Things to Do in Kathmandu
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, one of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Nepalese capital, was once the location where kings were crowned, and today remains the heart of the city. The square dates back to the 11th century, when the Hanuman Dhoka Palace was constructed, and remained the abode of the Nepalese monarchy until the 19th century.
The temples and palaces that still surround the bustling Durbar Square demonstrate the intricacy of Newar architecture, characterized by carved wooden windows and fine brickwork. The structures of the palace complex now house the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum, the Mahendra Museum and the bizarre Kumari Chowk, a gilded palace where a young girl lives who is worshiped as the human incarnation of the goddess Durga. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of the current Kumari through her palace windows. During the Indra Jatra festival each September, the Kumari is paraded in her chariot through the square.
Experts disagree on just how old Bodhnath Stupa is, but this site of Buddhist worship is undeniably one of the largest stupas in the world and the most popular site in Nepal. The oldest structure likely dates back to the fifth century AD, and local legend tells of a woman who tricked the king at the time into giving her a large plot of land to build a shrine to the Buddha.
It’s unclear whether the Bodhnath Stupa houses a holy Buddhist relic as most such stupas do, but locals will tell you it has a small piece of bone that the Buddha once carried. Whatever the case my be, pilgrims still come here to walk clockwise around the stupa and spin the dozens of prayer wheels lining the brick wall that surrounds the structure.
The Asan Tole Market, also known as Ason Tole or Asan Bazaar, has always been one of Kathmandu’s most strategically well-placed marketplaces. In ancient times, famous trade routes converged here and merchants traveling from India to Tibet would stop at the bazaar for rest and trading. Today, it is produce that is carried from all over the valley to the bazaar. In accordance with the square’s importance of food, the temple of Annapurna Ajima, the goddess of prosperity and abundance presides over the neighborhood. In the form of a filled grain bowl, she looks on from her ornamented pagoda over the market stalls loaded with fresh vegetables, grain, rice, lentils, peas, spices, teas, oils, incense and daily consumer goods. Merchants belonging to the Newari communities worship here and wish for luck in business, good fortune and wealth and both Hindus and Buddhists visit to pay their respects to the goddess.
The five-meter-long and thus biggest stone statue in Nepal, Budhanilkantha, portrays a sleeping Vishnu, floating like a gigantic astronaut on a bed of snakes in the middle of a big pool of water depicting the cosmic ocean. The incredibly well preserved carving is made out of black stone and is thought to be 1500 years old. Located in the village of the same name, the holy site is a popular spot for Hindus to practice puja, a prayer ritual to worship the gods. The daily ceremony entails priests – they are the only ones allowed to approach Vishnu’s divine head - washing the face and the feet of the sculpture with water and afterwards, applying a mixture of ghee, milk, yoghurt, honey and sugar on the same spots.
Later, since only Hindus are allowed to get close the statue, believers worship at its feet and leave offerings of food and flower petals. All other visitors have to be content with viewing the resting Vishnu from the sidelines.
More Things to Do in Kathmandu
Bhaktapur is the third largest city in Nepal, and along with Kathmandu and Patan, makes up the three holy cities in the Kathmandu Valley. The city was founded during the 12th century AD by King Anand Dev Malla and remains well-preserved and free of motor traffic to this day, giving it a sense of timelessness and peace in bustling Kathmandu.
Its distance from Kathmandu, about seven-and-a-half miles (12 kilometers) east, and the small entrance fee to enter the city tends to keep the crowds away from this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once inside the city, you’ll be able to walk the cobbled streets filled with more temples by area than both Kathmandu or Patan. Many of the most interesting structures, including the 55-windowed palace that used to serve as the royal seat of Nepal, are centered on the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Chitwan National Park is situated in a plain at the foot of the Himalayas, right on the border to India. The area in which the park is located is called Terai and has not only the highest precipitation levels, but is also the warmest and most forested part of Nepal. Once, Terai was sparsely populated, hard to reach and dominated by thick forests, swamps and swarms of mosquitoes. Wild animals lived here and the malaria risk was omnipresent. Still, it was the favorite hunting ground for Nepal’s wealthy as well as monarchs from abroad and they arrived in droves from Kathmandu to hunt rhinos, elephants, bears, tigers and leopards when they were still plentiful here.
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