Situated at a height of 1,320 metres above ea level, the Kathmandu Valley is regarded as one of the most fascinating valleys in Nepal. The valley that covers an area of 218 square miles is home to numerous temples and historic monuments and cultural heritage. Being home to ancient and sophisticated Newari culture, the valley boasts seven UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites within a distance of 20 kilometres. It is believed that the Valley may have been inhabited as early as 100 BC. However, the oldest known objects in the valley date to a few hundred years BC. The earliest known…
Situated at a height of 1,320 metres above ea level, the Kathmandu Valley is regarded as one of the most fascinating valleys in Nepal. The valley that covers an area of 218 square miles is home to numerous temples and historic monuments and cultural heritage. Being home to ancient and sophisticated Newari culture, the valley boasts seven UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites within a distance of 20 kilometres.
It is believed that the Valley may have been inhabited as early as 100 BC. However, the oldest known objects in the valley date to a few hundred years BC. The earliest known inscription is dated 185 AD. The oldest firmly dated building in the earthquake-prone valley is almost 1,992-year-old.
The Lord Buddha and his disciples are recorded to have spent some time in the area in the 6th century BC. However, there is no supporting evidence for this. Four stupas around the city of Patan said to have been erected by Charumati, daughter of Ashoka the Great, a Mauryan king, in the 3rd century BC attest to the ancient history present within the valley. Regarding the tales of the Buddha’s visit, there is no evidence supporting Ashoka’s visit, but the stupas probably do date to that century.
The Kirats are the first recorded rulers of the Kathmandu Valley. The remains of their palace are said to be in Patan near Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, which is called “Patukodon”. The Licchavi Dynasty whose earliest inscriptions date back to 464 AD was the next rulers of the valley and had close ties with the Gupta Dynasty of India.
The Malla Dynasty consisted of Newar rulers, who ruled the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding area from the 12th century till the 17th century when the Shah Dynasty under Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley. It is said that the most of ancient Nepalese architecture present in Nepal today is from the Malla/Newar era.
The city of Kathmandu is named after a structure in the Durbar Square called Kaasthamandap. In Sanskrit, Kaasth (wood) and Mandap (covered shelter). This unique temple, also known as Maru Satal, was built in 1596 A.D. by King Laxmi Narsingh Malla. The entire structure contains no iron nails or supports and is made entirely from wood. Legend has it that the timber used for this two-storey pagoda was obtained from a single tree.
Kathmandu is also sometimes known as “Kantipur”. Newars, the native people of the Kathmandu valley, use the original term from Nepal Bhasa.
The Kathmandu Valley has three primary cities: Kathmandu itself, Lalitpur Bhaktapur. Kathmandu is very close to Lalitpur. The two cities are separated only by the Bagmati River, while Bhaktapur is set off much closer to the eastern foothills.
As the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is home to most of the government offices, embassies and corporate houses. The Royal Palace stands right next to Thamel, the tourist hub of the country. Thamel consists of two parallel streets just to the west of the palace. It is home to different hotels, ranging from different stars. The palace is at the head of Durbar Marg, a street lined with various shops.
Most of the streets in Kathmandu are named from Nepal Bhasa, owing its origin to the rich Newari culture and heritage.
The “old” city is noted for its many Buddhist and Hindu temples and palaces, most dating to the 17th century. Many of these landmarks have been damaged by earthquakes. The UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites include Kathmandu Durbar Square (Hanuman Dhoka), Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the two most important Buddhist stupas– Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, and two famous Hindu shrines– Pashupatinath temple and Changu Narayan.
Kathmandu has been popular with western tourists since the 1960s when it became a key stop on the hippie trail, when Jho: Chhee (Nepal Bhasa, continuous house)(Freak Street) was the one of the main location. It is also the subject of a popular Bob Seger song for the same reason.
The only Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) is located about 6 kilometres east from the city center, offering domestic and international flights.
In 1956, Kathmandu was first linked with India by a motorable road. Ten years later another highway opened, and in 1974 international air services began.
Some of the major sightseeing spots of the Kathmandu Valley include:
Kathmandu Durbar Square:
Having been constructed between the 12th and the 18th centuries, the Kathmandu Durbar Square is the historic seat of royalty. Since 1979, the area has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which epitomizes the social, religious and cultural life of the Nepalese. It is the place where the kings of Nepal used to be crowned and their coronations solemnized.
The ferocious Kal Bhairav, Nautalle Durbar Square, Coronation Nasal Chowk, the Gaddi Baithak, the statue of King Pratap Malla, the big Drum and the Jagannath Temple are some of the major tourist attractions of the Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Another attraction of this spot is the Kumari Ghar (house of the Living Goddess Kumari). The temple is situated in Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Visitors greet Kumari and she receives greetings from the wooden window, which is artistically carved. Kumari is a young girl child who is considered the living goddess. She is kept in her palace until about the age of thirteen when she is replaced by another Kumari.
The area is home to a large number of monuments. There is also the Numismatic Museum and Tribhuvan Museum inside the palace building. Photography is prohibited inside the museum. It is the place to observe the juxtaposition of past and present, old and new.
Swayambhu Nath Stupa:
The Swayambhu Nath Stupa located atop a hillock just three kilometers west of the Kathmandu down town. This is one of the holiest Buddhist sites and the best places to observe religious harmony in Nepal. Both Hindus and Buddhists visit the stupa, which is said to be over 2,000-year-old. The stupa was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List in 1979.
A large image of Lord Buddha is in a monastery next to the stupa. This is often known as the Monkey temple, and the major landmark in the valley. One can have a panoramic view of the Kathmandu city from the western part of the hillock.
Pashupati Nath Temple:
This is considered the holiest Hindu pilgrimage that lies just five kilometers east of the heart of Kathmandu. The world-famous pagoda-style temple of the Lord Shiva has the scared linga, or phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. There are also small temples dedicated to other deities. The temple was also inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List in 1979.
Although only Hindus are allowed inside the temple, visitors can clearly see the temple and the activities performed in the temple from the eastern bank of the Bagmati River. Regarded as a very important part of the city from religious and cultural point of views, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Nepal and India visit the temple every year. Near the temple lies the “Arya Ghat” on the banks of the Bagmati River. As a major cremation area, dead bodies are cremated here.
Boudha Nath Stupa:
The Bouddha Nath Stupa is the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. The artistic stupa lies about eight kilometers north-east of Kathmandu. The stupa is said to be the largest one in South Asia. Having been inscribed on the list of World Heritage in 1979, the stupa stands for the Lord of wisdom. The name ‘Boudhanath’ is made up of two words– Boudha and Nath. Boudha means wisdom and the suffix Nath symbolises Lord. There are more than 45 Buddhist monasteries located at the base of the stupa.
Both Hindus and Buddhists visit this pilgrimage site. They are found sacrificing animals in the name of goddess. Pilgrims mostly visit this site during on Tuesdays and Saturdays.Lying about 15 kilometres south of Kathmandu, the temple of Dakshinkali is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali or the goddess of power. She is regarded as one of the most important Hindu goddesses.