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Kathmandu is an ancient settlement remains of which dating from pre-Christian era have been unearthed in archaeological excavations. It is the capital of Nepal and its largest city with a metropolitan population of 2.5 million people in 2011. The greater Kathmandu region had a population of 3 million people. The average elevation of the city is 1400 meters or 4600 feet above sea level. The city is located in bowl shaped valley surrounded by Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun and Chandragiri mountains. The other smaller cities in the valley are Lalitpur and Bhaktapur.
Arimalla, the first king of Malla Dynasty, ruled in Kathmandu valley from 1200 to 1216. The Malla Dynasty period from 1200 to 1768 was characterized by cultural and architectural accomplishment in Kathmandu and the other two capital cities of Patan and Bhaktapur. In the 14th. century there were a succession of foreign invasions during which a lot of beautiful architectural sites were destroyed. They were subsequently restored and renovated. The Malla Kingdom was divided in to three sections: Kathmandu, Bhadgaon and Patan in 1484. In 1559 Dravya Shah established the Gurkha Dynasty. From 1673 to 1696 Jitamitra Malla ruled from Bhaktapur and built many of the important heritage monuments such as the Darbar Square, Dharmasala Palace and the beautiful sculpture of Narayana. A Capuchin monk, Father Giuseppe, mentioned in his memoirs that Kathmandu had about 18,000 houses in the 1760s. The Gurkha king, Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the Kathmandu valley and laid the foundation of the modern Nepal kingdom after his crowning in 1743. In 1846 the Shah Dynasty established itself but the kings were mere figureheads while the real power rested with the Rana Prime Ministers. The first Rana Prime Minister was Jung Bahadur Kunwar. The Rana rule was basically a control of power by landed aristocracy.
In 1946 the Nepali Congress Party was established. The same year diplomatic relationship was established with USA, The constitution of Nepal was promulgated in 1948 by the Government of Nepal Act. By 1950s an open conflict started between the Rana clan and King Tribhuvan because the Rana Prime Ministers suspected that the king was curtailing their power. King Tribhuvan had to seek refuge in India. In 1951 Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher Rana was forced to abdicate all executive powers of financial management, appointment of government officials and command of armed forces etc. and King Tribhuvan returned to the throne. Finally in 1951 a cabinet system of government was established ending the century old rule of Rana Prime Ministers. In 1955 King Mahendra ascended on the throne after the death King Tribhuvan. In this year Nepal became a member of United Nations. In 1956 the Nepali Congress won absolute majority in parliament. That same year the Tribhuvan University was established. In 1972 King Birendra succeeded on the throne of Nepal.
Further political reforms in 1990 instituted a multiparty democracy within the overall constitutional monarchy. In 1996 the Maoists started a revolt leading to a decade long civil war between them and the government forces. This forced the abandoning of the cabinet and parliament. On June 1, 2001 King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other close relatives were shot dead by his own son, Prince Dipendra, who also shot himself and succumbed to his wounds a few days later. There is ambiguity about what actually happened that led to this shooting and a variety of conspiracy theories are popular in Nepal. On June 4, 2001 the dead king's brother, Gyanendra, was crowned as the king. The king assumed the absolute power in 2002. Mass protests by Maoists continued in 2006. Later that year an interim constitution was promulgated after a peace accord between them and the government. In December 2007 Maoists agreed to join the government after the monarchy was officially abolished. In May 2008 King Gyanendra left the country. In July 21, 2008 Ram Baran Yadav was sworn in as Nepal's first President. Political conflict continued between the various political parties as constituent assembly continued its work. There were 4 different governments between 2008 and 2011. Finally in May 2012 Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the constituent assembly after it could not draft a constitution. In November 2013 general elections were held in which the Nepali Congress won the most seats in constituent assembly and Sushil Koirala was sworn in as Prime Minister.
The historical monuments in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The main attractions of Kathmandu are:
Durbar Square (UNESCO World Heritage Site): The square featuring palaces, courtyards and temples from Malla Period is located in Basantpur part of the city. The historical seat of royalty in this square was Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace. Taleju Temple is more than 40 meters or 131 feet tall. The residence of living goddess, the Kumari Ghar, is an important religious site. Ashok Vinayak or Kathmandu Ganesh and Kal Bhairav, the god of wrath, are two other important Hindu temples in the square. The name of Nepali capital is derived from the giant pagoda, Kasthamandap, that is believed to be made out of a single tree.
Akash Bhairav is the temple dedicated to the ferocious manifestation of Lord Shiva. It was built in 12th. century. It is located in main market avenue named Indra Chowk.
Asan Market Square is located in the middle of the main diagonal thoroughfare connecting Durbar Square with Durbar Marg. The Annapurna Temple dedicated to the goddess of food grains is a 3-storied Pagoda that overlooks the Asan Bazaar, the most important trading area in the Nepali capital.
Swayambhunath Stupa (UNESCO World Heritage Site): This impressive Buddhist Stupa is located on a hilltop about 3 kilometers or 1.8 miles west of Kathmandu. It is considered the holiest Buddhist Chaityas. It is the oldest Buddhist monument in Kathmandu and houses many monasteries.
Pashupatinath Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is located 5 kilometers or 3 miles east of Kathmandu. It is considered the holiest Lord Shiva temple in the world and thousands of pilgrims from all over Nepal and India visit it daily. According to chronicles this 2-tiered Pagoda style temple with golden roofs and silver doors existed before 400 CE. The temple is located on the banks of Bagmati river. Another pilgrimage site dedicated to Sati Devi, Lord Shiva's consort is also the banks of this river.
Boudhanath Stupa, located about 8 kilometers or 5 miles east of main Kathmandu city, is perhaps the most imposing site in the capital. It is visible as soon as the tourists land at Tribhuvan International Airport. It is Kathmandu's main center of Tibetan Buddhism.
Balaju Gardens, just below Nagarjun hill, are located about 3 kilometers or 1.8 miles north-west of the capital. This garden, laid out in 18th. century, has 22 stone carved water spouts in the form of crocodile heads. During the annual festival pilgrims take ritual bath under these water spouts. There is a statue of Budhanikantha in the garden. It was erected here for the royal family. At the summit of Nagarjun hill (2096 meters or 6877 feet above sea level) is an ancient Buddhist Stupa and a viewing tower from where one has panoramic views of Kathmandu valley.
Thamel is the main tourist district of Kathmandu city and it is a busy area until late in to the night. Though it is mere 10 minute walk from the center of Kathmandu city, it is quite a contrast with the rest of the city.
Dharahara is 50.5 meters or 166 feet high minaret that was built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in 1832. It is open to public. A payment of entrance fee grants you a panoramic view from the top of the spiraling stair case.
Garden of dreams is located at the entrance of Thamel and has recently been fully restored. The 24-acre garden has neo-classical pavilions, fountains, decorative garden furniture, Chinese Moon Gate and European inspired features such as pergolas, balustrades, urns and birdhouses. It is open to the public. There is a restaurant and bar in the garden.
Original Budhanikantha, a large granite, reclining sculpture of Vishnu lying on a bed of Nagas (snakes) seems to be floating in a pond of water. It dates back to 5th. century. For some reason the royal family was not allowed to visit this Hindu shrine.
Kirtipur is an ancient Newar township on a ridge, about 8 kilometers or 5 miles southwest of the capital. Its streets are paved with bricks and are lined with typical red brick houses with tiled roofs. There are a few temple squares. Buddhist Chilamchu Stupa and Hindu Bagh Bhairav Temple attract hundreds of pilgrims. In the foothills of Kirtipur lies the Tribhuvan University Campus.
Pharping is located at the edge of the Kathmandu valley about 18 kilometers or 11 miles south of the city. It has a Buddhist monastery and the 17th. century Hindu goddess Bajra Jogini temple at its summit. A cave with a hand print of the Buddhist saint, Padmasambhav on the rock face at its entrance are also fascinating sites.
Dakshinkali lies 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles further south of Pharping. It is famous for its Hindu goddess Kali temple. The shrine is very crowded on Tuesdays and Saturdays when thousands of devotees converge there. The Bodhisatva Manjushree is believed to have cut out a drain to remove water which once submerged Kathmandu valley. On top of a hill is a small but very beautiful Adinath temple.
Shesha-Narayan is located between Chobhar and Dakshinkali. It represents one of the 4 Narayans (Vishnu) of the Kathmandu valley. The other 3 are Changu Narayan in Bhaktapur, Visankhu Narayan of Patan and Ichangu Narayan of Kathmandu.
Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is believed to be established in 3rd. century BCE by Kirat dynasty. The Lichhavi dynasty rulers in 6th. century CE and the Malla dynasty rulers in the medieval period renovated and expanded the city. King Prithvi Narayan in 1744 conquered Nawalkot. After a prolonged battle he expanded the kingdom at add Patan. He ruled until his death in 1775. The city is surrounded by four Buddhist Stupas believed to have been built under the patronage of the Mauryan Dynasty Emperor Ashoka the Great - 3 of the stupas are grass mounds while the fourth one is still masonry dome with a square piller above it, topped with a crown. All the monuments are located in the Durbar Square. In 16th. century, King Siddhi Narsingha Malla, built a stone temple in the Malla Palace dedicated to Krishna. The temple has 21 spires with bass relief art depicting scenes from Hindu epic Ramayan and Mahabharat. Another noteworthy part of the palace is the Tushahity Royal Bath with stone and bronze carvings. The Patan Museum, located also in the Durbar Square, has a rich collection of bronze sculptures and other religious art objects.
Bhaktapur or the city of devotees (Bhakta in Sanskrit means devotee). The city is also called Bhadgaon and Khwopa in the native dialects. No cars are allowed in Durbar Square and no heavy vehicles are allowed in Bhaktapur city center. The city was established by the King Anand Malla in 12th. century and it remained capital of Malla Kingdom until 15th. century. Subsequently it was sovereign kingdom until 18th. century. Kings Jitamitra Malla, Bhupatindra Malla and Ranjit Malla were the last 3 rulers of the Malla Kingdom who patronized all of the main temples and palaces in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. There was extensive damage to the architecture of the city in earthquake of 1934. In the 1980s West Germany and later in 1990s the U.S.A. funded large scale renovations in the city. Among the most important sites renovated are the 55 window palace that was seat of royalty until 1769. It now houses the National Gallery of Art with Buddhist Paubha scroll paintings, palm leaf manuscripts, and stone sculptures among its vast collection. Outside the palace near the Taleju Temple is the Golden Gate and the Royal Bath with the golden faucet. Another important site in the square is the Yaksheswar Mahadev Temple with ornate wooden carvings, that was modeled on the architecture of Pashupatinath and is dedicated to Shiva. The Taumadhi Square and Dattatreya Square also have some ancient Hindu temples with intricate wood and stone sculptures.
Nagarkot - at an elevation of 2175 meters or 7136 feet above sea-level and at a distance of 20 kilometers or 12.5 miles from Bhaktapur is the nearest mountain resort with magnificent views of Mount Everest and other high Himalayan peaks. It is best to spend an overnight in Nagarkot to enjoy the breathtaking views of the sunset and sunrise over the Himalayan mountain peaks.
The best hotel in Nagarkot is the 4-star Club Himalaya Resort with 68 rooms. In the 3-star category, the Hotel Country Villa, with 51 rooms, has every room with panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain peaks.
Mount Everest Flight - No tour of Nepal is complete without the amazing Mount Everest Flight. You have up close view of the world's highest peak, Mount Everest and many other peaks in the range. The flights start from Kathmandu in the early morning and can be booked in advance.
Hyatt Regency Hotel, near Boudhnath Stupa - 280 rooms
Hotel Yak and Yeti, near King's Palace Museum - 270 rooms
Radisson Hotel, Thamel - 260 rooms
Shangri-La Hotel, Thamel - 100 rooms
Dwarika's Hotel on airport road - 87 rooms
Gokurna Forest Resort near Boudhnath Stupa - 100 rooms
Hotel Crown Plaza Kathmandu Soltee near Swayambhunath Stupa - 282 rooms
Hotel Tibet International, near Boudhnath Stupa - 68 rooms
Shambaling Boutique Hotel, 10 min. walk from Boudhnath Stupa - 30 rooms
Royal Penguin Boutique Hotel, Thamel - 13 rooms
Hotel Shambala, near Boudhnath Stupa - 65 rooms
Hotel Shanker, Thamel - 94 rooms
Annapurna Hotel, Thamel - 149 rooms
Park Village Hotel & Resort, near Boudhnath Stupa - 120 rooms
Woodland Hotel, Durbar Marg - 37 rooms
Club Himalaya Hotel, Nagarkot - 68 room
Hotel Mums Home, Thamel - 20 rooms
Hotel Mi-Casa, Thamel - 9 rooms
Hotel Friends Home, Thamel - 21 rooms
Dream Nepal Hotel & Apartment, Thamel - 30 rooms
Hotel Family Home, Thamel - 30 rooms
Gaju Suite Hotel, Thamel - 22 rooms
Hotel Encounter, Thamel - 36 rooms
Hotel Trekkers Home - 40 rooms
Hotel Courtyard, Thamel - 25 rooms
Ambassador Garden Home, Thamel - 18 rooms
Hotel Pilgrims - Thamel - 41 rooms
Backyard Hotel, Thamel - 15 rooms
Kantipur Temple House, Thamel - 40 rooms
Hotel Access, Thamel - 28 rooms
Hotel Nornu Linka, Thamel - 36 rooms
Hotel Tibet Guest House, Thamel - 102 rooms
Hotel Utse, Thamel - 48 rooms
Hotel Tibet, Thamel - 56 rooms
Hotel Nepalaya, Thamel - 40 rooms
Ganesh Himal, Thamel - 40 rooms
Peak Point Hotel, Thamel - 20 rooms
Hotel Thamel - 42 rooms
Manang Hotel, Thamel - 55 rooms
Dhulikhel Mountain Resort, Dhulikhel - 42 rooms
Distance from Kathmandu in Kilometers and Miles:
There are scheduled flights from Kathmandu to Bharatpur (10 Kilometers or 6 Miles) from Chitwan National Park, chauffeur driven cars can be booked in advance from Bharatpur airport. Buddha Air, Yeti Airlines and Smirik Airlines fly multiple daily flights from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Bhairahawa airport is 22 Kilometers or 14 Miles from Lumbini (45 minutes drive), there are multiple airlines offering morning and afternoon flights from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa. Air India domestic has a mid-day flight from Varanasi to Kathmandu on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Patan: 5 Kilometers or 3 Miles
Bhaktapur: 13 Kilometers or 8 Miles
Nagarkot: 31 Kilometers or 19 Miles
Chitwan National Park: 150 Kilometers or 93 Miles
Pokhara: 202 Kilometers or 125 Miles (for trekking in Annapurna range)
Lumbini (Birthplace of Buddha): 280 Kilometers or 174 Miles
Sagarmatha National Park: 134 Kilometers or 83 Miles