Nepal is the reputed destination for avid trekkers but some may also remember that this is a country devoted to their religions. The country’s capital, Kathmandu, is strewn with several historical and religious sites which require a few days’ visit. Therefore, rather than to make Kathmandu a transit point, do spend time to admire the mountainous and cultural city if you have a chance!
Herewith my list of 5 things to do in Kathmandu Valley:
#1: Visit the monasteries and stupas – such as Boudhanath Stupa, Namobuddha and Swayambhunath
In Nepal, the two major religions are Hinduism and Buddhism. As Buddhism draws some of its roots from Hinduism, sometimes you may come across a temple that worships both religions. I found that religion seems to be ingrained in the Nepalis’ lives because every few steps you take in the city, you will come across a religious building or a place of worship.
Given its proximity to Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism is commonly practiced here. Boudhanath Stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest Stupas in the world and known as the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. Its surrounding area is constructed with Tibetan Gompas (Monasteries) due to the influx of refuges from Tibet.
For devout Buddhists or those who are interested to immerse in the religious energy, Boudha (area where the Stupa is) has a number of guesthouses where you can stay while exploring Kathmandu. There are also many restaurants, cafes and shops in the area for some great shopping and chilling out.
Namobuddha, on the other hand, is away from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu city (which we would playfully refer to as “Samsara“). Located in the mountains, the air was fresh and the sight of lush greenery and mountain scape could easily rejuvenate one’s mind and spirits. Namobuddha is known as the holy site where Buddha, in his previous life as a prince, sacrificed his body to a starving tigress.
The shrine hall in the monastery (Thrangu Tashi Monastery) is open for visitors and it was indeed surreal to be able to sit together with in a hall full of monks and nuns, and hear them chant.
Lonely Planet defined a walk up to Swayambunath “one of the definitive experiences of Kathmandu”. I concur. Even if you are not a Buddhist, navigating the numerous steps up to the temple amongst the massive brood of monkeys, and to be rewarded by the magnificent city view at the hilltop is almost an unreplicable experience.
And if you are in for an adventure, try visiting the temple at night where the monkeys are out in full force (like we did). Do go in a bigger group for safety reasons!
If you are interested to visit other UNESCO World Heritage Sites and temples, you could also visit Pashupati, an Hindu temple. Changunarayan, another Hindu temple listed by UNESCO is closed due to the destruction from the 2015 earthquake.
#2: Spend a day shopping at Thamel and read a book at the Garden of Dreams
Many guidebooks and travel blogs dismissed Thamel as a “tourist trap” but honestly, I enjoyed myself there. Thamel is built for shopaholics like yours truly where I could check out the shops every night and would manage to find something to buy. Indeed, it’s an enclave full of tourists and the shops probably sold stuff that were marked up compared to the local bazaars. But if you have visited the conditions of local bazaars, I believe you would appreciate the stalls and the quality of products at Thamel more.
Besides local souvenirs, there is a wide array of foreign restaurants in Thamel – in case you are feeling homesick and want a break from Nepali food.
Not far from the shopping haven at Thamel is the Garden of Dreams which is a sanctuary on its own. With its Colonial architecture, the Garden stood out from the other tourist sites in Nepal. The area is well maintained that you could laze on the grass, or settle down at one of the numerous benches in the garden to read a book. There are two cafes on site if you would like to have a drink or snack.
#3: Go on a hike
Perhaps the 7-day or 9-day treks seem too daunting. Nonetheless, Kathmandu is surrounded by the mountains that it is such a shame if we do not go on a hike. Opt for an easy day hike for the experience and fresh air. I went for an easy hike to Nagarkot and did a short but steeper hike up the Shivapuri Najarkun National Park.
#4: Retreat to the mountains
The city of Kathmandu is heavily polluted due to the increased construction activities post earthquake. Bad traffic, bumpy roads and dusty air are not exactly ingredients for a relaxed holiday. If you are only in Kathmandu during your stay in Nepal, do allocate at least one or two days to soak in the experience of staying in a mountain resort.
It’s always a good idea to get away from the noise of the city, immerse in a quiet and tranquil environment and get closer to nature. You could go for a walk or hike near the resort, meditate, practice yoga or read a book.
I stayed at Chandra Ban Retreat, which is only about 45 minutes from the Kathmandu Airport and it was a very soothing and rejuvenating experience. Another resort worth considering is Himalayan Height Resort at Pharping.
#5: Visit the Durbar Squares of Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu
Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu were three ancient cities in Nepal. At these areas, you could admire medieval palaces and places of worships built during the ancient era. The Durbar Squares of these three cities are akin to the town area of the capital cities which are populated with the heritage sites as well as local markets .
Post 2015, you could see visible signs of destruction from the earthquake. Nonetheless, it is still an experience to walk around the streets and admire the temples along the way. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed and laid back pace at Patan.
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