The city of Kathmandu is full of life, buzzing, and busy. The streets are filled with rickshaws, mopeds, taxis, bicycles, and foot traffic bringing about a cacophony of sounds. The vistas are visually striking. Rich in historic sites, ancient shrines, longstanding temples, charming villages, and contemporary structures, Kathmandu represents a blend of ancient and modern times.
Chaotic is a term you may use to describe a metropolitan area that serves as home to two and a half million people. But fret not, because there is beauty in this pandemonium and sensory overload.
In Kathmandu, first impressions can be unreliable. Get past the dusty roads, traffic, incessant transport noise, assertive street peddlers, and you may just find yourself in the middle of an otherworldly cultural experience.
Kathmandu City Highlights
The sights to see in and around Kathmandu are plentiful. Take note, however, that Kathmandu had a massive earthquake in 2015. The infrastructure and tourists services are running normally and restoration efforts are ongoing. However, the effects of the natural calamity can still be seen in some structures.
The following are some of the sights and experiences you must not miss out on:
Find your way around Thamel, a bustling tourist district jam-packed with souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and accommodation. This commercial neighbourhood is crowded, lively, and exceedingly hectic. You can find almost everything that you need here from trekking gear, gadgets, clothing and mementos to fruits and vegetables. Exercise your bartering skills to avoid paying a hefty sum for your purchases. Moreover, explore the quaint streets, which offer a genuine, raw glimpse into the local life.
Visit the fifth-century Boudnarath, one of the world’s largest stupas. A pilgrimage destination to many practicing Buddhist, you will see monks and individuals walking ritually around the stupa. There is a Rs 250 entrance fee for foreigners.
Explore the monasteries located all over the city.
Get some exercise and climb 365 steps to the top of Swayambhunath Stupa for a rewarding panoramic view of the city. The ancient religious architecture is a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists. Also referred to as the Monkey Temple, hundreds of the monkeys scampering around the area. Be mindful of these monkeys as you climb the stairs to avoid any mishaps.
Discover Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a designated Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979. The square, built between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, remains the focal point of the city heritage, culture, religion and pride. Durbar Square, originally created from the palaces ancient Malla and Shah kings, means ‘Place of Palaces’ when translated literally. Foreigners must pay a hefty sum of 1,000 rupees.
Have a taste of local cuisine in numerous restaurants around the city. Order dal bhat (rice, lentils with vegetables or meat), momo (Nepali version of dumplings), and thukpa (hot noodle soup) that are popular local dishes.
Have a glimpse of the last monarchy in Nepal at the Narayanhiti Palace or Narayanhiti Durbar. The former royal palace, which served as a residence for Nepalese monarchs, is now a public museum.
Shop in Durbar Margh where you can find high-end, branded shops and fine dining options.
Key Tips for Visiting Kathmandu
The traffic can be insane. As much as possible, walk with great caution or take a taxi to go around the city. Want to remain environmentally friendly while exploring? Rickshaws are a great option too.
Pollution is high in Kathmandu. The city suffers from terrible transport infrastructure. Many of the streets are unsealed and dusty. Protect yourself by wearing a mask that completely covers your face and mouth. Avoid surgical masks, as they don’t offer as much shield from smog.
Electricity blackouts, also known as load shedding, happen frequently. Book an accommodation with a generator as much as possible. There is usually a weekly timetable for this so be sure to ask your hotel for a copy too so you can remain prepared. Keep devices charged and bring spare batteries to minimise the effect of these electric shortages.
The Internet speed in Kathmandu can be painfully slow. Many accommodations promise 24/7 Wi-Fi but it is not that reliable. If you wish to stay connected, purchase a local sim card with data packages of up to 10 GB.
Kathmandu is a safe city for solo female travellers. However, it is a conservative society. Dressing moderately is a sign of respect to the culture. Feminine hygiene products are easily available but tampons can be difficult to find.
The taxis rarely use the meter. It is a legal requirement that a vast majority of taxi drivers do not adhere to. The process is usually flagging down a taxi and asking them the price. Inquire at your hotel about an approximate price range so you have an idea so you can bargain. Avoid taxis that are arranged by your hotel because, more often than not, the rate will be inflated.
Going shopping? Kathmandu has a barter system that dates back to thousands of years ago. The prices are marked up considerably. Visit a few shops to get an overview of the price before negotiating. Hopefully, after visiting a few shops, you will arrive at one that will give you a better price. This will be a little difficult in Thamel since the demand is high. Try other markets in the city. Getting a great bargain can feel good. But of course, do not take things too far. Some tourists harass an old seller into selling at a price that is far below the actual cost. At times, a seller agrees to such prices because they have to feed their families. Barter to get a fair deal for both parties.
Be an eco-friendly traveller. Carry your trash with you until you find a proper area for disposal.
Most Nepalese do not mind being photographed. But as with anywhere in the world, some may find this disrespectful. Ask permission first especially if you are taking photos of ceremonies or of older people.
Try not to point with a single finger. Instead, use a flat extended hand to indicate a place.
Have you visited Kathmandu recently? Share your experience with us as well as any additional tips in the comment section!
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