Nepal 04.06.2020 Transindus
The Nepali capital holds enough fascination to occupy any visitor for days. There is a plethora of things to do in Kathmandu, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t venture beyond the confines of the city and the touristy centre of Thamel to explore some of the sights dotted around the verdant Kathmandu Valley. The dynasties that ruled this region for centuries did so from a series of different palaces, around which grew up richly embellished enclaves of temples, monasteries and mansions. Today, these constitute one of the finest collections of late-medieval architecture in Asia. The traditional religious rituals that accompanied them have largely survived too in the area’s many Buddhist and Tantric Hindu shrines.
In this blog, we help you plan your Nepal holiday by presenting a roundup of our best places to visit as day trips from Kathmandu, ranging from Newari durbar squares to hilltop villages that yield magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks to the north.
The obvious first foray beyond the city limits is south across the Bagmati River to Patan (aka ‘Lalitpur’ or ‘Manigal’). The Valley’s second largest town holds Nepal’s greatest concentration of historic buildings, the majority of them ranged around the central Durbar Square (one of three Nepali piazzas honoured with World Heritage Site status by UNESCO). Tiled with traditional bricks, the square represents the highwatermark of Newari architecture. Numerous grand townhouses and temples sporting handsome pagoda-style eaves open on to it, along with some 136 ‘bahals’ or ‘courtyard monasteries’, as well as the beautiful Palace of the Malla Rajas, whose halls host a museum dedicated to the country’s sacred arts. Restoration work on structures damaged by the 2015 earthquake is ongoing, so some of the monuments have scaffolding around them, but the atmosphere remains undiminished.
A half-hour’s drive southeast of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is focussed around another impressive collection of monumental squares, all in high Newari style. It’s a much more easygoing city than the capital, with an historic core that’s blissfully traffic free and perfect for aimless wanders. Exploring the pretty cobbled streets you’ll come across traditional potters’, weavers’ and wood-carvers’ workshops, and dozens of picturesque little shrines and local tea shops. A small visitors’ fee is required to enter these days, but the money goes towards restoration work.
This ridgetop village, 20 miles/32km east of Kathmandu, is famous for its sunrise and sunset views of the Himalayas. Snow peaks visible on the horizon include Everest, Anapurna, Mansulu, Ganesh Himal and Langtang . . . to name but a few. The village is easy enough to reach on a daytrip but you’ll enjoy the panoramas more if you spend a night there, as the air tends to be clearer at dawn. October–December and March–April are the periods when the weather is most settled and humidity levels lowest.
Just off the Arniko (Nepal–Tibet) Highway to the east of the capital, Dhulikel is easier to reach than Nagarkot but the vistas are no less impressive. Plus it’s the site of one of our favourite hotels in the country: Dwarika’s heavenly Dhulikel Resort. You can soak up the famous dawn views from their breezy breakfast terrace and wallow in the warm waters of a Malla-themed pool, surrounded by gorgeous Newari red-brick and carved wood architecture.
Another top place to visit around Kathmandu is the best preserved Newari town after Bhaktapur and Patan. Panauti lies 45km/28miles east of Kathmandu on a rock outcrop that has for centuries protected it from the effects of earthquakes (including the 2015 quake that wrought such destruction elsewhere). Composed of brick-built houses, shrines and meeting halls made in the traditional pink-brick style the Newars, its core retains a bumper crop of traditional buildings. At the bottom of town, a ribbon of riverside ghats and pilgrims’ hostels is dominated by Nepal’s oldest surviving pagoda, Indreshwar Mahadev, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Centered on a four-faced ‘lingam’, the temple dates from the late-13th century. Nearby, the sacred confluence of the Punyamati and Roshi streams, known as the Khware, is an atmospheric spot for an early morning stroll.
Nuwakot, three hours’ drive northwest of Kathmandu on the Trisuli River, was the base from which the redoubtable warlord Prithvi Narayan Shah waged his war of attrition against the Malla Dynasty and British East India Company in the mid-18th century. Over a period of 25 years he succeeded in unifying the Kathmandu Valley, laying the foundation stones of modern Nepal. A reminder of this historic period are the three towers looming above the town’s fort, from which stupendous views of are revealed. Nuwakot also retains a splendid 18th-century palace and ornately decorated temple.
Tucked away in the hills on the southern side of the Kathmandu Valley is a village with disproportionately large number of Tibetan monasteries, most of them swathed in multi-coloured prayer flags in the pine woods above the settlement. Tibetans come here en masse to walk the sacred circuit – or ‘parikrama’ – starting at the large golden statue of Guru Rinpoche, the revered Buddhist missionary saint who is believed to have mediated in a cave here. Colourfully decorated temples, stupas, monasteries and cult images – notably a miracle-working ‘Green Tara’ – punctuate the route, which takes around an hour to complete.
A crow’s nest town draped along a ridge overlooking the Kali Gandaki river in south-central Nepal Former, Tansen (aka ‘Palpa’) was capital of the Sen princes. A wonderful collection of antique buildings survives from its 17th-century heyday as a trading hub, forming a labyrinth of narrow, steep streets lined with temples and old-fashioned Newari shop-houses. Many are lined with weaving workshops, where you can watch artisans at work on traditional ‘dkhaka’ treadle looms. Distinguished by its brightly coloured, geometric patterns, the fabric made here is used to fashion the brimless hats beloved of Newari men, as well as well as traditional ‘thailo’ purses. The area’s finest Himlayan views are to be had from Srinagar Hill, a half hour’s walk from the bazaar, from where you can see Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna ranges.
Newari traders from the Kathmandu Valley founded Bandipur as market town on the old Indo-Tibet road in the late-18th century – the source of wealth that created its outstandingly rich architectural heritage. Bypassed by the main Pokhara–Kathmadu highway, its historic core of brick and wood shop-houses, beautifully decorated with metal work and wood carving, has remained largely free of cement, and there are some astounding mountain views to be had from various hilltop temples around the town, reached via treks through rice terraces and pretty farming hamlets.
The Bhote Koshi
Last on our list of best places to visit around Kathmandu, originating in Tibet, the Bhote Koshi River on the Arniko Highway offers some of the most exhilarating white water in Nepal. Rafting trips typically last a day: you base yourself in one of three adventure-oriented resorts on the riverbank upstream from the town of Lamosangu, and combine water adventures with mountain biking, trekking, bungee jumping and canyoning. This area is also where Nepal’s famed honey hunters reside. Men from local Kulung villages scale vast cliffs in the mountains to reach hives of wild bees – a death-defying activity. The most prized honey is harvested in the spring and has psychotropic properties.