Most trekkers heading out to Everest or Annapurna save at least one day on the end of their treks for Kathmandu. If you are wondering what are the best sightseeing options here are 6 great ideas to get you started.
1. Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple
The Monkey Temple lies on a hill top about 20 minutes walk from Thamel. Walk-up the 365 steps to the stupa at the top which is a important pilgrimage place for Buddhist and enjoy the birds-eye views of Kathmandu. The stairs are home to numerous monkeys that are said to be holy and are quite used to humans. Make sure to keep a safe distant as monkey bites are serious, but you can certainly get some great pictures.
It takes no more than a few hours to enjoy the Monkey Temple. When you reach the top of the stairs you need to pay an entrance fee of 200 Rs. If you are coming from Thamel in a taxi the charge should be no more than a few hundred Rupees.
2. Kathmandu Durbar Square and Freak Street
The Durbar Square of Kathmandu is one of the easiest places to visit in Thamel and one of the most interesting both architecturally and culturally. The square and palace compound highlight architectural elements like the multi-tiered pagoda and the Newar window. The history of the square dates back to the 15th century when the square housed the royal palaces of the Malla kings. At the time it was one of three separate independent states in the Kathmandu valley alongside Bhaktapur and Patan. Prithvi Shah, a Gorkha ruler successfully united all of the independent kingdoms of Nepal between 1740 and 1770.
During the 1960’s and early 1970’s the area just to the south of Durbar square was known as “Freak Street” for the crowds of hippies that flocked to the state sponsored marijuana shops. These shops were closed down in the early 1970’s and the government of Nepal deported many hippies to in India and instituted a dress code for visitors that persisted a few years.
The entrance fee to the Palace and Durbar Square is a bit steep at 1000 Rs since it’s a UNESCO heritage site. Even if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee you can still walk around the area and still have a worthwhile experience while enjoying the architecture and taking in the colorful and sometimes mystifying culture of Nepal.
3. Boudhanath Stupa
The ancient Stupa is one of the most important for Buddhist around the world and thousands of pilgrims flock to it annually. It’s one of the largest stupas in the world and colorfully decorated with prayer flags. The stupa is essentially a large dome representing the earth whose base is surrounded by prayer wheels and on the top is a cubicle structure with paintings of the eye’s of Buddah which represent the enlightened state of compassion and wisdom. There are 13 spires around the cube representing the 13 tasks the Buddhists must perform to reach enlightenment. The stupa itself lies on an ancient trade route between Tibet and the Kathmandu valley. During the 1950’s many Tibetan refugees relocated in the vicinity and set up many of the small shops and restaurants around the stupa.
If your are visiting you can spend about an hour here or a little more if you have lunch or coffee at one of the many shops around the stupa. If you are going around the stupa go clockwise and likewise spin the prayer wheels in clockwise direction which is the same direction as the writing on the wheels. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and the entrance fee is 250Rs. It’s about 7km from the city center and close to the airport.
4. Pashupatinath Hindu Temples
Pashupatinath Temple is a collection of Hindu temples built along the banks of the Bagmati River. The temples have a long history dating back to around 400 AD and unlike Hindu temples in India they make use of the pagoda style of architecture that originates from the Newar culture of Kathmandu Valley. The banks of the Bagmati are lined by a series of funeral Ghats where daily cremation ceremonies take place. Wandering through the temple complex you are likely to encounter some of the old Sadhus (wise men). The Sadhus often grow their hair for years and forsake all of modern day luxuries in their search for spiritual enlightenment.
The temple complex is about a 20min taxi ride from Thamel and should cost no more than 400Rs one way to reach. The entrance fee is 1000Rs.
5. Ancient City of Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur is one of the three historic cities of Kathmandu Valley dating back to the 15th century when the original palace and durbar square were constructed. Today many of the old buildings and windy streets remain and are still home to a population of about 200,000. Bhaktapur is most famous for its intricate architecture, delicately engraved window frames (Newar Windows), multi-tiered pagodas and sunken wells. Its dominate inhabitants are the Newars who ruled over the city until the 1750’s when all the city-states of Nepal were unified by the Gorkhas. If you are visiting be sure to sample some of the Newar cusine at one of the local rooftop restaurants. To reach Bhaktapur it’s about a 40 min taxi ride from Thamel in Kathmandu and the entrance fee is 1500 Rs.
6. Patan Ancient City
Patan is another one of the three ancient cities of Kathmandu Valley and today is still home to over 200,000 residents many who make their living by engaging in handicrafts such as the carving of stone and metallic statues. It is the most Buddhist of the three ancient cities while Bhaktapur is the most Hindu and Kathmandu somewhere in the middle. One of the highlights of Patan is the Durbar square which has been given status as a world heritage site. All of the temples and palaces that surround the main square are constructed in the Newa style which is typified by its delicate engravings and multi-storied pagodas. The entrance fee is 500 Rs.