Kathmandu – gateway to tourism in Nepal
This capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, with an elevation of about 1,350 m above sea level, falls in the northwestern part of the valley. To its east is the Madyapur Thimi Municipality; to the southwest is the Kirtipur Municipality.
To the south is the Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City, and to its northeast, north, and west are different Village Development Communities. The Valley is, in fact, located in an ancient lake basin, with fertile soil and flat terrain.
A Few Kathmandu Stats
Kathmandu is also known informally as “KTM” or the “tri-city”. According to a census conducted in 2011, Kathmandu metropolis alone has 975,453 inhabitants; and the agglomerate has a population of more than 2.5 million inhabitants. The metropolitan city area is 50.67 square kilometers (19.56 sq. mi) and has a population density of 19,250 per km².
At an elevation of approximately 4,600 ft. Kathmandu is located in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley of central Nepal. It is surrounded by four major mountains: Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun, and Chandragiri. Kathmandu Valley is part of three districts (Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur), has the highest population density in the country, and is home to about a twelfth of Nepal’s population.
Tourism in Nepal starts with Kathmandu
Kathmandu is the gateway to tourism in Nepal. Several hundred thousand visitors come to Nepal annually. Kathmandu is the nerve center of the country’s economy. It has the most advanced infrastructure of any urban area in Nepal, and its economy is focused on tourism. Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world visit Kathmandu’s religious sites such as Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath, Baudhanath and Budhanilkantha.Kathmandu’s sister cities (Lalitpur Patan) and Bhaktapur are integral to Kathmandu’s cultural heritage, tourism industry, and economy; therefore UNESCO’s World Heritage Site lists all three cities’ monuments and attractions together under one heading, “Kathmandu Valley-UNESCO World Heritage Site”.
Kathmandu-Patan-Kirtipur-Thimi-Bhaktapur, the urban conglomerate, covers the valley and extends east beyond Banepa, Panauti, and Dhulikhel.
The Kathmandu Valley World Heritage property, located in the Himalayan foothills, is known as the Seven Monument Zones, which are:
- Patan and Bhaktapur
- Swayambhu (has a Buddhist Stupa), Pashupati (Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva), Changu Narayan (has a Hindu Temple that dates back to the 5th century ACE, and is a traditional settlement of the Newars), and Bauddhanath (has the largest Buddhist Stupa)—religious ensembles.
- Durbar Squares—with public spaces, temples, and palaces.
There are eight rivers originating from the mountains (1,500 m to 3,000 m) that flow right through the city; Bagmati (originates from the Sanskrit words ‘Bagdwar’—‘bag’ means ‘tiger’, and ‘dwar’ means ‘gate’), Dhobikhola, Manohara, Bishnumati, Tukuchakhola, and Hanumant are the main rivers.
There are five natural vegetation zones, the main being the Deciduous Monsoon Forest Zone that is at an elevation of 1,200 m to 2,100 m. The trees mainly found here are maple, oak, beech, and elm.
This city is famous for pashmina products and ‘Lokta’ paper; hence, these are major export items along with carpets, handicrafts, garments, and artworks.
Metal casting, painting, farming, woodcarving, pottery, and weaving are still the traditional occupations of the locals. Ason, Durbar Marg, Putali Sadak, and New Road are the major economic points in the city.
How did ‘Kathmandu’ get its name?
It is said that in the olden days, this city was an important route to Tibet; hence, rest houses on this route, called the ‘Kasthamandaps’, were built for the pilgrims. Later, this very word ‘Kasthamandap’ helped in deriving the name ‘Kathmandu’.
The main inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars, the largest ethnic group at 30 per cent. ‘Pre-dominantly Mongoloid people practicing an Indo-Aryan culture’ is how the Newar society described by the Anthropologists.
The historical record of inhabitation in the Valley shows 3rd century BCE (four Stupas at Patan have been found that dates back to the reign of Ashoka, the great Mauryan king in India that time). Anyway, the earliest inscription found dates to 185 ACE. The first documented rulers of the Valley were the Kiratis; their palace remains are in Patan (near Hiranyavarna Mahavihara).
‘Kantipur’ (the original name of Kathmandu as the history says) was an independent and flourishing city, when it was united under the Malla kings of Bhaktapur somewhere around the 14th century. Then, the city was divided in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur in the 15th century, and rivalry between these three started till the Valley was invaded by King Prithvi Narayan Shah of the famous Shah dynasty. During his time, Nepal was unified, and Kathmandu was made its capital.
The Newars are the largest ethnic groups at around 30 per cent, followed by the Khas Brahmins at 21 per cent, and the Chhetris at 19 per cent. Other than these three popular groups, there are also the Tamangs and other Terai ethnic and caste groups.
The two main religions followed by the people of Kathmandu are Buddhism and Hinduism, and the two main languages are Nepal Bhasha and Nepali. Sanskrit language got a boost during the rule of the Shah Dynasty because of bias towards the Brahman culture.
People wishing to visit Nepal must keep Kathmandu on top of their list of ‘places to visit’—its four cities are of artistic, cultural, and historic interest.
- Durbar Square (the old Royal Palace Complex): A World Heritage Site, here a visitor gets to see the Tribhuvan Museum, Kumari Ghar (house of the Chaste Virgin Living Goddess), Kaal Bhairav (red Monkey God), a round temple (in Pagoda style), image of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, temple of Goddess Taleju, and erotic carvings.
- Hanuman Dhoka: Known as the historic seat of the Malla Dynasty, the palaces and temples stand as proof to the yesteryear’s cultural and religious lifestyle. The main gate, the ‘Golden-Gate’, is guarded by Hanuman, the Monkey God, mentioned in the famous Indian Epic, Ramayana.
- Akash Bhairav Temple: Also called ‘Blue Bhairav’, it is a 3-storeyed temple in Indra Chawk, the main market.
- Kumari Ghar: It is the temple of ‘Kumari’, the Chaste Virgin Living Goddess.
- Maru Satal: Built in 1596 ACE by Laxmi Narsingh Malla, this temple is also called ‘Kasthamandap’. Now, this temple houses Gorakhnath, a Hindu god.
- Singha Durbar: Or the ‘Lion Palace’, was built by Maharaja Chandra Shamsher S.J.B. Rana in neo-classical style. Now this palace houses the radio station, the television station, and the Upper and Lower House of the Parliament.
- Bhadrakali Temple: Also known as the ‘Lumhari Temple’, it is located near the Shahid Gate in Tundikhel.
- Budhanikantha: Built in the 5th century Lichchavi dynasty, it is a colossal statue of Lord Vishnu, who is shown reclining on a bed of snake.
- Pashupatinath Temple: A Hindu temple built in the Pagoda style on the bank of River Bagmati, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
- Swayambhunath Temple: It is one of the oldest Buddhist Chaityas, and is a World Heritage Site.
- Guheshwari Temple: Also known as ‘Aksah Yogini’/’Nairatma Yogini’ dedicated to Goddess Parvati, it is an excellent Hindu pilgrimage site.
- Budhanilkantha: A temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu Narain, in a reclining position, was built in the 5th century ACE. Even, the locality is called ‘Narayanthan’.
- Bouddhanath Stupa: King Man Deb had built this colossal chorten in the 6th century ACE based on Mahayana Buddhism philosophy.
The other places of interest are:
- The National Museum
- Martyr’s Memorial
- Balaju Water Garden
- Bhimsen Tower
- Kimdol Monastery
- Natural History Museum
Due to different altitude and topography, Nepal is known to have five major climate regions. Kathmandu falls in the Warm Temperate Climate zone (1,200 m to 2,300 m). Some higher portions of the city face Subtropical Highland Climate, whereas some lower portions of the city face Mild Humid Subtropical Climate.
The average temperature in summer stays between 82° F and 86° F; the mornings and nights are cooler than the day. The monsoon months are generally June to August, when 65% of rainfall has been recorded. The average temperature in winter is about 50.2° F; sometimes, the winter temperature drops down to as low as 25° F. The average humidity recorded is about 75 per cent.
Visit Kathmandu Nepal yourself and see the sights in this great city. If you have been there or do take a vacation to Kathmandu please let us know your impression or experiences there. Enter your comments below.
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