So you’ve survived your first few days in Kathmandu but now it’s time to explore this beautiful and chaotic city! It has a lot to offer, amazing food and handmade craft stores, temples and stupas, parks and rivers.
All of these things are (just about) within walking distance of Thamel, but it’s very easy to catch a tuk-tuk, taxi or even a local bus to visit those things further away.
This is probably where you’re sleeping if you’re a backpacker or a hippy or just want to be around the action. It’s where you’ll find all the best bars and restaurants (along with some terrible ones), all the shops selling hippy pants and hiking gear, the supermarkets selling snacks, and the hostels and a few nice hotels. It’s mostly pedestrianised so you can walk through without fear of being hit by a car, but you still need to watch out for motorbikes and rickshaws. It’s busy, dirty and chaotic but you’ll love it! If you want to explore it without the crowds then just head out any time before 9am and it’s almost deserted.
Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple)
You can easily walk here from Thamel, it’s an interesting walk through back streets and across polluted rivers, uphill towards to entrance where you start the climb a few hundred stairs surrounded by hundreds of pesky little monkeys which will absolutely try to rob you of anything that could possibly contain food so beware! I had one literally jump onto my back to try and steal my bag. Anyway, once you get to the top it’s a beautiful kaleidoscope of colour from countless prayer flags, with incredible views over the city (when it’s not too smoggy). Also, there are ten thousand more monkeys. Please be careful, those little bastards will get ya. Entrance is only Rs.200 ($1.75), an absolute bargain for Nepal.
This sacred Hindi temple (the largest in Nepal) lies along the banks of the Bagmati River and it’s here you can watch the cremation ceremonies being performed. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and it can feel extremely invasive watching the process but it’s a very moving experience. Like almost everything in Kathmandu, there’s an Rs.1000 ($8.80) entrance fee. This might not seem like a lot to some people but let me tell you, when every little thing in this city costs that much it really adds up. If you don’t want to pay, or you don’t want to feel like your invading people’s privacy as they grieve, then you can walk around the outside of the complex, cross the river and follow a small path up to a viewing platform far enough away that you don’t feel like your being a complete creep.
Kathmandu Durbar Square
This ancient square sits in front of the old royal palace and is one of three royal squares in the Kathmandu Valley. It was partially destroyed after the devastating earthquake in 2015, and you can still see the building repair work that’s constantly happening to restore it. It’s another Rs.1000 “entrance fee” – you only pay if you’re foreign – which is pretty steep considering it’s just a small square and the others (Bhaktapur and Patan) are much more impressive BUT I do understand that the money (hopefully?) goes towards the restoration. If you’re on a tight budget then you can stroll along in the evening when the ticket booths are closed and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere.
Similar to the Monkey Temple (without the monkeys and the view), this gorgeous white stupa is a must-see. It’s within walking distance of Pashupatinath Temple and there is an Rs.400 ($3.50) fee, which is fine but we entered from a different direction and didn’t know you had to pay! If you avoid the front entrance and walk around to the back you can just walk right in with the locals and spend that money in one of the local shops or restaurants housed in the pretty buildings that surround the stupa.
Get lost in the winding streets
You can’t get far without finding a hidden temple, stupa or market and it’s well worth taking your camera out for a day or two just to explore and see what you stumble across. My favourite areas are the streets between Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square where you can see busy markets, Hindu temples, and a more realistic side of KTM than you’ll ever find in Thamel.
Once you’ve had your fill of the main city sights then you can hop on a bus to nearby locations such as Patan, Bkahtapur, or the mountaintop village of Nagarkot for even more ancient architecture, a taste of the local life, and some incredible views.
You can view the full album here.