• Kathmandu

Kathmandu

Nepal

Situated in a lush basin and surrounded by the mighty Himalayan peaks to the north, Kathmandu is the gateway to all of Nepal’s vast riches. Despite growing at a fast, largely unregulated pace, the city and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley still manage to cling onto their rich heritage and diverse culture. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find iconic temples, 100 year-old houses and no less than seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. The city has moved on from its reputation as a hippie haven in the 70’s, and yet still retains a strong sense of its spirituality. From yoga courses to meditation retreats, Buddhist pilgrimages and treks amidst isolated monasteries, Kathmandu beckons with a mystical draw for those looking to get away from it all and find meaning above the clouds.

Most of all however, Kathmandu loves its visitors. As the last city before the vast remoteness of the Himalayas, it sees a maelstrom of passing adventurers and religious pilgrims, NGO expats and volunteers. All are welcomed here by some of the kindest people on the planet; many of whom have dedicated their lives to accommodating travellers with their trademark grace and generosity. Despite recent challenges, including political turmoil and a devastating earthquake, Kathmandu's people somehow still manage to rise above the day-to-day struggles of a landlocked capital – a testament to their proud and mighty spirit.

Why Go

The gateway to the majestic Himalayas, Kathmandu is home to thousand-year-old cultural practices and some of the most welcoming people on the planet.

When to go

Kathmandu has a monsoonal climate with four main seasons. The main climbing season lasts from October until late November, with cool but pleasant temperatures and clear skies that make it perfect for outdoor activities. December till February sees temperatures as low as 0°C (32°F), although treks at lower altitudes are still possible. March to April brings another round of visitors and adventurers with its colourful spring blossoms and pleasant weather. June to September marks the monsoon season, with high levels of humidity and low visibility. Many hotels drop their prices during this period.  

Average Temp

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

High °C

17

19

24

28

29

29

27

27

27

25

22

18

Low °C

2

4

8

12

15

17

18

18

17

14

9

4

High °F

63

66

75

82

84

84

81

81

81

77

72

64

Low °F

36

39

46

54

59

63

64

64

63

57

48

39

Book to Pack

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen for an insight into the majestic mountains of Nepal; or Kathmandu, by Thomas Bell for a gripping history of the city that stretches back a millennia.

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Kathmandu Stupa
  • Child with balloon at temple
  • Patan palace with flags
  • Boudhanath Stupa prayer flags
  • Nepalese man making momos
  • Kathmandu Durbar Square at night
  • Carved stone fountain in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Rickshaw driver in Kathmandu, Nepal

Things to Do

  • Admire the majestic Boudhanath Stupa

One of the biggest stupas in the world, the Boudhanath Stupa is also one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Visit early in the morning or at dusk to witness religious pilgrims circling around the stupa to offer their prayers. The nearby shops are also filled with art, antiques, furniture and religious artefacts, mostly run by members of the Tibetan Refugee community.

  • Visit the iconic Swayambhunath Stupa

One of the oldest religious sites in Kathmandu, Swayambhu Stupa is one of Kathmandu’s most iconic sights and is of great significance to both Buddhists and Hindus. The temple’s records date back to the 5th century B.C., where legend has it that the hilltop on which it stands was once the centre of an island in a mighty lake in the Kathmandu basin. One day, the ground opened and the lake drained, thereby opening up Kathmandu for human settlement. The temple is also home to many mischievous monkey inhabitants, hence its nickname ‘the Monkey Temple’.

  • Explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Squares

The Kathmandu Valley is actually composed of three separate Newar kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, dating back to medieval times. At the heart of each kingdom lies the magnificent Royal Complexes, known as Durbars, housing an impressive collection of palaces and temples. All three are UNESCO World Heritage sites and well worth exploring in their own right, each with their own distinct styles, practices and cultures.

  • Take a stroll in the Garden of Dreams

A peaceful garden nestled in the busy Thamel district, the Garden of Dreams was built by a wealthy Rana family in the early 1920’s. Today it's known for its fusion of traditional Nepali architecture with ancient Greek and Roman influences. The garden is a lovely place to enjoy a quiet stroll and escape from the chaos of Thamel.

  • Visit the sacred Pashupati Temple

Sited on the banks of the Bagmati River, the Pashupati Temple complex houses one of the most important Hindu temples in the world, dedicated to the Lord Shiva. The temple is also home to numerous cremation ghats, where traditional Hindu cremation rituals are conducted. Visitors are usually welcome to observe these ceremonies, but be sure to show your respect to the families and deceased.

  • Shop for exquisite Nepalese handicrafts

Nepal has a rich artisan and handicraft tradition worth exploring. Different areas and communities specialise in different crafts: Old Patan is well known for its metal and bronze work; Boudhanath specialises in traditional Tibetan artifacts, including furniture, prayer beads, mandalas and thangka paintings; while Thimi is renowed for its pottery. Nepal is also world famous for its exquisite wool and pashmina scarves, although distinguishing between the various levels of quality can be a challenge – it’s worth going to a reputable shop to avoid getting ripped off. Patan is home to several fair trade shops such as Mahaguti, Sana Hastakala, and Dhukuti that sell ethically-produced handicrafts made by local communities.

  • Explore the Kathmandu Valley on two wheels

The Kathmandu Valley is a mountain biker’s dream come true. Cycle just a few minutes outside the city and you’ll quickly find yourself meandering through villages and trudging up hills, rewarded by magnificent views all around. A number of tour companies in Kathmandu can organise tours that include a guide and rented bicycles.

  • Take a day or overnight trip to the countryside

Set in a valley and surrounded by hills, Kathmandu is the gateway to the mighty Himalaya mountain range, with some of the highest, most legendary peaks in the world. On a clear day you may be able to catch glimpses of the majestic Langtang, Ganesh Himal and Gauri Shankar ranges in the distance, and if you’re extremely lucky, Mt. Everest itself. Kathmandu is the start/end point for treks out to Langtang and Gosaikund Lakes, and is the only airport with extensive domestic connections to Lukla for treks around the Everest area. If you’re short on time, the nearby Dhulikhel, Shivapuri and Nagarjun areas just outside the city offer plenty of short day hikes with stunning views around the lush green peaks and cascading rivers. 

  • Get in touch with your inner self

Kathmandu is a world-renowned centre for spirituality, with some of the world’s most important Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage sites. Capitalise on its rich offerings by taking part in a meditation or yoga retreat, or further your studies in Buddhism, Hinduism or Eastern philosophy with English-speaking teachers and experts from all round the world.

A holy man or sadhu in Kathmandu, Nepal
Boudanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Getting There

NOTE: Travel information such as flight, train, bus and boat schedules and fares are subject to constant change. The information below is intended as a basic guide only; please check with the relevant companies/authorities before planning your journey.

By Air

Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu is Nepal’s only international airport, serving flights from around Asia. Connections include Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, New Delhi, Mumbai, Doha, Dubai and Istanbul. Kathmandu is also the main domestic connecting point to other major town and cities in Nepal, including Pokhara, Bhairawa, Biratnagar and Nepalgunj, as well as mountain flights such as Lukla (Everest).

By Car

Kathmandu’s central location puts it at a relatively close distance to most parts of the country by car, including Pokhara (4.5 hrs), Bandipur (3 hrs), Chitwan (3 hrs), Bharatpur (3.5 hrs) and Dhulikhel (1 hr). Cars with drivers can be hired for the day.

Getting Around

By Taxi

Taxis can be found all over the city and are generally the best way of getting around. Prices are typically subject to negotiations, even if they are equipped with meters.

By Mini-Van

Kathmandu lacks a comprehensive public transport network: private hop-on minivans are the substitute to a bus system. For a few rupees, you can reach every metropolitan destination provided that you know where to get off and don’t mind jostling with the crowds. Traffic can be an issue during morning and late afternoon rush hour periods. If you plan to escape Kathmandu, time your getaway accordingly.

On Foot

Kathmandu's many medieval squares, temples and quarters are perfect for roaming about on foot. Bear in mind that Kathmandu has no determined address system. Most locals refer to their destination by area (e.g. Patan, Thamel) or a particular landmark, or Chowk (crossroads or well-known local temple).

The Essentials

Visa Requirements

Visas on arrival are available on arrival for citizens of most countries at Kathmandu airport. The price ranges from US$25 for a 15-day visa up to US$100 for 90 days. Bring along a passport-sized photo – an expensive photo booth is available before the gates but is usually packed with arriving crowds. To view a list of eligible nationalities, visit Nepal’s Department of Immigration website.

Currency

Nepal uses the Nepalese Rupee (NPR), currently exchanging at a convenient 100:1 ratio to the US dollar. Visit xe.com for the latest exchange rates. US dollars are widely accepted everywhere, especially for hotels and larger sums of money. Credit cards are largely accepted in downtown Kathmandu, but beyond the immediate shopping and tourist areas there are limited banking facilities and ATMs.

Respect & Safety

  • Kathmandu has been long accustomed to tourists, expats and visitors and safety is not an issue, even at night. In general, the Nepalese are extremely warm and friendly people and are always kind to tourists.
  • If embarking on a trek or adventure tour, be sure to check the status of equipment and training for your porters and/or guides. Always ensure that your insurance coverage includes high-risk activities such as paragliding or white-water rafting, as well as trekking emergencies and potential airlifts, especially if you are going to remote areas.
  • The media coverage of the devastating earthquakes in April and May 2015 doesn’t reflect the Kathmandu reality: today the city is alive and well; many buildings are damaged but remain standing and the population is not as desperate as images would show. All Indistay hotels have been inspected for earthquake damage and certified as safe. Click here for our update on Nepal’s post-earthquake situation.  

Responsible Tourism

The birth country of the Buddha is naturally very religious, and temples and celebrations are still an important part of the city life. Nepal’s Buddhist-Hindu culture is generally very tolerant, but visitors are expected to show respect in return. Always remove your shoes when entering a temple and remember to circulate in a clockwise direction around the stupas. Pay attention to flower or rice offerings in front of doorsteps and avoid stepping on them.

Kathmandu has a huge variety of trekking and tour agencies. When hiring a tour guide or porter, do some research and find reputable companies who pay fair wages. We recommend Rural Heritage, a well-established tour operator specialising in cultural and adventure tours. Many other companies cut costs with the porters who generally earn the least and travel with heavy packs and unsuitable gear. Remember that you are contributing to the livelihoods of people living in one of the poorest nations in the world – tip generously if you can.

Sadhu in Kathmandu

Learn the Lingo

Nepali is the official language of Nepal, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas.

Hello / goodbye – Namaste

How are you – Kasto cha?

Excuse me – Maapha ganus

Thank you – Dhanybhad

What is this? – Yo ke ho?

How much is this? – Yo kati ho?

Please make it a little cheaper – Ali sastoma dinus

Have a nice day – Subha din