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Sightseeing Tour in and around Kathmandu

20 Nov 2023

Kathmandu is exotic, beautiful and captivating destination surrounded by majestic mountains. It is home to three major cities: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan. The valley’s ancient charm and rich cultural heritage have remained the main attraction. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into Nepal's history, unique architecture, and traditions.

Historical Background

Kathmandu Valley's historical significance dates back to ancient times. It attracted many merchants and travelers in ancient times as the valley was a trading hub between India and Tibet. The valley has witnessed the rise and fall of various dynasties and kingdoms over thousands of years. Kirats ruled the valley for about 1,225 years, from 800 BC to 300 CE. They were known for their agricultural practices and their religious traditions.

Lichchhavi later conquered the valley by defeating the last Kirat King Gasti and ruled from approximately 400 to 750 CE. It was the golden period of Nepal. The rise of numerous temples, monasteries, and public squares took place during this period. Later the Malla Dynasty took over the valley from 1200 to 1769 CE. The Malla kings promoted art, culture, and architecture. They flourished the valley with Newari art and architecture. Furthermore, during the Malla reign, the valley was divided into three city-states: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan.

From 1769 CE onwards, the Shah Dynasty and Unification took place. The king of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan Shah, launched a campaign to unify various kingdoms and states of Nepal in the late 18th century. He conquered Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and established the Shah dynasty. After the end of the Shah dynasty, the modern era began in 2008. A significant change in the political landscape took place in the country. Nepal transitioned to a federal democratic republic from a monarchy. Yet, the Kathmandu Valley remained Nepal’s cultural, political, and economic center.

Influence of various dynasties and kingdoms on the valley's architecture and culture. Each ruling dynasty and kingdom of the valley left a distinct mark on the valley's architecture, art, and culture. Kings, including Pratap Malla, Prithvi Narayan Shah, and Jayasthiti Malla, were active in nurturing art.

During the Lichchhavi dynasty (4th to the 9th century), Hinduism was introduced as the dominant religion. Many Hindu temples and religious monuments were constructed. Pashupatinath Temple and Changu Narayan Temple were built during this dynasty. The Malla Dynasty, which lasted from the 13th to the 18th century, profoundly impacted the valley's artistic creations. The Malla kings contributed a lot to the arts and architecture in Kathmandu.

Jayasthiti Malla encouraged the construction of temples, palaces, and public squares. Yaksha Malla built Yaksha Malla Palace and founded Yaksheswar Temple. Pratap Malla was into poetry and called himself Kavindra (the King of poets). Because he set an image of Hanuman beside his palace, the palace became known as Hanuman Dhoka.

Pratap Malla was fond of building temples. Krishna Mandir (Patan Durbar Square) and Guheshwari Temple were constructed during his reign. He was also the one to introduce the three-day chariot festival Seto Machchhindranath Jatra. Likewise, the Shah kings also contributed to the formation of mansions, shrines, and public buildings.

Besides the Kings, the Tibetan culture and the Newar community have played a crucial role in shaping the valley’s architecture and culture. Tibetan Buddhism significantly impacted the valley's religious practices and artistic traditions. A glimpse of their influence can be spotted in sites like Boudhanath Stupa and Swayambhunath Stupa.

The Newar community is indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley. They are renowned for their craftsmanship, particularly woodcarving, metalwork, pottery, and painting. The Newari people have preserved their expertise and contributed to the valley's unique architectural and artistic heritage. They have passed down their skills and techniques through generations.

Preservation of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley. There are 1,157 World Heritage Sites across 167 countries as of January 2023.

Kathmandu Valley is home to many natural and culturally rich sites, of which seven were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The valley’s places and buildings hold special importance for its outstanding cultural and historical significance. Many tourists worldwide visit Kathmandu to explore its beauty and learn its history.

Preserving the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley is crucial for sustaining local economies and promoting tourism. So, government authorities, heritage conservation organizations, and local communities collaborate to preserve the seven listed World Heritage Sites. Ensuring the continued transmission of Nepal's unique cultural heritage to succeeding generations is also necessary. It will help to preserve the valley’s cultural identity, foster historical continuity, promote cultural diversity, and ensure sustainable development.

Main Attractions for Sightseeing Tour

Kathmandu Valley has many places and monuments which attract thousands of travelers.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley. These sites reflect the valley's rich cultural heritage.

  • 1. Kathmandu Durbar Square

    Kathmandu Durbar Square is one of the three royal palaces in Kathmandu Valley. The palace was home to Malla and Shah Kings while they ruled Kathmandu. It comprises courtyards, fountains, ancient statues, small ponds, and temples.

    The Durbar Square showcases stunning Newari architecture and artistic craftsmanship. The site includes notable structures like the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, Kumari Ghar (House of the Living Goddess), and numerous temples. Travelers who want to learn the palace’s history can explore it; it is open to the general public as a museum.

  • 2. Bhaktapur Durbar Square

    Bhaktapur Durbar Square is another royal place home to the Malla Kings of Nepal. The visitors can observe Newari architecture, pagodas, temples, and stone sculptures while visiting this museum. They can also witness artisans creating pottery, woodcarvings, and metalwork using age-old techniques.

    Furthermore, the square was the biggest and the grandest during its independence. However, only 15 out of 99 courtyards have remained throughout the centuries. The 1833 and 1934 earthquakes heavily impacted the palace by damaging many buildings. The concerned authorities have preserved the palace’s historical essence despite the challenges. They have successfully maintained the authenticity of the square.

  • 3. Patan Durbar Square

    The Malla kings of Lalitpur resided at Patan Durbar Square. Like the other places, this square showcases Newari craftsmanship.
    Architect enthusiasts also visit Patan Durbar Square to witness the distinct pagoda-style architecture and its delicate detailing.
    Cultural travelers can drop by the museum to observe the impressive collection of religious art, ancient artifacts, and sculptures.

  • 4. Pashupatinath Temple

    Pashupatinath Temple is the largest and oldest Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Pashupati. Numerous temples, ashrams, images, and inscriptions are within the temple site. It holds immense religious and spiritual significance for Hindus worldwide. So, travelers and devotees visit this temple to offer prayers, seek blessings, and experience a deep spiritual connection. Likewise, the temple’s distinct pagoda-style design with detailed woodcarvings, silver doors, and golden spires attracts art enthusiasts. A significant population of monkeys also inhabits Pashupatinath. So, visitors can also catch sight of playful monkeys roaming around the premises.

  • 5. Boudhanath Stupa

    Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world. It carries immense religious importance for Buddhists around the globe. Boudhanath’s traditional mandala design, decorated with carvings, and colorful prayer flags, and its beautiful central dome, are a sight to behold. Furthermore, the stupa is very peaceful. Visitors can immerse themselves in Buddhist traditions and witness devotees performing rituals and prayers.

  • 6. Swayambhunath Stupa

    Swayambunath Stupa is another sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site at the top of a hill in Kathmandu Valley. Travelers can watch a panoramic view of Kathmandu city from the stupa. Swayambhunath also attracts Hindu devotees; it reflects the harmonious coexistence of these two religions. It is also home to temples, statues, and shrines dedicated to Hindu deities. The stupa also has iconic architecture. It has a golden spire topped with a white dome and the watchful eyes of Buddha. Likewise, the prayer wheels surrounding the premises, colorful prayer flags, and numerous shrines have enhanced its beauty.

  • 7. Changu Narayan Temple

    Changu Narayan Temple is an ancient temple on a hilltop near Bhaktapur. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is one of the oldest in Nepal. Furthermore, it is renowned for its stone carvings and inscriptions. Changunarayan Temple also houses a small museum. The museum has a collection of ancient artifacts, stone sculptures, and artworks with historical and archaeological significance.

Cultural and Historical Sites

The UNESCO World Heritage sites are not the only attractions in Kathmandu Valley. Local and international travelers also visit the valley to explore other cultural and historical sites.

1. Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex

Hanuman Dhoka is a palace complex spread over five acres in Basantapur, Kathmandu. The Malla kings and the Shah dynasty resided in this palace during their dynasties. The palace complex offers visitors a glimpse of the remnants of ancient royal life. Travelers can also visit the museum to witness the collection of artifacts, ancient weapons, royal regalia, religious artworks, and historical documents.

Furthermore, every temple and courtyard the royal palace houses has historical and religious significance. It is also a center for festivals, religious ceremonies, and cultural events. Locals perform traditional music, dances, and religious rituals around the area during various fiestas.

2. Kathmandu Valley Museum

The valley has several museums within its area. These museums cover Nepal's history, art, archaeology, and cultural traditions. Some of the well-known museums in the Kathmandu Valley
include:

3. The National Museum of Nepal

The National Museum of Nepal is a cultural institution. It has a vast collection of artifacts, art, and historical objects representing Nepal's cultural and artistic heritage. Since it provides visitors insight into Nepal's History, it is the best place to explore for students, researchers, and history enthusiasts.

4. The Taragaon Museum

The Taragaon Museum is a private museum owned by the Taragaon Regency Hotel.
The museum located in Boudha aims to promote local artists. It houses a permanent collection of foreign artists and a contemporary art gallery of Nepalese artists.
There is also an event hall and amphitheater to conduct events or exhibitions. It is known for its high quality and advanced art and performances.
Besides that, Patan Museum, Bhaktapur Durbar Square Museum, and Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre are other treasuries that allow travelers to engage with diverse art forms.

Religious Centers

1. Kopan Monastery

Kopan Monastery is a prominent Buddhist monastery famous for teaching Buddhism to global learning enthusiasts. Visitors can learn about Buddhist philosophy, meditation techniques, and mindfulness practices at this monastery. Travelers can also immerse themselves in the Tibetan Buddhist culture. They can witness daily rituals, prayer sessions, and ceremonies that the resident monks perform.

Kopan Monastery has a peaceful environment. So, visitors seeking a spiritual retreat or a break from the busy urban life can meditate and spend time for self-reflection and personal growth.

2. Dakshinkali Temple

Dakshinkali Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. Thus, devotees visit the temple to offer prayers, seek blessings, and perform religious rituals.
The temple is surrounded by lush greenery and rolling hills. Moreover, while visiting Dakshinkali, you can also explore Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park. The national park is near the temple.

3. Kirtipur

Kritipur is an ancient city with a rich historical background. The city has witnessed various dynasties and kingdoms.
Kirtipur is known for its Newari culture; the Newari people are natives of the city. So, visiting Kirtipur will provide visitors with the experience of the distinct culture, customs, and lifestyle of Newars.

Thamel

Thamel is a shopper's paradise. Here is the availability of many shops, boutiques, and markets. Visitors can find goods like handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, trekking gear, artwork, and souvenirs.
Food lovers can explore restaurants, cafes, and eateries. Travelers can savor Nepali or international dishes as per their desire.
The area comes alive after dark. There are numerous clubs, live music venues, and cultural performances for entertainment. Garden of Dreams and Narayanhit Palace Museum also lie near Thamel.
Therefore, these attractions help the valley’s economic development. The money travelers spend on accommodations, transportation, food, shopping, and various services, contributes to the local economy.
Furthermore, it promotes local crafts and traditions. These attractions also provide a platform for local artisans, performers, and entrepreneurs to showcase their skills, fostering cultural pride and preserving traditional practices.

Festivals and Events

The valley is renowned for having vibrant cultural traditions and lively festivals.
Numerous festivals and events take place in Kathmandu Valley throughout the year. Many visitors are fascinated when they get an opportunity to watch and participate in the rich cultural heritage of Nepal.

Dashain

Dashain is the most important Hindu festival celebrated by the valley’s locals.
It is the biggest fiesta that falls in September or October annually. The festival is celebrated for 15 days to honor the victory of good over evil.
Families gather to feast, play cards, music, dance, and catch up. Children fly kites of different colors and sizes on rooftops.

Tihar

Tihar is the festival of lights that falls in October or November. It is a five-day festival that honors animals, Laxmi (the goddess of wealth), and brothers.
During the five days, the locals decorate their homes with colorful lights and diyos (traditional oil lamps). They also make beautiful rangolis at the entrance of their houses to welcome Goddess Laxmi.
Young people play Deusi/Bhailo to spread joy from house to house singing traditional songs and performing cultural dances. In return, they receive offerings of money, food, fruits, or sweets as a gesture of appreciation and blessings.

Holi

Holi is the festival of colors celebrated in March. It is a joyous occasion where people play with water and colored powders. Everyone, from children to adults, drenches one another in a rainbow of colors. They dance, sing, and celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

Bisket Jatra

Bisket Jatra is celebrated in Bhaktapur during the Nepali New Year.
The festival holds religious and cultural significance for the people of Bhaktapur. The people from Bhaktapur participate in pulling the two wooden chariots representing the deities of Bhairab and Bhadrakali. Visitors can also witness traditional performances, including dances, music, and dramas.
Pulukishi Nach is the highlight of the event. They also perform Pulukishi Nach, a masked dance, while wearing elaborate masks and costumes.

Indra Jatra

Indra Jatra is one of the most significant religious and cultural festivals celebrated in Kathmandu Valley.
During the Jatra, many devotees pull the chariot of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity, and the living goddess Kumari. The chariot is accompanied by traditional music, dance, and chanting.
The performance of Lakhey and Pulu Kisi (masked dances) is the highlight. Lakhey is a demon- like character, and Pulu Kisi represents an ancient Kirata deity. Skilled artists perform the dances wearing traditional costumes and masks.

Kumari Jatra

Kumari Jatra offers the visitors to witness the living goddess called Kumari. She is believed to be the living incarnation of the goddess Taleju.
The living goddess is a young girl selected carefully from the Newar community. Kumari undergoes a selection process based on specific criteria and traditions.

What is the best time for Kathmandu Sightseeing Tour?

The Kathmandu Day Tour can be taken at any time of the year. Due to Kathmandu's geographical location, it experiences a moderate climate. It's neither too hot nor too cold in Kathmandu at any given time. However, if you'd like to have the best experience, we advise you to book the tour in spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November). Spring and autumn days are pleasant, with mild temperatures and clear skies.

Summer/monsoon (June to August) and winter (December to February) are alright too. The maximum temperature in summer/monsoon reaches 35 degrees Celsius, and the minimum temperature in winter falls to 0 degrees Celcius, which is bearable with appropriate clothing. Days are warm in winter anyways. If you're worried about the sun in summer, you can apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses. However, the rain may interrupt your outing.