Cities

Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu Valley comprises the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, which were once independent states ruled by the Malla kings from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The three cities house seven UNESCO World Heritage shrines which are together listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture). The valley is also home to hundreds of other exquisite monuments, sculptures, artistic temples and magnificent art – reminders of the golden era in Nepal’s architecture.

Legend has it that the valley was was once a primordial lake ringed by verdant mountains.  In this pristine lake lived giant serpents until one fine day, saint Manjushree, the Bodhisatva, raised a mighty sword and in one fell swoop, cut open the side of a mountain at a place now known as Chobar. The voluminous waters of the lake gushed out, leaving behind a fertile valley capable of supporting large urban settlements over the millennia. The Gopala and Kirati dynasties were the earliest rulers here followed by the Licchavi (300-879 A.D.), under whom flourished trade and crafts.

But the valley’s remarkable cities with their ornate palaces, the superbly crafted pagodas and the monumental stupas are testimony of the artistic genius of the Newar craftsmen, the original inhabitants of the valley, whose skills were championed by the Malla kings and appreciated even by the Mongol rulers of 18th century China.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu, the largest city of Nepal, is the political as well as cultural capital of the country. Kathmandu is a city where ancient traditions rub shoulders with the latest technological advances. However, it is the grandeur of the past that enchants the visitor whose gaze may linger on an exquisitely carved wooden window frame, an 18th century bronze sculpture or the spiritually uplifting stupas. Like any big city, Kathmandu has seen rapid expansion in the last decade, but despite the hustle and bustle so typical of metropolitan cities, its people remain as refreshingly friendly as ever. Retaining its ancient traditions, Kathmandu is blessed by a Living Goddess and is enriched by endless ceremonial processions and events that take to the streets every now and then with throngs of devotees seeking blessings. These religious festivals are steeped in legend and are quite a spectacle with chariot processions and masked dancers often possessed by the spirits of deities.

Patan

Patan, also known as ‘Lalitpur’, the city of artisans, lies 5 km southeast of Kathmandu, and is home to the valley’s finest craftsmen who have preserved such ancient techniques as the repoussé and lost wax process used to produce exquisite sculptures. The city retains much of the old charm with its narrow streets, brick houses and multitude of well-preserved Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries (vihars) and monuments. The predominant sound in Patan is that of the tinkering of craftsmen bent over the statuettes they are shaping. As in Kathmandu, Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed here for ages, influencing each other, and the religious harmony is exemplary.

Bhaktapur

Perched on a hill at an altitude of 1,401 m, Bhaktapur or Bhadgaon, literally the City of Devotees, is a major tourist destination that takes visitors back in time. Bhaktapur lies 12 km to the east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Highway that leads to the Chinese border. Covering an area of 6.4 sq. km, Bhaktapur is still untouched by rapid urbanisation and has managed to retain its brickpaved roads, charming red brick houses and a way of life that goes back to medieval times. This ancient city is also famous for pottery and woodcarving amply displayed on the squares and windows respectively.

Pokhara

Pokhara’s bewitching beauty has been the subject of many travel writers. Its pristine air, spectacular backdrop of snowy peaks, serene lakes and surrounding greenery make it ‘the jewel in the Himalaya’, a place of remarkable natural beauty. With the magnificent Annapurna range forming the backdrop and the serenity of three major lakes – Phewa, Rupa and Begnas – Pokhara is the ultimate destination for relaxation. Pokhara Valley, gateway to the Annapurna region where many a trekker finds his Shangri-la, sits high on the list of ‘must visit’ places in Nepal.

Pokhara once lay on the important trade route between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains set up camps on the city outskirts, bringing goods from remote Himalayan regions including Mustang. Gurungs and Magars, who have earned world-wide fame as fierce Gurkha warriors, are predominant here. Thakalis, indigenous of the Thak Khola region of Mustang, are known for their entrepreneurship and run tea houses along the trek routes in the Annapurna region.

Chitwan

Chitwan literally means “heart of the jungle”. In recent years Chitwan tops the list of things to do in Asia. It is a truly wildlife adventure of a different kind – jungle safaris on elephant backs or jeeps, birdwatching, canoe rides and jungle walks.
The Chitwan National Park is Asia’s best preserved conservation area, where wildlife thrives and their habitats remain intact. Only half-hour flight from Kathmandu, the park lies in the Inner Terai lowlands and consists of Sal forests, tall elephant grasslands, hills, ox-box lakes and flood plains of the Narayani, Rapti and Reu rivers. Enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Natural) in 1984, the park spreads over an area of 932 sq. km.

Lumbini

Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, in the Terai plains of Nepal is one of the greatest pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. More than 400,000 Buddhists and non Buddhists visit Lumbini every year. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture) and holds immense archeological and religious importance.

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