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Kathmandu overview

Nepal's capital and largest city was a must-visit destination in the 1960s and 1970s. Hippies would take cheap flights to Kathmandu seeking spiritual enlightenment. Today, it's still a must-visit city even if the Hippie Trail has exacted a fairly heavy toll. Kathmandu might be sprawling and smoggy, but it's still a magical destination and many visitors use it as a starting point for trekking holidays in the Himalayas.

Kathmandu can seem, to a Western traveller, like something out of a fairytale. It has beautiful temples and magnificent monuments. There's poverty, but there's also a wealth that can't be quantified in dollars and cents. Kathmandu is rich in spirit.

Nowhere is the other-worldliness of Kathmandu more apparent than in Durbar Square, the historic centre and a World Heritage site. In Nepali, durbar means palace and in the square you'll see the old Royal Palace, the former home of the Malla Kings. There are about 50 temples, the Kasthamandap (House of Wood) from which Kathmandu gets its name and a Living Goddess.

She, the Kumari, lives in her small palace and sees the outside world only a few times a year when she is wheeled through the capital on a chariot pulled by devotees.

In the Kathmandu Valley there are seven awesome World Heritage sites. One of the most spectacular is Swayambhunath stupa, which is also known as the Monkey Temple because of the monkeys who wheel about as if they own it.

Kathmandu climate

Kathmandu has four seasons. Spring runs March to May and temperatures are between 16 and 23 degrees. Summer is June through August and this is also monsoon season. The temperature range is 23 to 25 degrees. Autumn - September to November - is about as warm as spring; the range of temperatures is 15-24 degrees. Winter (December-February) temperatures range from 9 to 12 degrees. Rain falls outside of the monsoon season.

When to fly to Kathmandu

Kathmandu has a slew of festivals. Take cheap flights to Kathmandu in March for Holi, which is celebrated with splashes of water and coloured powder; April for Bikram Samwat, Nepalese New Year; August/September for Gai Jatra, the procession of cows, Krishna Jayanti, the celebration of the birth of Lord Sri Krishna; and Teej, the fasting festival for women; late-September/early October for Dashian, the 15-day national festival; October/November for Tihar, the Festival of Lights. The Indra Jatra Harvest festival is held in Durbar Square for eight days every September. This is when the Goddess Kumari travels in her chariot. Lots of businesses will close for all of these holidays, sometimes a few days before and a few days after. 

Peak Season: 

August to October is high season in Kathmandu. May and June are best for visiting the mountainous areas. 

Off Season: 

January to March and November-December are low-season times. It's unsafe to go into the mountains between June and August as this is monsoon season. 

Shoulder Season: 

April to July are shoulder months.

Getting around Kathmandu

Walking really is the best way to see Kathmandu. There are also tuk-tuks and buses and taxis. Renting a car and driver is an option if you are hoping to see a bit of the Valley outside Kathmandu.

Kathmandu insider information

  • The temple of Changu Narayan is said to be the most ancient temple in the Kathmandu Valley, dating back to the 4th century. It is one of the seven Unesco World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu valley. 
  • Thamel is where lots of travellers head. There are restaurants, hotels and shops all catering to international visitors. Jochhen Tole is probably better known as Freak Street, the original magnet for the hippies. It's a popular alternative to Thamel, but its freakery is long past. 
  • Jazzmandu is the jazz festival that takes place each autumn. It's the only jazz festival in the region and is internationally renowned. 
  • Pashupathi, one of the most important religious sites in Asia, is dedicated to Shiva, the God of destruction. Every Hindu in Nepal should visit during their lifetime. Not surprisingly, it's a busy spot. Despite the presence of funeral pyres - you may catch a funeral while you are there - it's a joyful place of musicians, monkeys, beggars, souvenir sellers and dreadlocked and made-up "holy men". 
  • The Garden of Dreams in Kaiser Mahal, in front of the Western Gate of the Narayan Hiti Royal Palace, was the creation of an Austrian Field Marshal in the 1920s. It lay neglected for many years, but has been brought back to life - with funding from the Austrian Government - since the mid-2000s. It's a calm space amid the sprawl of the city with neo-classical pavilions, a lotus pond and lush trees and plants.

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