and croissants. The supermarkets have a good variety of western products like cheese, peanut butter, Nutella, sweets and all kinds of toiletries including across the counter medication. The area also has lots of restaurants, so you'll be spoilt for choice when picking a place to eat. Dinner will cost you around £3 - £5 per person depending on the current exchange rate.

Thamel is a great starting point from which to explore sights of the city (another reason why many travellers choose to stay here). The Lonely Planet has a nice walk from Thamel to Durbar Square, you can head over to the fascinating Pashupatinath cremation site and the Swayambunath temple complex.

Travel in Kathmandu - Thamel District
Travel in Kathmandu - Bodnath Stupa

Travel in Kathmandu: Bodnath Stupa

Bodnath Stupa (7 km east of Kathmandu), is over 500 years old and continues to draw a large number of pilgrims and refugees from Tibet. It's also one of the most important religious sites in Nepal as well as being one of the largest buddhist stupas in the world. 

The stupa stands in the middle of a large square enclosed by a circular village, which is home to many Tibetan refugees (most of them priests) and aptly named "Little Tibet". Most of the Tibetans make a living selling souvenirs to tourists, though they also sell tsampa, butter, tea and prayer beads.

The enormous white dome of the stupa rises up 36m and is over 100m in diameter. The dome is regularly repainted and then covered in bucket loads of saffron-coloured paint, making it resemble a lotus flower. The dome is topped by a square tower from which the eyes of the Buddha gaze out in all four directions. The stupa is adorned with hundreds of colourful prayer flags and the walls around the stupa are lined with small prayer wheels. Tibetans always circle the stupa in a clockwise direction, spinning the prayer wheels and chanting prayers as they walk round. To the left of the square is a Tibetan monastery. Next to the entrance you'll find a room with a huge prayer wheel of several metres high.

You'll need to pay a small admission fee for the square. You can climb the stupa and walk round the square, following the pilgrims in their clockwise circles. The rooftop cafes around the square are great vantage point from which to observe the ongoing procession.
 

Travel in Kathmandu: Durbar Square

The name Kathmandu is derived from Kasthamandap, the Nepalese word for 'wooden house'. Kasthamandap is also the name of a temple in the central square of Kathmandu, Durbar Square. Story has it that the temple was built from the wood of one single tree. Durbar is also a Nepalese word, meaning 'palace'. Clustered around the square are several historic temples, the ancient royal palace Hanuman Dhoka and a beautifully carved wooden building known as the Kumari Bahal, home of the Kumari or the living goddess. These days there is a small admission fee for Durbar Square.
Travel in Kathmandu - Durbar Square
Travel in Kathmandu - Pashupatinath

Travel in Kathmandu: Pashupatinath

Take an auto-rickshaw from your hotel to the Pashupatinath temple on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. You'll be dropped off at the entrance where you'll need to a modest admission fee. Here, you can stroll past the string of souvenir stalls until you reach the Bagmati River. Just like the Ganges in India, this is a sacred Hindu river. The river is heavily polluted, though that doesn't seem to stop the devotees from taking a dip or even drinking from it. Monkeys roam freely in this area and can be aggressive, particularly at the sight of food so be warned and stow away your lunch in your rucksack.

Due to its location, the holy Bagmati Pashupatinath is the most important and holiest Hindu temple in Nepal. Devotees come here to worship Shiva in his incarnation as Pashupati, the lord of all beasts. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple complex but from the hill across from the temple you will have a good view of the ghats, where the ritual bathing and cremations take place.

Travel in Kathmandu: Rituals

If you cross the Bagmati river, you can take a seat on one of the steps across from the burning ghats to observe the rituals. Seated on the steps, you have a good view of the cremation spots. Ceremonial music is played just as newly laid log fire is lit, creating a lot of smoke most of which may drift your way. Everyone is welcome to witness any cremation ceremony taking place as long as people sit quietly and respectfully. Photography is also allowed. The ceremony is performed by the male family members of the deceased, all dressed in white (white is the colour of mourning). The body, wrapped in orange cloth is laid on a bamboo stretcher and carried to a slope on the river bank so that the feet just touch the water. The stretcher is then carried back to the steps where the sons and other family members light candles, lay orange cloths over the body and scatter flower petals and coins. The women, all wearing their hair down, pay their last respects to the deceased, scatter flowers and lay cloth over the body which is then discreetly undressed beneath the layers of cloth.

Travel in Kathmandu - Rituals
Travel in Kathmandu - Sahdus

 

At the top of the steps is where many sadhus, or holy men sit. Several of them have renounced their worldy goods and live a simple existence here and also smoke copious amounts of ganja (marijuana) that grows wild in this part of the world. Sadhus are Hindus who have renounced the caste system and their normal lives, choosing instead to roam the country on a spiritual quest and survive on begging or donations and tourists paying for photos can help them survive. They're often a sight to behold; dressed in orange robes or sometimes completely naked and covered in the ashes from the cremation ghats and often complemented by body painting, dreadlocked hair and other adornments.

Travel in Kathmandu: Swayambunath (Monkey temple)

If you're planning to travel in Kathmandu and see the sights, why not visit Swayambunath? This temple, which is beautifully lit at night, is the oldest Buddhist temple in the Kathmandu Valley. It's also known as the Monkey Temple because of the many monkeys that roam around here. It's a 45 minute walk from the hotel to the temple, though it's a lot quicker to hail a taxi for a short drive there. 


Walking through the narrow streets of Chhetrapati, you can head towards the Vishnu-mati river. It's an interesting walk through the backstreets and less touristy side of Kathmandu. As you cross the bridge you'll notice the river is almost completely dried up.The road soon turns into a dusty track as it heads uphill to the entrance of the Monkey Temple.

Travel in Kathmandu - Swimming pool for monkeys
Travel in Kathmandu - Views over Kathmandu valley

At the bottom of the long flight of steps you'll find temples with brightly coloured statues and paintings which mark the entrance to the complex. Keep any food items stored away to prevent any unwanted interest by the cheeky monkeys! Once you've explored the temple buildings and shaken off the numerous touts, beggars and guides, you'll start the climb up the well worn 365 steps... If you are approaching with a guide and driver they can take you to an alternative entry point to avoid the big climb.

It's a pretty steep climb and as you make your way up, you can stop for a short rest to enjoy the view. At the top of the steps is where you pay your admission fee, the eyes of Buddha already watching you from the walls of the stupa inside the complex. There's usually a lot of commotion around the stupa with praying devotees and again lots of monkeys.  There's an amazing view across Kathmandu, the valley and the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance. It's well worth the climb!

Travel in Kathmandu: What's nearby?

The surrounding area of Kathmandu has several interesting places to visit, three of which we've highlighted here: Dhulikel, Bhaktapur, and Bodnath. Bhaktapur is famous for its historic temple squares and the small, bustling streets where you can still savour the atmosphere of centuries past. 

Dhulikel
Dhulikel (30 km east of Kathmandu) is an interesting visit just on the edge of Kathmandu valley. From your hotel high above Dhulikel you can set off on a beautiful hike through the green valley and past a hilltop Kali temple, reaching the Noma monastery a couple of hours later. Looking out across the mountains you can catch your breath in the courtyard of this peaceful Tibetan monastery, the chants of the midday prayer echoing in the background.

Travel in Kathmandu - ancient architecture
Travel in Kathmandu - Local woman in Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur

In 1970, Bhaktapur underwent a major facelift as the result of a German-sponsored restoration project. Many buildings were renovated and the dirty narrow streets paved with heavy stones. The town became considerably cleaner and attractive without losing its authentic medieval character. The town certainly feels like one big open air museum, particularly because it has been largely pedestrianised. Entry into Bhaktapur will cost you 900 rupees or US$10 admission fee, but you'll be happy to hear this money goes towards restoring and maintaining the historic buildings of the town. You also receive a map of the town so you can wander round all the little streets without getting lost.

You can visit the ancient royal palace, the famous golden archway and many temples. Then make your way to Taumadhi Tol, the central square in Bhaktapur. This is a great place to grab some lunch on one of the roofterraces. You have a fantastic view across the square with its 30m-high Nyatapola Temple, the highest temple in Nepal. It's built on a five-storey pedestal and the roof also has five layers. 

You can then continue on to Talako, an area of Bhaktapur home to a local caste of pottery makers. You can watch the locals moulding pots, bowls and jugs out of humps of heavy clay. The pots are laid out to dry in the sun throughout the square, after which they're baked in a a straw-fueled oven. At harvest time, Potters Square is filled with rice and you can see the locals hard at work drying and packing their annual harvest.

Travel from Kathmandu: Pokhara

Pokhara, about 200km to the west of Kathmandu is the second most important city in Nepal. It wasn't until 1970 when Pokhara became connected to the outside world with the completion of a tarmac road, but the local authentic atmosphere has remained intact. It's a 5-6 hour bus or taxi ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara and it's a great place to relax before or after heading further up into the mountains.

Most people who visit Pokhara are there to start a trek into the Annapurna foothills. In the centre of the town there's a lake with a small island in the middle. You can take a boat out onto the lake and even go sailing. The many lakeside terraces are a good spot to have some lunch or a drink. There are some good museums in Pokhara too including the International Mountain Museum.

Travel in Kathmandu - The lake in Pokhara
 
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