Where is Katmandu?
Where is Kathmandu? That’s usually the first question people ask about this location that most have only heard of briefly. Many are surprised to discover that this very spiritual city, once thought to be the real-life Shangri-La sits in the heart of Nepal, and is home to over a million people. A quarter of a mile above sea level, it’s one of the gateways to the Himalayas and is listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for the sheer amount of temples, stupas, and, palaces that reside here.
Kathmandu has always been a Mecca for independent travelers but, despite the city becoming ever more commercial, it remains a haven and sanctuary for those who want to explore ancient rites and rituals. You’ll find yoga schools and meditation classes everywhere and there are literally hundreds of temples and shrines to investigate. Or, take part in a Kathmandu Valley organized trek where you can witness places of such incredible natural beauty that you’ll struggle to return to modern civilization.
Traveling to Kathmandu is relatively simple. Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) is located at the eastern end of the city and is the only international airport in Nepal. Flights arrive via cities like Delhi, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. You can check out Travelyze to find cheap flights from India. Visas are granted on arrival and cost anything from $5-$100, depending on the length of your stay.
Kathmandu, Nepal weather is surprisingly pleasant. The valley location makes for a sheltered climate, with winter temperatures averaging 50F and rising to around 85F in summer. June to August is monsoon season though, so if you don’t like the rain it’s best to stick to Spring or Fall.
Nepal is predominantly a Hindu nation, but since the 2006 revolution Nepal has prided itself on being ‘religion-free’, meaning it embraces all forms of worship. Kathmandu is heavily populated with religious statues, temples, and icons from various arms of Hinduism and Buddhism.
There are so many sights to take in during your trip to Kathmandu. Highlights not to miss include the Buddhist Swayambhu, about 30 minute walk from the central business district. It offers superb city views and hundreds of monkeys wandering freely. You’ll also want to plan a visit to Pashupatinath. It is a Hindu temple between Ring Road and the airport, and one of the most holy
Shiva sites. Go in the morning when the sunrise is truly unforgettable. Finally, north of the city on Gangalal Way is the famous Bouddha Stupa. This is the most scared Tibetan Buddhist site in the country.
The main tourist center of Kathmandu is Thamel. It’s a bustling hive of markets, bars, cafes, and hotels, where the roads are filled with taxis and rickshaws. Tall, rickety buildings reach up to the sky, crammed with cafes and budget hotel rooms. You can buy anything here, from solid silver jewelry to handmade purses. Thamel is also where climbers come to prepare for their Himalayan ascents so you can expect to see a very diverse group of people.
English is widely spoken in Kathmandu, the third language behind Nepali Bhasa, and Hindi. This comes in handy when asking directions. Many streets have no names so you’ll have to navigate via landmarks. The easiest place to pick up cabs is the New Road area, Kathmandu’s commercial hub and financial center. The most densely-populated part of Nepal, New Road is like a mini Hong Kong, with chaotic stores, apartments packed in tight, and lots of markets. If you feel the need to chill out, head to Freak Street at the west end of New Road. It’s not as ‘far-out’ as it used to be but it’s still a pleasant antidote to the city. Try Kathmandu’s local specialty, momo dumplings, in one of the area’s very cheap cafes. Other city center oases include Bhughol Park and the famous Garden of Dreams, a Neoclassical horticultural paradise off Tredevi Marg.
You can head to Dubar Square to see a more traditional Kathmandu. Here you’ll find over a dozen different temples where the locals congregate at dawn and dusk. You can climb to the top of some of them and survey the city below for some truly spectacular views. Narayanhiti Palace, scene of the 2001 Nepalese Royal Massacre, was turned into a museum in 2006 and is a fascinating place to visit. The Narayanhiti Palace is walkable from Thamel.
Hotels, hostels, and guesthouses are everywhere and cost from as little as US$2 per night. However, you need to book early for festival times such as the Festival of Light/Deepawali (October), the paint-throwing hysteria of Holi (March) and the Himalayan Blues Festival (October).