Home to thousands of people from almost all over the nation, Kathmandu is the capital and the most populated city of Nepal. However it’s population has been to its advantage with people of different ethnic groups living together harmoniously. It engulfs all types of culture of various sub-group within the country. Dominantly, a Newari valley, with three typical Newari cities namely; Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the valley boasts great history and owns precious and rare architectural wonders. There are Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas that are visited by both Hindus and Buddhists showing an unusual harmony among the people. Kathmandu valley apart from the religious and cultural significance that it holds, its natural richness cannot be underestimated. The hills surrounding the valley are one of the preeminent vantage points, allowing outstanding views of the snow clad Himalayan range. If you are up for it, hike around these heavenly places will familiarize with your countryside lifestyles and its simple beauty will take your breath away.
HIGHLIGHTS OF KATHMANDU VALLEY
One of the most captivating city of art and culture, Bhaktapur’s history is alive and vivid, with its populace still adhering to the age old traditions and culture. It has proudly been able to preserve its artifacts and its medieval atmosphere. Stepping into the Bhaktapur city, you step back to the ancient times, when people did their pottery, and women walked around adorned with their traditional black saree, with rich red color circumventing its border. The men look equally attractive with their traditional attire. The square is one of the most charming architectural showpieces of the valley with guardian deities looking out of the windows and shikhara style temples with wooden trinkets over them to give a rich feeling. The unique masterpiece of the square is the palace of fifty-five windows; truly a man made miracle. Nyatapole Temple is another intriguing piece of work. The temple is a five storeyed pagoda standing on five giant stone stairs richly decked with stone sculptures of deities. The golden gate, colossal antiquated bell are some of the city’s highlights. In fact, the whole city is festooned with architectural highlights and wonders.
Another significant Buddhist temple within the valley, Boudhanath Stupa like Swayabhunath is listed in the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is the biggest stupa in Nepal, which was built around 5th century. It is a hemispherical dome, like other Buddhist stupas and has a harmika with Buddha eyes and the 13 steps of the spire. It is believed that the relics of the great Buddha Kasyapa are being buried inside the stupa. There are numerous monasteries within the perimeter of the stupa, where Buddhists within the country, Tibetans or foreign students house to live close to their symbol of their spiritual master. Due to noticeable amount of Tibetans and Buddhists living there, the area is also called mini Tibet.
Shivapuri, can be an exciting one day trek passing through the Budhanilkantha temple, or an interesting ending point of a long trek circumventing the valley. Both ways, it is a place to be. Towards the northern part of the valley, Budhanilkantha temple lies on the base of the Shivapuri hill. Being a Hindu Kingdom, here the monarch is considered a reincarnation of Hindu Lord Vishnu, the temple is a dedication of the Lord. A colossal statue of Lord Vishnu sleeping with snakes protecting him is the temple’s masterpiece. With the crowds of devotees paying homage to the Lord, the importance of King in this nation cannot be underestimated. An uphill climb, not so gentle yet not entirely steep towards the Shivapuri hill is endearing among the blooming rhododendrons in the spring season and mountain views are rarely missed.
Situated beyond the southern belt of Ringroad, inside the valley, Bungamati is a small Newari village still abiding its traditions as their significant part of life. Very less influenced by the modern city just a few kilometers far from the village, Bungamati exemplifies true beauty of the still living age-old culture and civilization. Your journey to Bungamati, starts with a vantage point where one can behold the entire village of Bungamati and Khokhana. Walking down the lanes of Bungamati, you will pass through local Newari people busy creating works of art on wood. It is a village of wood craftsmen, though, small in size, at least 100 people from the village earn their living through woodcarving. Not far from the village of Bungamati, is another interesting Newari village called Khokhana, where an important temple of Durga is situated.
ChanguNarayan Temple has a very significant value in the history of the valley, it being the oldest temple in Kathmandu valley. Situated on a hillock, ChanguNarayan is towards the north east of the capital. Distant from the city’s clamor, this two storeyed temple built around 230 AD is grand with carvings on each of its doors, also the main entrance to the temple is rare and exquisite and is unsurpassed among other brass work.
Towards the south of the Kathmandu valley, lies a very popular shrine of Goddess Kali. The livid side of Shiva’s spouse is known as Goddess Kali. Widely respected by the Hindus, this temple attracts devotees each day, and it gets crowded on special occasions and on Saturdays. Positioned in the dense jungle, its vicinity also serves as a picnic spot for the devotees. Walking distance from this temple, is Hattiban another place for retreat in the nature. It is a pleasant place to hike with subtle slant and plain hill walking.
Another spot for a spotless view of the mountain ranges, Dhulikhel lies 20 km east of Kathmandu and is on the Kathmandu-Kodari highway to Tibet (autonomous region of China). This is a great place to unwind after a hectic sightseeing or a sweaty trek with mountains and fresh air and spellbinding landscapes. There are old Newari villages like Panauti, Nala nearby and it also hold religious importance, since it is situated near NamoBuddha, a Buddhist temple.
Godavari and Phulchowki
A great place to start a trek skirting the Kathmandu valley situated in the eastern rim of the valley, an alternative 45 min drive will reach you to this nature’s sanctuary. Just below the mighty hill of Phulchowki, which is at the height of 2758m, Godavari is the best place to take a retreat from the city’s charged life. Surrounded within the jungle, and small villages, Godavari is equally rich in flora and fauna. The country’s only botanical garden might be an interest to botany enthusiasts or nature lovers. Hiking up to Phulchowki hill inside the dense jungle, one can site beautiful birds, as it is a birder’s paradise and once you reach the top you are rewarded with a close up view of the entire range of snowy mountains from Mt. Everest in the east to Dhaulagiri in the west.
It is one of the small hills in the valley and lies on the way to Dhulikhel or Nagarkot towards the eastern part of Kathmandu. A beautiful place to trek with narrow trails within the jungle and mostly gentle walk through the villages and paddy fields, Gundu is a striking primitive village.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Located in the core of the Kathmandu city, Kathmandu Durbar Square is an archaic gift, which still stands detached from the interferences of modernization. The square is the proud owner of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the first palace for the Shahs after their conquest in the valley. It was built during the 16th century, and has derived its name from the sculpture of the monkey God at the entrance, a symbol of protection. The palace also hosts a museum displaying the historic development of the Shah reign in the kingdom. The square houses interesting temples, and artistic pieces like Kasthmandap temple from which Kathmandu derived its name is an unusual temple built from a single tree. Taleju temple is another important temple within the vicinity. A big sculpture of Kali, is one of the finest stone work in the square which is equally revered by the people. One can accumulate a sense of calm and tranquility with these medieval works of art.
Kakani is situated at an altitude of 6500ft, its height being an opportunity to gain surveillance of the majestic snow clad mountains. It overlooks the northwestern Himalayan ranges, and a special treat of Mount Ganesh is its major highlight. Sunset view of the Himalayas is awe-inspiring.
Kirtipur is a small Newari town, with the boldest history. During the conquest spree of the late King Prithvi Narayan Shah, during the reunification of the kingdom, this small town gave the toughest time. Only after a strong battle and an eventual defeat of this small town, the other parts of the valley were conquered. Originally a Newari town, like other parts of the valley, it hosts festivals all round the year. The town has been able to retain its cultural heritage, and the medieval look.
Beyond the obvious cultural richness that Kathmandu valley offers to its visitors, there are endearing hills that are nature’s paradise, which provides peaceful isolation from the hectic and noisy urban areas. Nagarkot is that peaceful bliss only 32 km east from the Kathmandu at an altitude of 2175m. It is one of the most scenic places in Bhaktapur district and is renowned for its spectacular views and landscapes. A panoramic view of Mt. Everest in the east to Dhaulagiri in the west is the best possibility from the wondrous vista. Apart from the mountainous views, the place is known for breathtaking views of the sunrise and sunset.
Pashupatinath temple is the temple of Lord Shiva, the most worshipped god among the Hindus. Every day the temple is busy with Hindus or devotees of Lord Shiva coming to venerate Lord Shiva. 15 minutes drive from the city center will reach you to this sacred temple. The temple stands beside the holy river Bagmati. A vantage point beside the holy river allows excellent view of the temple with its majestic aureate roof glowing in the sunlight and its architectural splendor. One can also observe the mourning procedures where the deceased are being ceremonially cremated as per the traditions. An experience, that draws you to the deeper side of the Hindu culture and traditions, leaving you with a significant reminiscence of the journey.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan city is equally intriguing like the other two cities in the valley. It is the city of art and crafts with rich artifacts found in every nook and corner. The Patan Durbar Square is the landmark of the city, with prominent remnants of historical and cultural importance in abundance. The Palace within the square is the dominating piece still preserved in its natural state, adorned with intricate wooden carvings. It is truly a work of art. The palace also houses the recently renovated Patan museum, which has on display Patan’s culture and history. The museum specializes in bronze statues and religious objects with 900 objects some of which dates back as far as 11th century. Krishna Mandir is also a rare piece of stone work. One can observe other assorted relics and artifacts within the square and the city.
Although Nepal is recognized as a Hindu kingdom, it is also the center of Buddhism or the birthplace of Buddha. The influence of Buddhism is inevitably felt, with both Hindus and Buddhists accepting each other’s religion harmoniously within the country. Sculptures and inscriptions in the stupa, claims Swayamhbunath to be the oldest Buddhist stupa in the valley. Standing mighty on top of the hillock, the temple is 175m above the valley, providing an exceptional vista of the entire Kathmandu valley. As the myth holds, before the human settlement, Kathmandu valley was a lake, and the place where Swayambhunath now stands bloomed a radiant lotus believed to hold special value in Buddhism. The temple is astounding with a white dome, on top of which is a harmika with two wise eyes of Buddha painted on both sides and the 13 stepes of the spire. You can either climb the famous 400 steps of the temple, with the notorious monkeys keeping you company on the way or opt for a short climb from the western side of the temple. Either way, you will reach the magnificent spiritual domicile perched on top, emanating wisdom of peace for everyone within its reach.