For many people, stepping off a plane into Kathmandu is an exhilarating shock - the sights, sounds and smells can quickly lead to sensory overload. Whether it be buzzing around the crazy polluted traffic in a taxi, trundling down the narrow winding streets of the old town in a rickshaw, marvelling at Durbar Sq or dodging the tiger balm sellers and trekking touts in Thamel, Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place.
As the largest (and pretty much the only) city in the country, Kathmandu also feels like another developing-world city rushing into a modern era of concrete and traffic pollution. Take a walk in the backstreets, however, and the capital's amazing cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself in hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillis and rice, and tiny hobbit-sized workshops largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.
Kathmandu has been a travellers mecca since the 1960s but these days you're less likely to see a tie-dyed hippy in search of enlightenment than a well-heeled Gore-Tex-clad tourist in search of a good espresso. With tourist numbers down and political tensions up, the last few years have been uncertain, yet residents have retained a good-humoured self-respect.
Kathmandu is well worth a week of your time, but it's too easy to spend too much time stuck in touristy Thamel. Enjoy the Internet cafés, the Western music and the lemon cheesecake, but make sure you also get out into the 'real Nepal', before your time runs out.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Kathmandu
Trekking in Nepal Himalaya - Kathmandu (Chapter)
This is the Kathmandu chapter from Lonely Planet's Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guidebook.
Durga Puja (Dasain) - world's best festivals
'RTW2009-1034Kathmandu' by plusgood. Creative Commons Attribution Location: Kathmandu, Nepal Dates: fifteen days ending on the full moon in late September/early October. 11-15 Oct 2013. Level of participation: 2 - steel yourself for mass sacrifices and a procession of swords.
Trekking gear and trinkets in Kathmandu
Kathmandu destination guides
Kathmandu's alleys and temples
Kathmandu is enchanting. It’s medieval and spiritual and alive. And the only way to really see this chaotic cobbled maze is by foot. Start your exploring in Thamel – a traveller enclave with some great hotels and hostels. Thamel is loads of fun and crammed with touts and colourful stalls.
Everest Base Camp & Kala Pattar
A classic trek through Sherpa villages to the base of Mount Everest and Kala Pattar
Spectacular traverse from Gokyo Lakes to Kala Pattar affording incredible views of Mount Everest
Kathmandu's Indra Jatra Festival
Indra, the ancient Aryan god of rain, was once captured in the Kathmandu Valley while stealing a certain flower for his mother, Dagini. He was imprisoned until Dagini revealed his identity and his captors gladly released him.