Kathmandu is an assault on the senses. It is a blend of fume-shrouded traffic chaos, clanging temple bells, cooing doves, the sticky scents of temple food offerings, wafts of incense and the sound of the ubiquitously piped Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum pouring from the shops in the tourist neighbourhood. The beckoning of persistent salesmen and the imploring of beggars adds to the mix. It is chaotic, mesmerising, fascinating and exhausting. After spending some time in Kathmandu, you will need to get out of the crazy city streets to find some peace.
There are several tranquil spots to reenergize, both in the surrounding Kathmandu Valley and in the city itself. These are special places: ancient towns, spacious squares, hidden, walled gardens and breezy hilltop temples -- all havens of calm amid the flurry of city life. While some of these have been recognised as Unesco World Heritage sites for their cultural and historical values, others are lesser-known, quiet spots. Here is a collection of the best:
The Garden of Dreams
Just outside Kathmandu’s tourist hub Thamel, off busy Tredevi Marg, a tiny entrance in a tall brick wall leads into perhaps the most unexpected experience in the city. Step inside and you will find yourself in a neoclassical historical garden -- a place of ponds and lily pads, green lawns and whispering palm trees, and most importantly, quiet. This is a magical place, especially when lit up at night. Take tea at the Kaiser Café to complete the experience.
On a hilltop just west of Kathmandu’s centre, this World Heritage Buddhist stupa sits under fluttering prayer flags with views of the Kathmandu Valley laid out before it. Come here to look down on the city, orientate yourself and breathe Kathmandu’s freshest air. You can watch sacred monkeys skit through the trees and vultures soar above the valley. This nearly 1500-year-old site is a place of breezy contemplation and blissfully open space.
For a breath of the tangibly spiritual, come to this vast Buddhist stupa at sunset. This is when the red-robed monks and Tibetans in traditional dress walk their daily kora (pilgrimage). Although the pedestrian square around the stupa is thronged, the orderly clockwise flow of devotees has a hushed, reverent feel. Order your tsampa, a Tibetan snack of roasted flour, at one of the restaurants overlooking the square and watch as the stupa fades from sunset orange to ghostly white.
When you have had enough of the Kathmandu Valley’s dusty, belching traffic jams, car-free Bakhtapur is the perfect spot to seek refuge. This beautifully restored Newari town -- also a World Heritage site -- is a place to stroll quiet cobblestone streets between temples, hidden courtyards and spacious squares. Bakhtapur has a vibrant cultural life: you will see potters drying their work in the sun, carvers working as they have for centuries and weavers crafting intricate designs. Come to soak in history amid a slow-paced, timeless ambience.
Changu Narayan temple
Crowning the hilltop above Changu village at the eastern end of the Kathmandu Valley is Nepal’s oldest Hindu temple, founded in the 4th century and dedicated to Vishnu. Despite its proximity to Bakhtapur, Changu Narayan sees few visitors and has a pleasingly out-of-town feel, surrounded by fields, forest and rural views. The architecture and sculptural detail are sublime, and the atmosphere is serene. The exceptional artistic merits of Changu Narayan have won it Unesco World Heritage status.
Nagarjun Forest Reserve
One of the last areas of undisturbed forest in the Kathmandu Valley, this peaceful reserve feels far from the city, though it is only about 4km north of Thamel. The reserve -- also known as Rani Ban or Queen’s Forest -- is home to deer, pheasants and monkeys. Birdspotters will delight in the fact that Nagarjun and neighbouring Shivapuri National Park have recorded 318 bird species. Walk the footpath to the summit (2095m) for wide valley views, or come here to climb or mountain bike. There have been security issues here in the past so do not walk alone.