The Art Gallery building of the National Museum in Nepal.

© Eduard Constantin/Shutterstock

National Museum


Around 800m south of Swayambhunath at Chhauni, this sprawling museum set in a walled compound looks a little moth-eaten and overgrown, but there are some fabulous treasures on dusty display and it never gets crowded. It's well worth a visit.

As you enter the compound, turn left to reach the Judda Art Gallery, which contains some exquisite stone, metal and terracotta statues of Nepali deities and fabulous paubha cloth paintings. Look out for the 1800-year-old life-sized statue of standing Jayavarma, discovered while digging house foundations in 1992, as well as the bronze statue of buffalo-headed Sukhavara Samvara with 34 arms, 16 feet and nine faces.

At the back of the compound is the temple-style Buddhist Art Gallery. As well as some archaeological displays from Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini, some fine Buddhist statues, votive objects, thangkas (religious paintings) and manuscripts, there are some informative upstairs displays on mandalas (geometric Buddhist diagrams). A highlight here is the 8th-century stone depiction of the birth of Buddha, showing Queen Maya holding onto the branch of a tree.

Don't miss the antique Hudson Phantom just around the corner, made in Detroit and believed to be the first car to arrive in Nepal, carried across the Himalaya by a team of porters in the early 1900s.

To the north of the main compound, the handsome Rana-era palace building was damaged in the 2015 earthquake. The ground floor Natural History Gallery is still open, with its arthritic-looking stuffed animals and old whale bones, but the upper storey collection of weapons, coins and stamps remains off limits.

Ticket sales stop an hour before closing time; bags must be left in the free lockers at the gate. The museum closes an hour earlier in winter (November to January).

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