Steeped in a culture filled with history and legend, Kathmandu, Nepal is an exotic destination that’s attracted visitors for hundreds of years.
Kathmandu is a sacred place to both Buddhist and Hindu religious systems, and is central to the culture, art and economy of Nepal. Let’s find out a little more about this fascinating city.
Where Is Kathmandu?
With a population of nearly two million people, Kathmandu is the largest city in the state of Nepal, which is wedged between India and China. It is situated north of the Bagmati River, in the northwestern region of the Kathmandu Valley and is adjacent to the cities of Lalitpur, Kirtipur and Madyapur Thimi.
The city is nestled in the Nepal hill country, in the Kathmandu Valley – the average elevation of Kathmandu is about 4,600 feet above sea level. Its location was once the basin of an ancient lake, and the city’s fertile soil has helped develop a society based on agriculture.
Its location between India and China has made Kathmandu a trading center and cultural crossroads for millennia.
Kathmandu’s weather is surprisingly temperate considering its location. In January and February, temperatures might reach 70 degrees F while only dipping down to the mid-thirties at night.
In the summer months, highs may reach the 80s with lows in the 60s. Rainfall mostly occurs from June to August, during monsoon season, and drops off substantially in other months of the year.
Tourism in Kathmandu
In the years since WWII, Nepal has opened up to the rest of the world and is no longer the remote, isolated place it once was.
In the 1950s, air service to Kathmandu was established and the Tribhuvan Highway was constructed, running from the city to Raxaul, at the Indian border. Hotels, travel agencies, tour guides and publicity soon followed, and today, tourism is the number-one industry in Nepal.
In fact, the neighborhood of Thamel is known as the “traveler’s ghetto,” and is wall-to-wall with Kathmandu guest houses, shops, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and other attractions that cater to tourists.
Jhochhen Tol became so popular with hippies and other travelers in the 60s and 70s that It picked up the name “Freak Street.” Along the ancient trade route to Tibet, Asan is a bazaar and ceremonial square and garden, and is a great example of Kathmandu’s more traditional neighborhoods.
Arts and Culture in Kathmandu
Its place along trade routes has made the Kathmandu valley into a culturally rich haven for art and culture.
Sculptures of wood, stone, metal and terracotta are everywhere in temples, shrines and palaces as well as street corners, gardens and other public spaces.
Not surprisingly, much of the sculptures and statuary are religious reflect the amalgam of Hinduism and Buddhism, and include Mother Goddesses such as Bhavani, Durga, Mahsishamardini, Sri-Lakshmi and Gaja-Lakshmi.
Visitors to Kathmandu can find numerous museums and art galleries, including the Natural History Museum of Nepal and the National Museum of Nepal.
The city’s art galleries display both contemporary Western-influenced art and the works of historical artists. Much of Nepali art can be divided into idealistic traditional renderings known as Paubhas in Nepal (or Thangkas in Tibet), reflecting the country’s religious heritage, and more modern paintings that include nature scenes or abstract art rich with Tantric elements and social themes.
Festival Season in Kathmandu
Planning a trip to Kathmandu? Festivals and fairs are a great way to really immerse yourself in the region’s culture and heritage.
Celebrations such as Yenya, held in September, honor various deities and goddesses as well as remembering family members who may have died in the previous year. Dancing, processions, ritual and ceremony are part of the religious festivals in Kathmandu, making them an excellent way to take in everything that the region’s culture has to offer.
Around Nepal, literally hundreds of these celebrations are held during all times of the year.
Some festivals also mark the season of open air theater productions. Performances may touch on satire, comedy and social themes, and may be presented on dance platforms or quickly-erected stages, along the fringes of the sacred festival. These plays have a heritage that dates back centuries and are commonly known as Dabu Pyakhan.
Life in Kathmandu
The geographic location of Kathmandu and its incredibly rich history have made it a real cultural crossroads and a very diverse society. The ancient and the modern come together and coexist, Europeans and Asians and Buddhists and Hindus live peaceably with each other and things tend to get done at a different pace than most Westerners may be accustomed to.
Travel and tourism in this city is surprisingly cheap, the people are friendly and curious, and many visitors find their time in Nepal to be transformative.
If you’re considering a trip to a location that’s a clean break from what you’re used to in the United States or Europe, Kathmandu may be a great choice.