City Tours (Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur)

A visit to Nepal would not be complete without a city tour and specifically seeing the historic places in Kathmandu along with the other two ancient capitals of the Kathmandu Valley, Patan and Bhaktapur.

Let me tell you first about these cities and some of the amazing places you can visit.  Then I'll show you several itineraries to give you a better idea of how much time you might want to allow for city touring as you plan your visit to Nepal.  Let's start with Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu as a city is a feast for your eyes and ears as well as a place to eat a wide variety of exotic foods!  It is colorful beyond your wildest imagination and your experiences there will give you both food for thought as well as memories you'll share with others when you go home.

Some of the highlights you'll not want to miss are walking the streets of the old town and Thamel.  The center of old town is Durbar Square and Hanuman Dhoka (the old royal palace).  The square is filled with temples decorated with ornate wooden sculptures, vendors selling vegetables and flowers, as well as small shops.  It is easy to spend hours just walking around and absorbing the flavor of the square.

If you are adventerous you can walk the side streets past hundreds of street vendors who have set up their goods on cloths laid right on the pavement.  There are also shops along these side streets selling everything you can imagine from singing bowls to brass bells, cooking pots, shoes, and dried beans and rice.

One of the main sites, not to be missed, is Swayambhunath.  This is a large Buddhist temple also known as the monkey temple because there are so many monkeys there.  There are two ways to enter, one of which involves climbing the pilgrim stairway (there are 365 steps).  Here is where you will find many monkeys along the way as well as colorful sculptures. The stupa and temples near it are stunning as well as are the views from the stupa platform.

Another sight not to be missed is Pashupatinath, which is Nepal's more important Hindu temple and is located on the banks of the holy river Bagmati.  The streets around the temple are filled with vendors selling marigolds, beads, tika powder, and incense.  This is where many Nepalis will be creamated.   This is a remarkable event to witness.  Creamations are conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last but not least of the significant sights in Kathmandu is Bodhnath.  This massive stupa is where Thibetan Buddhism is openly practiced and each day thousands of pilgrims come. 

Of course, there are many other sights in Kathmandu, too many to mention here.  A quick glance through nearly any guidebook will immediate show you how much there is to see in this wonderful city.

Patan

Patan's Durbar Square contains possibly the finest collection of palaces and temples in Nepal.  There is also a wonderful museum (Patan Museum) which contains an extensive collection of religious art.  Visiting the museum will take an hour to see everything.  If you need a break there is a good restaurant right in the museum!  Patan is a must see particularly if you are staying in Kathmandu.  It is indeed a day well spent seeing everything!

Bhaktapur

Another wonderful ancient city with its own Durbar Square.  A completely different feeling from the other Durbar Squares you might see.  There are more temples and more palaces and wonderful restaurants.  Roam the back streets and find potters throwing pots on large stone wheels that they spin by using a long pole.  See women sitting on their door steps knitting hats, or peak into a carpenter's workshop! 

Read your guidebooks for a really full descritpion of these three cities and all they have to offer you!

Some Possible Itineraries

Upon your arrival in Nepal, I will meet and assist you at Tribhuwan International
Airport and arrange for transfer to your hotel.

Itinerary 1 – Kathmandu's Durbar Square and Swayambhunath. Visit Kathmandu's Durbar Square complex most of which dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. Within the Durbar you will see Kasthamandap (Pavallion of Wood constructed around the 12th century, supposedly from a single tree); Ashok Binayak (one of the four most important Ganesh shrines in the valley); Maju Deval (nine stage temple built in 1690); Great Bell; Shiva-Parvati Temple (built in the late 1700s); Kumari Bahal (House of the Living Goddess - a three story brick house with intricatly carved wooden windows); Great Drums and Kot Square; Seto (white) Bhairab, Kala (black) Bhairab (Shiva in his most fearsome aspect); plus many more temples. 

After Durbar Square we will proceed to Swoyambhunath which is also known as the Monkey Temple. If you want you can climb the 365 steps up the Eastern Stairway as a true pilgrim would. The earliest confirmed presence at this site is 460 AD. This is a wonderful place and should not be rushed so we will finish your day's tour by visiting here.

Itinerary 2 – Patan City. This is an old Newar city. We will visit the historical Durbar Square, The Golden Gate, Bhimsen Temple, Manga Hiti, (a sunken pool like area where people come for water, and to bathe), Vishwanath Temple (elaborately decorated two-tiered pagoda built in the 1600s), Krishna Mandir (a distinctive temple of carved stone); additionally we'll walk the side streets filled with small shops. A visit to the museum followed by a cup of tea or snack (or lunch in the museum cafe or other cafe) provides a welcome rest and transition to the next part of your tour. Patan can easily be more than one day of touring if you want to take your time as you walk around and see things or make it a half day. We can discuss which will be best for you.

Itinerary 3 – Bhaktapur, Pashupatinath, and Bodhnath. This itinerary combines another of the ancient capitals (Bhaktapur) with two sacred places; one is Buddhist and the other Hindu. We will start with Bhaktapur by walking up to the Durbar Square. We'll spend time in Potter's Square and searching out temples and shrines. There is also the Royal Palace and National Art Gallery to visit and the Golden Gate too. There are so many things to see in Bhaktapur a quick look into any guide book will give you both names and descriptions!

Pashupatinath is the most important Hindu temple and we'll spend some time here walking and observing. The Pashupatinath Temple is open only to Hindus so we'll only walk around it. There are creamation ghats along the river where you will observe both Hindu and Buddhist burial rituals (from across the river). There are many smaller temples and shrines to see along with the monkeys.

At Bodhnath we'll walk around the stupa, spin the prayer wheels, and maybe sit on a rooftop terrace to enjoy a cool drink made with yoghurt or some steaming masala tea.