The bustling capital of Nepal, and one of the longest continuously inhabited cities on the planet, Kathmandu was a fascinating if exhausting place to spend time before and after hiking the Kanchenjunga Circuit.
To start with an icon of the city, and country, the distinctive Swayambhu. One of the oldest and holiest religious sites in Nepal, it is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. The white domed stupa with the ever watchful eyes of the Buddha has quite a presence.
There are big views of Kathmandu below and a host of temples and shrines on the hilltop site.
Part of the experience is walking around these beautiful prayer wheels and many stupas at the base of the mountain.
Before heading up the eastern walkway, past merchants, beggars, and monkeys, as the steps get steadily steeper, so you’re somewhat delirious by the time you reach the top.
It was probably the most spectacular place in Kathmandu but my favourite was the lovely Garden of Dreams. On the edge of Thamel, behind huge walls shielding it from the relentless traffic, is this oasis of calm and beauty. Built in 1920 it fell into disrepair from the 1960s, and was nearly demolished in 1998, but thankfully was saved and recently restored.
The many ponds offered great reflections. It is understandably a popular place for young lovers, and selfie takers. There is some overlap between these two groups…
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is one of three Durbar Squares in the area, along with Patan and Bhaktapur. They’re all home to a wide range of temples and shrines built over the centuries, though many haven’t survived multiple earthquakes that have struck Kathmandu, the most recent being the devastating 2015 quake. There have been temples here for over a thousand years, but the oldest remaining date from the 16th century.
It’s a bit overwhelming to visit, with such a seeming jumble of buildings, busy with both locals and tourists.
The 1908 Gaddi Durbar sticks out, a European style palace in the middle of the square, though the main hall has an impressive ceiling.
Probably not that well known is the National Museum, a couple of kilometres south from Swayambhu. It was quite a pleasant place away from the traffic and people with three buildings, an Art Gallery, Buddhist Art Gallery and Historical Museum. The first was home to some impressive pieces, the second less so.
The third though had the most memorable pieces, though not necessarily intentionally. There were some scarily stuffed animals and dioramas, and a doll collection, featuring not dolls from Nepal but random ones from around the world, including China, Congo, and Greece!
Dharahara was a symbol of both the city and the devastation of the 2015 earthquake, with the 72m tower toppling. Six years later a replica was opened next to it. This was the fourth such tower to be built, the others being destroyed in previous earthquakes. To me it looks like a lighthouse in the centre of Kathmandu, quite a surreal sight.
To end with a well known, if unpleasant aspect of Kathmandu, the relentless traffic and associated pollution, exacerbated by the city’s bowl shape in the land. I thought Delhi was as bad as it gets but I found Kathmandu worse somehow. There are few pedestrian bridges over the traffic, otherwise you have to risk you life to cross the road, though the speeds are relatively low at least. The scooters around the city streets were stressful as they narrowly pass you. The pollution was the worst though, even wearing my N95 Covid mask much of the time, as were many of the locals. I’d get back from a short walk with my clothes smelling like I’d smoked a packet of cigarettes, though almost no one here smokes.