Kathmandu valley is surrounded by wooded hills on all four sides. Around the Kathmandu valley edge, Phulchowki is the highest point in the south towering at an altitude of 2,765 meters, Shivapuari in the north rises to an altitude of 2,732 meters, Chandragiri in the southwestern part of the valley has an altitude of 2,561 meters, Nagarkot in the northeast part has an altitude of 2,188 meters, Champadevi in the western part has an altitude of 2097 meters, and Pokhari Thumko in the southeastern part has an altitude of 2,005 meters. So near yet so far from the noise, pollution, and smog covered bustling capital, various hiking and biking activities can be organized around the valley perimeter.
Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal
In the ancient period, the Kathmandu valley was called Nepal, and Nepal was called Kathmandu valley. Kathmandu valley is made up of three districts, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur. These districts are largely dominated by the Newar community. Newari arts architecture, culture, and tradition can be observed throughout the valley. These three ancients mall kingdoms remain a center for arts and crafts, and artisan’s ancients to preserve and promote them.
In Kathmandu valley, you can visit three Durbar Squares a beguiling complex of buildings, temples, and courtyards. Kathmandu valley is a fascinating mixture of different religions and cultures. The visit to Kathmandu valley offers an excellent introduction to Buddhist and Hindu art and religion.
There are more gods than people, as the saying goes in the Malla civilization with a number of temples more than the number of houses, the Kathmandu valley has seven UNESCO world heritage sites separated by the distance of roughly 28meters. But refreshingly and unlike so many of the world’s great archeological arenas, here the ancient temples and monuments are still alive charged with the energy of constant daily worship. The Himalayas may take you higher than you have ever before, but the valley takes you deeper.
According to the legend, Kathmandu valley was a huge circular lake surrounded by hills on all four sides. Bodhisattva Manjushree who come all the way from Tibet during her holy visit to Kathmandu valley drained the lake with her magical sword by cutting a piece of the hill in the south of the valley called Chobhar and making it suitable for human settlement. It has been geologically proven that the Kathmandu valley was a huge lake in the ancient period.
The capital city Kathmandu is the cultural and political heart of Nepal. The Kathmandu valley constitutes of three districts Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, and is bounded by hills on all four sides; Sangha Bhanjyang from the east, bad Bhanjyang from the west, Panchmane Bhanjyang from the north, and Pharping Bhanjyang from the south. The landscape of green hills and the visa of the Himalayas in its surroundings add to the attractions of this valley.
Cultural heritage is the principal identity Of the Kathmandu valley which boasts of ancient temples, districts cultural, arts, and, artifacts. The place is also a center of faith for people from different religious backgrounds. The Pashupathinath temple, Krishna Mandir, and Changu Narayan temple are considered the important holy sites for Hindu devotees while, for the Buddhists, Swayambhunath Stupa and Boudhanath Stupa are very important. There is a famous Jame Mosque for the Muslims and the city also has many churches built by the Christian community.
Festival, traditions, and rituals reflecting the uniqueness of the native Newar community of Kathmandu making the city more attractive and alluring to its visitors. Being the capital, Kathmandu is also the educational and commercial center of the country. It is the meeting point for people of all religions, races, and ethnic backgrounds.
Kathmandu Durbar square, one of the three major palace areas of Kathmandu valley, is an ancient palace that carries significant historical importance. Compared to the other palaces squares in Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, this is the largest and possesses the finest examples of Newari craftsmanship on its temples monuments, and palace buildings built by different kings. Previously known as Gutaupo palace in the middle ages, it got the name Hanuman Dhoka palace in the 17th century after the then King Pratap Malla established an idol of the monkey god “Hanuman” in front of the palace entrance. It is also known as the Basantapur palace square for its 9 stories palace built by King Prithvi Narayan shah in 1769.
All three palaces within the Kathmandu valley are located in the center of the city. These palaces are located in some height above the city and are made in the style of the fort. There is a tradition to keep an idol of Hanuman and Narsingh on the entrance for the protection of the palace. There are different courtyards that we can find inside the palace and we can find different doors to go from one courtyard to another. Each courtyard has its own unique functions. Normally we can find Mulchowk, Bhandarkhal garden, and Sundari chowk in reach Durbar Square.
Malla palaces are normally two to three-storied. Both large and small rooms inside the palace will have a low ceiling height. There are constructions of different temples inside and outside the palace premises. Inside the palace, we can observe the wood carving, metal carving, and stone carving arts with different stone taps. For the construction, traditional equipment was used like brick, stone, tiles, etc.
Among all temples in the Durbar Square area, the temple of Taleju Bhawani is the most magnificent. It is a huge three-storied pagoda structured temples built by king Ratna Malla, the son of King Yaksha Malla. It is located near the Mahendreshwor Mahadev temple. Taleju Bhawani was regarded as the guardian figure of Malla kings. The temple is surrounded by 16 small pagoda style temples. To the temple’s opposite are three huge stone statues with the mark of Trishul, the tantric trident of Lord shiva. The are is also known as Trishul Chowk. There is also a horse near the temple to symbolize the mount of goddess Taleju Bhawani. According to the traditional belief, this horse should not be fed leftovers as it is considered impure (Jutho). The temple opens once every year for Hindus during the festival of the Dashain. the main entrance of the temple on the southern wing has two lion statues guarding the doorway. It is known as Singha Dwar.
In Hindu mythology, Kaal Bhairav is regarded as a highly powerful deity. For its large and fierce countenance, the statue of Kaal Bhairav is also called Mahakaal. Kaal Bhairav is one of the manifestations of Lord Shiva. It is said the statute was discovered in the hills of Nagarjun during the regime of King Pratap Malla. It was transferred to Kathmandu Durbar Square by performing Tantrik rituals. From Malla Era, till the time of the Rana regime, criminals were brought before the Kaal Bhairav for confession. It was held that criminals who lay of their crimes before the Kaal Bhairav would vomit blood and died there instantly. This deity is also known as the god of the Supreme Court.
Hanuman Dhoka Museum is the place to see the glorious lifestyle of different Shah Kings. Different portraits, personal items, and clothes of late king Tribhuvan, King Mahendra, and King Birendra are among the museum’s impressive collections. One could spend hours inside the palace turned museum. The museum also leads to the nine-storied palace. Unfortunately, due to a devastating earthquake that happened on 25th April, some of the parts of this beautiful museum have been damaged; however, we can still visit.
Within the periphery of Basantapur Durbar Square, there are different temples and monuments. The Kumari house is one of them. This three-storied house, sometimes also referred to as Kumari Bahal, is built in traditional Newari design. It is the residence of the living goddess Kumari. Two stone lines guard the entrance of the house that leads to a courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard is a Chaitya dedicated to Lord Buddha. Kumari is regarded as the mother of the goddess of Malla Kings and the incarnation of goddess Taleju Bhawani. It was built in 1813 B.S. by King Jaya Prakash Malla. Only on rare occasions, visitors are granted an audience with Kumari.
Kasthamandap (with translates to the wooden pavilion) is one of the attractive monuments of the Kathmandu Durbar Square. In the local Newari dialect, it is also known as Marusatal. It is said this structure was constructed in the 12th century out of a single Sal Tree. Originally built as a rest house; it was later converted into a Temple. Inside the Kasthamandap is a statute of Guru Gorakhnath Baba. Four Binayaks (a form of Lord Ganesh)- Jaal Binayan, Surya Binayak, Karya Binayak, and Ashok Binayak – Surround this temple. There is a wooden pillar supporting the ladder that is said to have the power of healing one’s backache and other forms of paid if they rub the affected body parts on it. The 2015 Earthquake has destroyed this temple; it is on the process of renovation now.
Within Hanuman Dhoka premises is a statue of King Pratap Malla erected on a huge stone pillar. Nearby this statute is two small statues of the king’s beloved wives, Ananta Priya and Pravawati Devi, and their five sons. Among the Malla rulers, King Pratap Malla was the most popular king. He was the son of King Laxmi Narasingh Malla. His regime is regarded as a golden period that promoted different kinds of arts. The fine progress in wood and metal carving was made during this time. The different creations and monuments within the periphery of Hanuman Dhoka are the result of King Pratap Malla’s passion for arts. It was during his reign; Monalkali Chowk, Sundari Chowk, Nasal Chowk, and Bhandakhal Garden were built. When he erected the statue of the monkey god ‘Hanuman’ the palace started being recognized as Hanuman Dhoka. King Pratap Malla had many queens. When he died, nine queens went to Sati (traditional Hindu practice where after the husband’s death the wife also sacrifices her life in her husband’s funeral pyre. But this kind of practice does not exist now). The Malla king ruled for 33 years until he died at the age of 51.
Located 600 meters from Thamel, Kathesimpu Stupa serves as a substitute for Swayambhunath Stupa. It is a replica of Swayambhunath surrounded by Panchadhyani Buddha. It is believed that this Stupa was established in the 15th century by a Tantric Priest, Waku Bajracharya. It is said he had first established this Stupa in Kashi of India. He later transferred the Stupa using his Tantric power to its present location after noticing that the Jain people in Kashi were ignoring the importance of this Stupa. It was originally known as Kashistupa. There are also different Chaityas, temples, and Gumbas in the area. Inside the Gumbas, there is a statue of Avalokiteswor, a deity with eleven heads and one thousand hands.
Swayambhunath Stupa, the famous pilgrimage site for Buddhists, is situated on a beautiful hill. It is a holy Stupa among the ancient Buddhist Mahachaitya of the Kathmandu valley. It is situated atop a hill that could be observed from almost every part of Kathmandu valley. The tourists call the Stupa ‘Monkey Temple’ as there are many monkeys living around the place. Swayambhunath Stupa was built in the 5th century during the Lichhavi periods by the Kushan community. The Stupa provides a panoramic view of Kathmandu valley. Its surrounding area is full of temples, monasteries, and statues dedicated to different deities. The UNESCO has listed Swayambhunath Stupa as a world heritage site. There is a Bishwo Shanti (world peace) pond near the Stupa.
The Pashupatinath Temple, which is located at Gaushala, Deupatan area of Kathmandu, is a major pilgrimage site for the Hindus. According to the religious scriptures, Lord Pashupatinath is worshiped as the protective deity of the Hindus. The temple is also one of the renowned Hindu religious sites of the world. The temple complex sprawls over a vast area that has around 490 temples and idols of different Hindus gods and goddesses and thousands of Shiva Lingam. The temple has been in existence since the ancient period. The main temple houses a four-faced Lingam of Lord Shiva. Likewise, the walls and struts in the vicinity of the temple are adorned with woodcraft relating to Lord Shiva. According to traditional beliefs, the Shiva Lingam was established during the reign of King Supuspadev of the Lichhavi dynasty of Suryavanshi lineage. Being a major religious site of the Hindus, millions of devotees come to Nepal every year to offer worship at the temple. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple.
The Boudhanath stupa is a very important religious site for the followers of Buddhism. It is located northeast from the Kathmandu city center. The Stupa is regarded as the center of faith for the Buddhists. The entire area is known as Boudha. This is also considered as the largest Stupa in Nepal. The Stupa, rich in Buddhist arts and cultural heritage, is also a popular pilgrimage site. It is said that Boudhanath Stupa existed since the ancient period and that the present form is not the original one, but the result of a series of renovation and constructions over the years. The top of this Stupa had been partially damaged due to the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015, but it has been renovated. Buddhists and tourists from all over the world visit this magnificent Stupa.
The nine-storied tower of Dharhara located in Sundhara was an iconic monument of Kathmandu built by Nepal’s first Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa, in 1825 AD. The tower is also sometimes used to be referred to as Bhimsen Tower. The top floor of the 203 ft. the tower used to provide a panoramic view of Kathmandu valley. A Shiva Linga had been set up on the top floor. Unfortunately, due to a devastating earthquake that happened on 25th April 2015, the renowned tower had been completely destroyed. There is a new Dharahara under construction.
Situated to the east of Rani Pokheri is a Clock Tower, Ghantaghar, built by Prime Minister Bir Shumsher in 1894 AD. Ghantaghar’s original design was inspired by London’s Big Ben. It was renovated to its present state after the tower was damaged in the earthquake of 1934 AD.
Rani Pokheri was built by King Pratap Malla in 1670 AD to console his grief-stricken queen after the death of their son, Chakrapatendra Malla. Water from different Hindu religious sites like Varanasi, Mukti Chhetra, Barah Chhetra, Trishuli, and Gosainkunda was brought to fill the pond. A temple of Lord Shiva was constructed in the middle of the pond. To the south of the pond is a stone sculpture of the king and his son mounting on an elephant. The pond is opened to visitors twice every year, on the day during the Bhai Tika and Chhath festival.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum is situated at Durbar Marg(king’s way). After the people’s movement of 2006, the palace was turned into a Museum. The name Narayanhiti comes from two words ‘Narayan’ (one of the names of Hindu deity Vishnu) and ‘Hiti’(water spout in Newari). The Narayanhiti palace used to be the residence of various Shah kings who ruled the country until 2006. Randeep Rana captured the palace from Kaji Dhokal Singh Basnet and it was established as the royal palace by Bir Sumsher Rana in 1903 BS. After king Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah married the daughter of Bir Sumsher, the royal residence was shifted from Hanuman Dhoka palace to Narayanhiti palace. The splendid palace built during the time of the king Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah was destroyed during the earthquake of 1934 AD which was renovated and turned into Tribhuvan residence by king Tribhuvan Bir Bikram shah during his rule. The palace witnessed the massacre of the Royal family members in Jestha 19, 2058 B.S. The museum is inspired by western architecture and stands as the latest testimony of the lives lived by the Shah royal. At the entrance of the palace is Kashi Hall, where the royal geld parties for the newly appointed state officials and foreign diplomats. The hall was also used to administer the oath to government ministers and the place to accept the credentials of newly appointed diplomats. The museum has 52 rooms named after various districts of Nepal. The main attractions of the museum are Gorkha Hall, there are various paintings, and the eight feet long throne used by the Shah kings. The images of Sheshnaag, Astamaatrika, and Astabhairav are on the pillars in the hall. Tribhuvan Residence is the only section of the museum that was retained after the Royal Massacre. The actual building where the massacre took place was demolished. The museum closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Buddha Park is located at a distance of 10 minutes south from the Swayambhunath Stupa. The features of this park are exquisite architectural metal carving and a beautiful garden along with huge Mane, a statue of Mileriya, etc. this park was constructed to convey the message of peace and harmony. So there are three statues, Guru Rinpoche, Buddha, and Avalokeshwor. In the Buddhist religion, they are considered superior deities. This park was made by the Tilicho Khansar Service Committee of Manang. From here we can reach Ichangu Narayan Temple and White Gumba, which is located 3 km and 6 km to the west, respectively.
The National Museum of Nepal is located in Chhauni around 1.7 km east from Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu. It is Nepal’s first museum that offers a motley collection of different statues, paintings, currencies, and weapons dating back to the Lichhavi period. Spread across a large area, the museum is divided into three main buildings. It is one of the best places to study Hindu and Buddhist iconography. The museum is closed every Tuesday.
Around 2 Km uphill from Sankhu and nearly 20 minutes stairway climb leads to the Bajrayogini Temple. Both the Hindus and Buddhists worship this temple. Inside this, the three-storied temple is an idol of Goddess Bajrayogini. Devotees believe that offering prayers at this temple could fulfill one’s wishes. There are two temples in this area. The worshipers can offer their prayers in the lower tier of the courtyard but are strictly prohibited to enter inside. Whereas the worshipers are allowed to offer their prayers and can also enter inside the temple on the upper tier of the courtyard.
The Buddhanilakantha temple is located around 10 km north from the center of Kathmandu (Ratnapark) on the foothills of the Shivapuri National park. The temple has a huge granite statue of Lord Bishnu reclining on the bed of coiled snakes. This is also the largest and impressive monolith statue of Lord Bishnu in Nepal. According to local belief, the statute originated during the time of King Haridatta Varma. A huge crowd assembles at the temple for worship during the Nepalese calendar of Kartik. The kind or other royal family members were forbidden from visiting Budhanilakantha, as it was believed that misfortune and disaster would strike the country if they entered the temple. The story stemmed from the time of King Pratap Malla, who had ordered water from Budhanilakantha while building Rani Pokhari. It is said Budhanilakantha had appeared in the King’s dream and asked him to stay out of the temple to avert disaster in the country. King Pratap Mall then had his workers build the replica of Budhanilakanta in Balaju Baisdhara and the Kathmandu Durbar Square to be worshiped by the royals. From Budhanilakantha temple, one could also visit the Shivapuri National Park that has some excellent hiking trails leading to Chisapani and Sundarijal.
Shivapuri National park is 15 km north of the capital city of Nepal. It was declared as a National park in 2002 for the protection of Flora and Fauna. This national park is home to different national species of plants animals and birds. It is ideal for the hike, jungle walk, and bird watching. The popular hill stations around Kathmandu valley like Chisapani, Kakani, Budhanilakanth, and Nagarkot can be reached from the Shivapuri National Park. The highest point of this National park is the Shivapuri Hill located 2,732 meters.
Sundarijal is considered the hiking and trekking gateway to Shivapuri National park, Chisapani, Helambu, and Gosainkunda. As it is the entrance to the Shivapuri National park, the nearest national park within the Kathmandu valley, this place is highly popular among both locals as well as foreigners for hiking and cycling. Rich is lush greenery and pristine brook rolling downhill forming small waterfalls along the way. Sundarijal is one of the popular picnic spots around Kathmandu. From Sundarijal, one could take a day hike to Chisapani located 14 Km north from the bus stop. From Chisapani, one could also take the hike to Nagarkot enjoying the natural beauty of the Shivapuri National park.
The town of Kirtipur is located at the edge of Kathmandu valley, about 7 KM south from the center of Capital (Rantapark). It is renowned for its ancient Newari craftsmanship and traditional culture. Various ancient temples, monasteries, and traditional houses characterize this historical town. The Baghbhairav Temple, Uma Maheshwar temple, Chilancho Bihar, Kirti Bihar are popular tourist sites of Kirtipur. It is a historical town that successfully held the force of King Prithivi Narayan Shah twice in the 18th century. Kirtipur is also a hub of Newari culture and lifestyle.
Within the distance of roughly 10 minutes from the main Kirtipur Bazar is a huge temple of Bagh Bhairav. Inside this three-storied pagoda style temple is a huge statue of deity Bhairav with a face resembling that of a Bagh (Tiger), hence its name Bagh Bhairab. According to legend, the spirit of Bhairab one day entered a clay tiger built by local children, turned into a real-life tiger, and started troubling the townies. The local Tantrik priests then performed different rituals and successfully calmed the Tiger. The temple of Bagh Bhairab was established to honor Bhairav in the form of a tiger.
Jal Binayak temple is located in the southern part of Kathmandu. It is a near Manjushree cave on the bank of the Bagmati River. In the Newari dialect, this temple is called Koyana Ganesh. This temple is one of the four Ganesh temples within the Kathmandu valley. It is believed that this temple wards off evil and misfortunes headed from the southern part of the valley. Hindu devotees worship this temple to gain wisdom and to remain safe from illness and troubles.
Chobhar is located about 7km south from the center of Kathmandu (Ratnapark), situated in a peaceful located on the outskirts of the Kathmandu valley, Chobhar is famous for the Manjushree gorge, Manjushree cave, and the temples of Adinath and Jal Binayak. Within the distance of 1.5 kilometers from Chobhar is Taudaha Lake. It is believed that Chobhar gorge is actually the drain cut by Bodhisattva Maha Manjushree in ancient times to drain the waters out from the Kathmandu valley that used to a vast lake at the time. Great saints, sages, yogis, deities, and Bodhisattva from different parts of Nepal, India, and China used to visit the lake for holy bath and mediation. During one such visit, the ‘Vipashwi’ Buddha had planted a lotus plant in the lake. The seed bore a large lotus flower with five divine petals, the ‘Pancharashmis’. Each petal represents five Buddhas – Bairochan, Aksobhya, Amitabh, ratnasambha, and amoghsiddhi. After that flowers of Buddhism from all corners started arriving to pay their respect to the divine lotus. One of the pilgrims was Manjushree of Tibet, who drained out the water from the lake. The spot where the divine lotus settled. It is believed, is the place where Swayambhunath Stupa is located today.
Among different lakes located in Kathmandu valley, Taudaha is the largest lake, located just 1.5 kilometers away from Chobhar. It is said after Manjushree drained out the great lake to form the Kathmandu valley, one of the lakes inhabitants ‘Korkota Nagh’ (Serpent God) got furious. Manjushree appeased Korkota Nagh by settling him in Taudaha. Boating is prohibited in the lake as the belief goes that the serpent should not be disturbed. Visitors enjoy their time in Taudaha feeding fishes. It is also a popular dating spot for many couples. There are a number of restaurants around the lake to serve the tourist. The famous Dakshinkali Temple is just 12 kilometers from here. Taudaha lake is located five kilometers south from the Kathmandu’s Balkhu Ring road.
The temple of Dakshinkali is located nearly 17 kilometers south of Kathmandu. Hindu devotees believe that worshiping the goddess Daksinkali will fulfill one’s wishes. There is a huge gathering of worshipers at the temple on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Within the temple premises, there are shrines of different gods and goddesses, including Maheshori, Kumari, Baisabi, Barahi, Indrayani, Brahmayani, Ganesh, Baruni, Mahadev, Mahakaleshwori Bhairav. Mata Mandir, the shrine dedicated to the mother of goddess Dakshinkali, is also in the area.