How to spend time in Kathmandu: information for tourists

Kathmandu

Kathmandu is the capital and largest city of the state of Nepal, its cultural and historical center. Kathmandu lies in the mountain valley of the Himalayas, at an altitude of more than 1300 meters above sea level, and it has a population of over 1 million people.

Numerous tourists and pilgrims Kathmandu attracts numerous temple centers, monasteries, narrow streets that have not changed their appearance for centuries, and bizarre buildings, combining the traditions of two religions – Buddhism and Hinduism. The sights of Kathmandu, along with the monuments of Patan and Bhaktapur, are unique and are listed by UNESCO as one World Heritage Site, the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Site.

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Video: Kathmandu

Highlights

Life in Nepal’s capital city is always lively. Crowds of people walk the streets and motorcycles and cars pile up in spontaneous traffic jams. You can constantly hear the honking of cars, bicycle rickshaws, whistles and the melodious tinkling of ritual bells. Tourists who have been to Kathmandu have commented on the friendliness and smiling nature of its people.

In the spring of 2015, Nepal experienced a series of major earthquakes, which killed many people, destroyed houses and architectural monuments. The country’s capital was no exception. In Kathmandu, many religious buildings and palaces on the UNESCO World Heritage List were destroyed or damaged. The world community was not left out of the trouble – Nepal has received a lot of international support and is rapidly recovering. To date, the country has almost completely recovered from the earthquake, all roads and streets in Kathmandu have been cleared, and the main monuments and attractions are once again open to tourists.

The best time to visit the capital of Nepal are from March to April and October to November. At this time of the year, travelers to Kathmandu are guaranteed cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures. The most colorful Nepali festivals and celebrations, Holi, Diwali, Shiva Night, and Nepali New Year, are also held here in early spring and fall.

Most tourists prefer to stay in the district Thamel, which is located 20 minutes north of the famous Durbar Square. There are plenty of hotels, internet cafes, restaurants, cheap shops, and travel agencies. The area was virtually unscathed by the earthquake, as the buildings there are made of reinforced concrete with modern technology.

Streets in Kathmandu

History of Kathmandu

The ancient history of the Nepalese capital is described in tales and legends. The oldest statue found in the city was made in 185 AD. In the 4th century, representatives of the Likchavi dynasty came to the valley of Kathmandu. They conquered the local rulers and founded their own kingdom ruling the surrounding land until the XII century. Kathmandu was founded during the rule of Likchavi in 723. It became a city that played a major role in the trade between China and Tibet.

Kathmandu in 1793

In the twelfth century a new dynasty, the Malla, who had migrated to the foothills of the Himalayas from the south due to the pressure of the Muslims, began to rule in the Kathmandu valley. In the early years of Malla’s rule there was a massive earthquake in the valley and a third of the city was destroyed. Despite the difficulties, however, Kathmandu quickly recovered and continued to serve as an important staging post for trade caravans carrying goods from China to Tibet and back.

In 1768, the Malla dynasty ceased to exist, the valley became part of the Gorkha kingdom, and the city was given the status of its capital. In the mid-19th century, after a terrible massacre in which almost all members of the ruling dynasty were killed, the state and its capital were headed by Jung Bahadur Rana – the founder of the Rana dynasty. During this dynasty the Nepalese endured much religious persecution. They lived under tyranny and constant economic exploitation. The country’s isolation from the rest of the world was eased only after the end of World War II.

Kathmandu in the 1940s Kathmandu in the 1960s Kathmandu in 1993

Earthquake 2015

The highland territory is prone to earthquakes, and they happen here regularly. In the 20th century, the 1934 earthquake brought great destruction.

In the spring of 2015, the elements struck Nepal twice. Strong tremors of magnitude 7.8 and 7.3 occurred on April 25 and May 12. The epicenter of the earthquake was 80 km away from Kathmandu. The consequences of the tremors were catastrophic: 8,000 people died and about 14,000 were injured under the debris of collapsed buildings.

The aftermath of the 2015 Kathmandu earthquake

The April 25 earthquake lasted only 20 seconds, but it was enough to completely destroy about 2,000 homes and damage another 4,000. In the area Sindhupalchok, northeast of the Nepalese capital, more than 90% of all buildings were destroyed. The country estimated the total damage from the earthquake at $7 billion.

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The aftermath of the 2015 Kathmandu earthquake

In Kathmandu, many historical, architectural and religious monuments were completely destroyed or damaged. In the center of the city stood the Dharahara Tower, erected in 1832 and included in the UNESCO protection list. The tower had already suffered damage from a previous major earthquake in 1934, but after repairs in 2005, it was opened to tourists. Travelers loved going up to the Shiva Temple, which was located on the tenth floor of the tower. Underneath it was an observation deck from which one could admire the old quarters of Kathmandu. During the last earthquake the high tower collapsed and under its debris killed about 200 people, almost all of them foreign tourists. In addition, underground tremors in Kathmandu destroyed the historic Hanuman Dhoka Square, Narayan and Maju temples, as well as some structures in Durbar Square.

Many countries, international organizations and private donors provided substantial support to Nepal. A whole team of rescuers who flew to Kathmandu from all over the world worked to clear the rubble and provide medical assistance to the victims.

Climatic Peculiarities

Nepal’s capital city is located in a mountainous region and the Himalayas have a profound effect on the weather in the Kathmandu Valley. Daytime temperatures can vary as much as 15°. If it’s cool in the morning, it gets hot in the afternoon and you have to take off your outer clothing.

During the winter months, daytime temperatures range from +8°C to +18°C and nighttime temperatures range from 0°C to +11°C. From December to February, Kathmandu is often foggy. The warmest period of the year is from May to September. Daytime temperatures range from +19 ° C to +27 ° C, and at night the thermometer reads +17. +22°С.

Most of the year there is not much precipitation in Kathmandu, there are only 2-4 rainy days per month. From May to August the rainfall increases significantly and the humidity rises to 80-85%. Rains and showers with thunderstorms occur every day or every other day. September is considered a transitional month to the dry season.

Bhaktapur and Patan.

Besides the modern capital in the vast valley of Kathmandu, there are two other cities that in former times had the status of major cities of the hill state. In Bhaktapur or the “city of believers”, located 16 kilometers from Kathmandu, live Hindus. Many Hindu religious monuments can be seen here. There are more than ten temples dedicated to Vishnu, the sumptuous palace of the Malla rulers, the Shiva-Parvati and Batsala Devi temples, and the Lion’s Gate and the Golden Gate. Travelers must pay about 1,200 Nepalese rupees to explore the old city area.

The oldest settlement in the valley is the city of Patan, whose old name Lalitpur means “city of beauty”. In earlier times, Patan was an independent city, but today it has merged with the Nepalese capital. There are many artisans who are fluent in metal working techniques. Go to Patan to see the terracotta temple of the Thousand Buddhas, the place of coronation of the kings of the hill state – Buddhist monastery Rudravarnah-Mahabihar, temples, which decorate the images of Krishna and Ganesha, and the only zoo in Nepal.

Attractions in Kathmandu

The old part of the city attracts the most tourists. It is here that you can see the historic Palace Square – Durbar Square. It encompasses the Royal Palace and three chuoka (courts) with several temples built in the tradition of Nevar architecture. Durbar Square is one of the busiest places in Kathmandu. The reddish terracotta buildings here are particularly beautiful at dawn. To see the historic sights of Durbar Square, you have to pay 200 Nepalese rupees.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu Swayambunath

In the west of Kathmandu stands the stupa of Swayambunath or Monkey Temple. In translation, the name of this revered Buddhist shrine means “self-made.” It occupies an elevated position and is clearly visible from the vantage points of Durbar Square. At the foot of the stupa is a long stone staircase with 365 steps – the number of days in the year. From the temple platform, one can see the city as if in the palm of his hand. Contrary to expectations, there are few monkeys near the stupa and they are constantly being fed by tourists and servants.

Kathmandu is home to the revered Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, dedicated to the god Shiva. It has grown into a large temple complex and daily receives thousands of pilgrims coming from different countries, especially from India. Here you can always see colorfully dressed wandering yogis – sadhus. Around the temple live many monkeys, who go about their business, paying little attention to tourists. Nepalis can enter the temple for free, but citizens of other countries pay a fee of 500 Nepalese rupees.

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On the western bank of the Bagmati River there are several Hindu temples, which are only open to adherents of this religion. From the opposite, eastern bank of the river you can see the funeral rituals taking place there. The stone pedestals where the dead are cremated (Burn Gaths) are located right along the riverbank. To the north of the bridge are the high caste bases for the dead, and to the south are the lower caste burn sites. Burning fires, the smell of smoke, and garlands of flowers floating on the river create a special atmosphere. On the opposite bank there is an orphanage founded by Mother Teresa, where the poor and hungry can get food.

Near the temples, a special house is built where old people who are waiting to die go. They spend their last days there. The Bagmati is considered a sacred river, and one bathes in it for ritual purification, just as in the Ganges. Here the dead are also washed before being burned, and when cremation is complete, the remaining ashes are lowered into the river.

On the outskirts of Kathmandu is the largest Buddhist stupa in the country and one of the largest in the world, Bodnath. Huge expressive eyes are painted on the religious monument, and the statues around the stupa are decorated with fresh flowers. In many places, ropes with colored Nepali flags are stretched out where the texts of mantras are written. Ritual drums are placed near the stupa and are traditionally rotated by all Buddhists who come here.

In Kathmandu, not far from the tourist district of Thamel, the beautiful Kaiser Mahal or Garden of Dreams is located. It has almost tame chipmunks, neat flowerbeds, and neoclassical light buildings peeking through the green trees.

Kaiser Mahal Park in Kathmandu

Local Food

The most popular dish in Kathmandu, which can be ordered almost everywhere, is momo (dumplings) stuffed with buffalo meat or chicken. They came to the local cuisine from Tibet. Momo are usually steamed or fried. Any restaurant serves a thick, rich bean soup, kwati, and daal bhaat tarkaari, a vegetarian dish consisting of lentils, rice, vegetables, spices, and spicy herbs.

Kathmandu restaurants offer many delicious dishes that are traditional to Nepal and Tibet. They are simple to prepare and have an unusual taste. Many dishes are cooked with mustard oil and also with oil made from yak milk. The food is subtly flavored with an abundance of spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, black and Sichuan pepper, coriander, turmeric, green onions, and coriander. Local chefs also like to add jimba, a Himalayan plant that tastes like onions and garlic, to their dishes.

Jalebi Bean soup Daal bhaat tarkaari Curry from Kathmandu Buffalo kebab Spiced Hotdog with chicken and vegetables Lunch

The restaurants in Nepal’s capital city make very tasty buffalo steaks and banana pancakes. Most of the Hindus living here adhere to a vegetarian diet, so there are many dishes of rice, pulses and vegetables seasoned with hot sauces in Kathmandu. Rice and flatbreads are usually accompanied by dhau (sour milk) and paneer (pressed fatty curd).

Masala tea (Nepali chiya)

The traditional drink of Nepalis is tea, which is mostly drunk with milk. The most popular variety is masala tea (Nepali chiya) made from tea leaves boiled in milk and spices. An unusual taste is suja – salty tea with milk and butter. Very common are herbal teas and lassi, a drink made from salted or sweetened sour milk. Of the alcoholic beverages popular in Kathmandu are rum (kukri), rice wine (rakshi), and homemade beer (jaand or chyaang) made from rice, millet, and barley.

Since many foreign tourists come to Kathmandu, there are international restaurants in the city, as well as establishments where one can taste dishes of Japanese, Italian, Mexican, and French cuisine.

Prices for food and ready meals are low. You can dine in a budget café for 250 Nepalese rupees and in a not-so-expensive restaurant for 300-350 NPR. Most restaurants that cater to tourists add a 10% service charge and 13% government tax to the bill. In cafes the tip is usually 5% of the bill. Information about this is usually listed on the menu.

Specials on hotels

Souvenirs

Kathmandu’s souvenir shops and markets offer so many exotic items that it’s overwhelming. One of the most popular souvenirs here is the famous Nepalese tea, which grows at altitudes of about 3000 meters above sea level. To make tea according to Nepalese traditions, it is worth buying a beautiful handmade teapot. Elegantly decorated teapots made of ceramic, metal and glass are sold everywhere.

As souvenirs are perfect textiles – scarves, stoles and blankets made from yak wool, as well as pashmina (cashmere) – a fabric made from the thin, warm and soft down of Himalayan goats. Many travelers prefer to take back from Kathmandu gold and silver jewelry, musical instruments and beautiful interior decoration items like statues, bowls, vases and paintings by local artists.

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Street Souvenir Vendors Nepalese Fabrics

Security

Nepal and its capital city are considered completely safe for travelers. The atmosphere is peaceful. The locals love visitors and treat them with great respect. One will not find any manifestations of racism or religious intolerance in Kathmandu. You can’t get into trouble because of unusual clothing, skin color, or nationality on the streets of this city. Nevertheless, foreign tourists are asked to refrain from walking alone in Kathmandu in the late evening or at night.

Monkeys on the streets of Kathmandu

To rule out intestinal infections in Kathmandu, it is recommended to drink only boiled or bottled water, eat well-washed fruit and carefully wash your hands before eating.

A separate problem for tourists in Kathmandu are monkeys, which live here in large numbers. In the country they are considered sacred animals, which are allowed everything. Nepalis are very revered monkeys and the god Hanuman. Killing a monkey under local law can get you up to three years in prison. Tourists need to be careful and cautious, as some monkeys in Kathmandu behave aggressively and take away food, drinking bottles, cameras, phones, hats and sunglasses from gaping travelers.

Transportation

Absolutely all cab cars that carry passengers around the city have meters, but some drivers refuse to use them. In this case, you should look for another cab. The easiest places to catch a taxi are near tourist centers, large hotels, and on the main streets. During the daytime trips around Kathmandu cost from 14 NPR, but after dark the prices go up and the fare starts from 21 NPR.

Cab Cars Near the Temple Bus Stop

Blue and green buses run on a circular route and are operated by conductors. Kathmandu’s bus fleet is old, but the locals are very friendly and always ready to help a foreigner who gets lost by suggesting the right stop.

In the central part of the city and places frequented by foreign tourists, you can find an exotic form of transport – bicycle rickshaws.

How to get there

Tribhuvan International Airport is located 5.56 kilometers east of Kathmandu. The flight from Moscow takes about 6 hours, however there are no direct flights, therefore you have to change planes in Delhi, Dubai or Sharjah to get to Kathmandu.

The trip from the airport to the city center by cab takes 15 minutes and costs 700 Nepalese rupees. The cab stand is outside the airport building. Before boarding, you need to exchange your currency for Nepalese rupees beforehand. It is not advisable to take the buses to Kathmandu, as they are very crowded.

Kathmandu

Nepal’s capital is for most tourists a transit city, as it was for me at first: a short stopover between trips around the country. But in a couple of such stops, it turned from a staging point into “my home city of Kathmandu.” When I first came here (with no experience of traveling in Asia), it was dirty, cluttered, chaotic, unsettled, with rigid rules and rituals. And it was frightening, repulsive. But after India, Kathmandu no longer seems so wild to me, but calm, quiet and loyal to tourists.

Located in a valley surrounded by the mountain ranges of the Himalayas, the capital of Nepal will be the starting point for a multi-day trip to the Himalayas. But Kathmandu itself has much to offer the traveler. Two thousand years of history, interweaving of traditions of different peoples and religions, isolation from the outside world until the middle of the last century has created an extraordinary image, which is worth getting to know gradually, savoring every discovery.

This is why it is dangerous to take a return ticket with an open date, you can stay here for a long time.

How to get there

The easiest way to get to Kathmandu is by plane, and the most interesting, colorful and memorable, in my opinion, is by bus, and I will definitely repeat this route!

By plane

There is no direct flight to Kathmandu from Moscow (as well as from other Russian and European cities); therefore you have to make long (5 to 50 hours) connections to Delhi, Sharjah or Dubai. All in all it will take you at least 11 hours to get to Kathmandu and make connecting flight. If you ask me, the nicest stop is in the Indian capital, where you have sun loungers in the spacious and half-empty transit area, while in Sharjah you have to jostle with the Nepalese returning home after the shift in the UAE.

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There are several flights a day, so it’s mostly the price that determines the choice.

Relatively cheap tickets (about 400 USD for the whole flight Moscow – Kathmandu) can be found during sales on Arabian (AirArabia, Etihad Airways) and Turkish airlines (Turkish Airlines). Another option is to take a discount ticket to Delhi (from 270 USD) and from there take a 2-hour flight to the capital of Nepal with Indian airlines (IndiGo and AirIndia, about 130 USD).

You can also find the ticket prices here.

How to get from the airport to the center of Kathmandu

The International Airport of Kathmandu, Tribhuvan, is located 5.5 kilometers away from the tourist area of the city, Thamel. The best way to get there is by cab (6.6 USD, 700 rupees).

You will see the cab ordering counter in front of the exit of the building. Even if you miss it, the Nepalese will tell you.

As an exotic, you can take a bus ride whose stop is slightly away from the main airport exit. But public transport in this direction is very crowded, and such a ride is unlikely to be a good start to getting to know Kathmandu. I advise leaving this ride for a cross-town ride.

By bus

The journey by land to Nepal’s capital city is longer but, in my opinion, much more exciting. There are direct buses from Delhi, Varanasi, and China, but it sounds like a tedious and hassle-free trip to me. The experience of such a trip is described here.

So, returning from India to Nepal, I chose a prefabricated itinerary, diluted with intermediate stops at interesting places.

You can enter the country through 8 border checkpoints, but the most popular among tourists on the border with India: through Belahiya. From my own experience, I can say that this crossing is not as scary as they scare on the forums, even for an independent traveler. Overnight train ride from Varanasi to Gorakhpur (3 USD for 3rd class with air conditioning), a couple of hours by local bus to the border (0.6 USD) with local and colorful foreigners, 500 meters on foot along the busy shopping street in a stream of trucks and people, and you are met by smiling Nepali customs officers in national topi hats. Then take a rickshaw to the bus station, where you take a bus or jeep to Kathmandu or Pokhara (from 6.6 USD).

I had another option and stopped for a while in Lumbini, the place where Buddha was born.

The main thing is to plan the route in a way to be at the border in the first half of the day, because it is not the most pleasant place to spend the night.

Almost all tourist buses arrive at the new Gangabu Bus Park, from where you can take a cab to Tamel for a maximum of 4.7 USD (500 rupees). Or to Patna Park, which is even closer to the tourist area.

One of the nice things about traveling to Nepal is that you don’t have to worry about a visa. It is issued immediately at the border after filling out a form and paying a visa fee (from 25 to 100 USD). Customs control is minimal, in Belahiya I did not notice it at all.

Details on getting a Nepalese visa and other options on how to get to Kathmandu, in the review article.

When is the season. When it’s best to go.

The climate of the Kathmandu Valley, located at 1200-2300m altitudes, shattered my ideas about the weather in Asia. Moderately continental in the lower zones, it changes to subtropical and alpine as you gain altitude in the mountains.

The average summer temperature in Kathmandu valley ranges from +28 ° C to +30 ° C, in winter it is +10 ° C.

The best time to go, especially if you are not limited to the capital sights and are going to the mountains, is spring (March to April) and autumn (October to November). These months are considered the high season in Nepal. The daytime temperature is summer by Russian standards (+25 ° C), and the occasional rain ends quickly. In the fall, travelers are guaranteed cloudless skies and gorgeous views of the mountains.

At the same time (in early spring and autumn) you can catch the most colorful festivals: Nepalese New Year, Night of Shiva, Holi, Diwali.

In Kathmandu, unlike the mountainous part of the country, it will be comfortable in the low season, that is, in winter and summer.

Kathmandu in Spring

Spring in Kathmandu seemed to me better than our summer: +25 °C during the day and almost no rain. This is the beginning of the high season, so there are already a lot of tourists in the city in early March, which will not prevent sightseeing and the suburbs of the capital, as the bulk of white travelers stay in Tamil.

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Kathmandu in Summer

June through September is the monsoon season, but you won’t suffer much from it in Kathmandu itself.

I’ve noticed that Nepal’s rains don’t compare to our lingering ones: they end quickly, though they turn the streets into canals.

Kathmandu in Autumn

Autumn is notable in Nepal for its clear and cloudless weather, which provides perfect panoramas. I consider it the best time to trek, including the Kathmandu Valley. In terms of temperature, it’s still summer (+21-23 °C on average)

Kathmandu in winter.

Winter should not scare the Russian traveler: daytime temperatures are unlikely to drop below +12 ºC. At night, however, sometimes it reaches 0ºC, which is uncomfortable in Nepalese homes without heating. I was saved by a sleeping bag, blankets and heaters (when there is electricity in town).

Kathmandu – weather by month

Districts. Where it’s best to live

Choosing a hotel in Kathmandu depends on budget, travel plans, available time, and probably experience and willingness to be adventurous.

If you are in Asia for the first time, are going to equip before trekking, or want to have fun with foreigners, I think it is better to look for a hotel in Thamel.

For a quiet, relaxing break go to Boudha or Patan.

If you want an overnight stay before heading into the mountains, choose hotels near the airport or Gangabu Bus Station. I stayed here in between trips to Nepal and didn’t regret it at all. The hotels near the station are new and reasonably priced. After the earthquake, many ghettos moved from Tamel to this area with low rents. On the downside, I would point out the remoteness from the center.

Authentic enough and cheap enough for unpretentious backers are the hostels near the historical center, on Freak Street.

Kathmandu loves tourists, so I can’t say it’s dangerous for a foreigner to stay in some areas. I felt comfortable everywhere during the day. In the evenings in Tamel, downtown Patan and near the Boudnath stupa, I also felt comfortable. It’s another matter that hotels, restaurants and places of interest are concentrated near the mentioned districts, and I didn’t see any reason to stay in the middle of nowhere.

Although the center of the city is Durbar Square, which still has medieval streets around it, the sights are scattered all over Kathmandu. So from this point of view, for me, Bouda or Patan are no less attractive than Tamel, which is closest to King’s Square.

I usually look for hotels on Booking, but you can check if there is a better price here. Those who want to immerse themselves in the local reality, rent private apartments or apartments – more about conditions and prices here.

Tamel

Traditionally, most travelers stay in this tourist area, and some do not even leave its borders. The best hotels in Kathmandu and budget hostels, restaurants serving every cuisine in the world, bars and nightclubs, souvenir shops and equipment stores, travel agencies ready to solve all your questions – everything is concentrated here.

This is the safest place for tourists: I felt comfortable even in the evening during the national holiday.

You won’t become an object of curiosity here. But the farther you get from Tamel, the more surprised the locals look.

The music doesn’t stop until late at night, so if you plan to get a good night’s sleep before an early departure, choose hotels somewhat away from the main shopping streets.

In season, the price for a double room with a shower and minimalist furnishings starts at $10 USD. In winter and summer the same rooms will be about 30% cheaper.

Patan

Nice atmosphere, proximity to historical monuments, no intrusiveness from the locals.

However, prices in the suburbs of Kathmandu in 2016 did not seem low to me compared to Tamel (from 20 USD for a double room in high season).

Bouda

I think the area around the Boudnath stupa, the center of Tibetan culture, would suit those who don’t want to jostle in bustling touristy Tamel.

Tamel or Durbar can be reached by cab or shuttle bus (to Patna Park).

There is nothing for tourists to be afraid of in this area: you will be welcomed with Buddhist serenity.

The prices are nice: you can find a decent double room for about 5 USD.

Prices for vacations

The expensive flight to Kathmandu is compensated by relatively low prices for accommodation and food. True, you won’t find them in the tourist spots. We found prices for locals in the shops and markets for locals, that is on the way to Durbar, Pulchok, Bouda.

So if you want to save money? go outside of Tamel. And do not forget to haggle: in a cab, in the hotel, in a souvenir store – everywhere you can count on a discount.

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