Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020
Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020-There really isn’t an adequate way to describe Kathmandu. Crazy, chaotic, historic, spiritual, haphazard, enticing and vibrant come to mind yet they don’t do this city justice; Kathmandu is just Kathmandu. Totally unique and different to anywhere you’ll visit anywhere in the world.
Originally known as Kantipur, it was once the main trading route between Tibet and India and gradually grew into the metropolis known today. With a population of around 1.7million, the city will, at times, frustrate you; the constant nagging of street vendors, the beeps of passing cars, exhaust fumes, rubbish and the ever-present crush of humans can be hard to manage.
Yet push through these and you’ll soon realise that this city is actually a welcoming, achingly beautiful melting pot of Buddhist and Hindu religion, ethnicity and history, with so much to see and do.
Most tourists visit for a short time before setting off to tackle the Himalayas, relax in Pokhara, or explore the jungles of Chitwan. But trust us when we say Kathmandu is worth investing a little more of your time.
Our Kathmandu travel guide 2020 has all the information you need to enjoy your time in this city, from where to stay, what to eat and all the Kathmandu attractions you must visit. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
FACTS ABOUT KATHMANDU, NEPAL
Date founded-12th century AD
Religion- 81% Hindu, 9% Buddhist, 4.4% Muslim, 3% Kiratist
Population- 1.4 million
Currency- Nepali Rupee
Best time to visit- October
Top attractions | Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Thamel (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
WHERE IS KATHMANDU?
Kathmandu, the capital and largest city of Nepal, is located in the Kathmandu Valley, the central region of Nepal. The city itself is located 1296m above sea level and is home to around 1.4 million people. Nepali is the spoken language of Kathmandu, although English is widely spoken in all major tourist hotspots. Nepal itself is home to over 26 million people and shares borders with China/Tibet to the north, and India to the south, east and west. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF KATHMANDU
Although evidence suggests ancient civilisations existed in the Kathmandu Valley from the 7th century BC, Kathmandu’s recent history begins around the 9th century, when the city was founded by Gunakamadev, who reigned across the area. Sophisticated urban centres existed under the Lichhavi kings at Pashupatinath and other areas in the valley, however, it was the Tibet India trade route that led to the growth and construction of present-day Kathmandu.
The city actually takes its name from a 12th-century pavilion and rest house on the trade route from Tibet to India named Kasthamandap. That pavilion can still be seen today, right in the heart of modern-day Kathmandu. It was during the Malla era, starting in the 13th century, that the city really flourished. During this time, the majority of incredible temples, structures and monuments of the Kathmandu Valley date from this time, including the famous Durbar Squares. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
During this time, Kathmandu was an independent city within the Valley, which was divided into three separate kingdoms, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Rivalry, infighting and wars led to the decline of the Valley’s kingdoms, and the 1769 invasion by Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha led to the unification of Nepal.
Kathmandu became the capital of the new nation of Nepal and the seat of the Shah dynasty. After the Kot massacre in 1846, in which most of Nepal’s high-ranking officials were massacred, the Rana family became the ’second’ Royal Family in Nepal for over 100 years between 1846 to 1951, rendering the Shah’s impotent figureheads in the Kingdom. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
From the 1950s to early 2000s, Nepal has been consumed by political wrangling and infighting between supporters of democracy, Communism and Nepal’s own Royal council, with Kathmandu too epicentre. It was also during the 1950s that tourism to Nepal started to blossom (up until this point, the country had been cut off from the World for over 100 years). In the late ’60s and ’70s, Hippies made Nepal their own, with backpackers arriving from all over the world to enjoy the exotic and incredible scenery of Nepal, and the marijuana and hashish.
It was only in 2006, when, after years of infighting and ‘civil war’ throughout the country, parliamentary democracy was restored. Since then, Nepal has enjoyed somewhat of a politically stable period. Despite all of the issues the country has faced, the one constant in Kathmandu has been the hoards of trekkers and adventure lovers visiting Nepal.
The impact of tourism can be felt throughout Kathmandu, from the chaotic streets of Thamel through to the throngs enjoying the historic treasures throughout the city. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
KATHMANDU WEATHER | WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT KATHMANDU?
We’ve visited Nepal in October, March, April and May and can safely say that the post-monsoon period (autumn) is the best time to visit Kathmandu. Between the months of October – December, the monsoon rains have cleared the dust in the atmosphere, giving way to blue skies and views of the Himalayas (on a good day!). Despite being peak season, it really is the best time to enjoy Kathmandu at it’s finest. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
If this doesn’t suit, Spring (Feb – mid-April) can also be a good time to visit. However, due to crop burn off, the perfect days are somewhat ruined by a haze which sits over most of Nepal. Visibility, especially in the Kathmandu valley can below.
THE WATER SITUATION IN KATHMANDU | CAN YOU DRINK THE TAP WATER IN KATHMANDU?
The overall water quality in Kathmandu isn’t the greatest. While showering and brushing your teeth are fine, it’s not drinkable or this reason, we 100% recommend buying a water filtration and purification system, such as this one by The Grayl.
It literally is the best investment we’ve ever made, and we’ve not had to buy a plastic bottle anywhere in the world for the last 18 months… let that sink in! It allows you to fill up from any water source, anywhere in the world (including Kathmandu’s taps!).
If the Grayl isn’t your thing, we also recommend either water purification tablets, investing in a SteriPen or using a Water To Go bottle. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
TRANSPORT IN KATHMANDU | HOW TO GET AROUND KATHMANDU
Despite trying our best to master the Kathmandu transport system, we couldn’t – it’s limited, slow and outdated, and unless you’re a local with intimate knowledge of the system, you’ll struggle. Having said that, some of our favourite experiences have come on local transport, so if you’re willing to give it a go, jump aboard. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
Below is the best form of transport in Kathmandu:
If you want to experience the chaos of Kathmandu, look no further than catching a local bus to any of the tourist sites out of the city, including Boudhanath, Bhaktapur and Swayambhunath. They’re cramped, packed full and driven like a rally car, but they are a great way to see how the locals commute. It’s also the cheapest way to get around town.
Most leave from Kantipath or Ratna Park bus stops just outside of Thamel. Always establish the fare before getting on board. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
Taxis are the best form of transport within Kathmandu. They’re much quicker and more comfortable than a bus, and quite a bit of fun zipping through the chaotic Kathmandu traffic. You’ll almost always have to negotiate a fare, but they’re generally cheap (not negotiating a fare = being ripped off). Taxi fares generally range from NPR 100 – 500, depending on the distance. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
SAFETY IN KATHMANDU | IS KATHMANDU SAFE?
We’ve always found Kathmandu a relatively safe city; we’ve not ever had an issue in the city, and we’ve not heard of any incidents either. The locals in Kathmandu are friendly and generous and realise that tourism is a mainstay of their economy. Travellers will find themselves welcomed warmly, and with little to worry about in terms of personal safety. This doesn’t mean you should become complacent. While it’s safe, there are a number of dangers and annoyances you need to look out for:
POLLUTION- Kathmandu is seriously polluted and dusty, especially during the March/April burning offseason. If you’re asthmatic or suffer from any other respiratory ailments, be prepared and take usual precautions, or travel just after monsoon, when the air is cleaner.
DRUGS– Although the drug scene isn’t huge (and is, of course, illegal) in Kathmandu, you’ll be approached to buy weed or other drugs daily. Just say no and move on, as it’s not worth getting caught and jeopardising your holiday, or worse still ending up in prison.
TOUTS- The streets of Thamel, in particular, are filled with annoying touts selling everything from tours through to Tiger Balm. Again, a firm ‘NO’ will keep them away.
TRAFFIC/PEDESTRIAN- The streets of Kathmandu are a little haphazard, and it’s often a game of Russian roulette just to walk into town for lunch. Always keep as far left or right as possible, and if you ever feel uncomfortable on the sidewalk, just stop and let the car/motorbike pass.
POLITICS- Politically, after a few years of Maoist turmoil, the country has now made great strides in political stability and is largely peaceful, although demonstrations might still occur (don’t get involved in these).
SOLO FEMALES- For women, the risk of sexual harassment is quite low, however, we still advise against walking through Kathmandu’s streets alone past midnight, even in Thamel. We recommend buying a local SIM so you have connectivity in Nepal. Finally, use reputable hotels in Kathmandu, just in case, as there have been incidents of sexual harassment by hotel managers or staff.
NATURAL DISASTERS- Earthquakes are common. In 2015, Kathmandu was extensively damaged by a large earthquake which killed over 9,000 people. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR KATHMANDU
We’re always surprised by how many people still travel without travel insurance. To us, it’s as essential to travel as buying a plane ticket, backpack or accommodation, and we’ve never gone without it. Although Kathmandu is relatively safe, the 2015 Nepal earthquake shows that the unexpected can, and does, happen.
Adequate insurance provides you with medical coverage if you get sick or break your leg on the side of a mountain, your camera full of epic hiking shots is damaged or stolen, your flights are cancelled, or you get caught up in a natural disaster.
It’s an insurance against potential issues that arise when you’re on the road and can save your life (or at the very least, a lifetime of debt). (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
WHAT DOES IT COST TO TRAVEL IN KATHMANDU?
Kathmandu is an affordable travel destination which caters for all types of tourists, from budge backpackers through to those who like the finer things. However, as is the case with most capital cities worldwide, Kathmandu is much more expensive than the rest of Nepal.
Food and accommodation, especially in the tourist area of Thamel, is at least 10-20% more expensive than most parts of the country, however by western standards, it’s still very cheap. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020) Below is a snapshot of what things cost in Kathmandu:
THE COST OF FOOD & DRINK IN KATHMANDU
Snacks- 50 – 200Rs
Inexpensive meal (Dal Bhat)- 180 – 300Rs
Three-course meal- 800Rs
Soft Drink- 50Rs
THE COST OF ACCOMMODATION IN KATHMANDU
Guesthouses- 400 – 2,500Rs
3 star double room- 2,000 – 8,000Rs
Luxury accommodation- 15,000 – 25,000Rs
THE COST OF TRANSPORT IN KATHMANDU
Local Bus- 20 – 50Rs
Taxi- 45Rs (per KM)
Tourist Bus- 800 – 2000Rs (Kathmandu – Pokhara/Chitwan)
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ITEMS FOR KATHMANDU
Travelling through Kathmandu (and indeed Nepal) comes with a unique set of needs. To help you have a comfortable, happy journey, we recommend bringing the following items with you:
Reusable water bottle-We use the Grayl water purification bottles, which allows us to fill up from any water source, anywhere in the world
Biodegradable Wet Wipes Keep clean without destroying the planet!
Hand sanitiser not something we’d actually recommend normally, but in Sri Lanka, it can be a bloody great investment.
A spork to cut down on unnecessary plastic usage at mealtimes
Power bank power does drop out… often! Don’t get caught out without power for your devices buy purchasing this power bank (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
KATHMANDU, PATAN, AND BHAKTAPUR DURBAR SQUARES
Going back in history, Nepal was actually split into three main kingdoms – Basantapur (Kathmandu), Bhaktapur, and Patan, each of which had a royal palace and surrounding Durbar squares located in the Kathmandu Valley. Today, each Durbar Square is made up of temples, idols, statues, open courts and fountains along with other structures. They are the perfect place to admire ancient Nepali architecture, Newari wood carvings and historic traditions.
Also located at Kathmandu Durbar Square is Hanuman Dhoka, Kathmandu’s former royal palace. It’s currently only partially opened due to damage sustained in the 2015 earthquake, however, it is worth your time for a quick visit. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
WHERE TO STAY IN KATHMANDU
Kathmandu has a huge range of accommodation options to meet any budget. Most properties are located centrally, primarily around the Thamel district.
Prices vary dramatically, depending on where you stay and when. The most common form of accommodation – guesthouses, will set charge between $5 – $35 per night. If you’re travelling outside of the high season, prices can drop, so always ask if any discount is applicable.
Most places have a range of rooms, from budget to doubles with en suite. Beware, that cheaper accommodation is of a poor standard; if you’re backpacking, this might be okay, but otherwise, invest a few extra dollars for something nicer. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
WHERE TO EAT IN KATHMANDU
Don’t be worried about the quality or variety of food in Kathmandu because it’s incredibly good! Nom.
For the local variety of snacks, start with Momos. The Nepali answer to dumplings, these pockets of joy come in vegetable, buff (buffalo) or chicken and can be fried or steamed. Next, find yourself some Choila, spicy grilled buffalo meat which goes down a treat with a beer. You can also find amazing pakora and samosas on any street corner!
We recommend checking out Yangling in Thamel for cheap Nepali/Tibetan food. It has amazing Momo’s, Choila and Thukpa at seriously cheap prices.
For cheap, larger meals, you really can’t go past Dal Bhat, the Nepali staple meal for lunch and dinner. Dal Bhat is a traditional Nepali meal consisting of rice, a lentil-based soup and other condiments. It’s very cheap, generally all you can eat, and can be found just about anywhere in Kathmandu; it’s best to speak to a local who’ll be able to show you their favourite restaurant (we went to an amazing place and never got it’s the name!).
Learn more about Nepal’s delicious cuisine with this traditional Nepali cuisine guide by Nomadic Boys. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020) Our favourite Nepali restaurants in Kathmandu include:
Thakali Kitchen– Genuine Nepali dishes at cheap prices, it’s frequented by locals so you know it’s good
Silauta Restaurant- Another local gem in the heart of Thamel, order the veg Thali and wash it down with a sweet lassi
If you’re keen on western food (which you will be after hiking), Thamel is literally overflowing with options. No matter what cuisine you’re after, you’re sure to find it in Kathmandu, including Mexican, Italian, French and American. Our favourite western restaurants in Kathmandu included:
Roadhouse Cafe- In our opinion, Kathmandu’s best pizzas at (almost) affordable prices. Always packed, so get there early
La Dolce Vita Italian– Kathmandu’s best Italian food, but also on the more expensive side
OR2K- A Thamel institution serving western and local dishes. Never been disappointed with a meal here
Rickshaw Cafe and Bar- New on the scene, this cool bar cum restaurant serves great western food. The bar/terrace is awesome
Cafe Mitra Serves delicious western food, including their burger, which is the best we’ve had in Kathmandu!
Upstairs Cafe- Quieter, and slightly cheaper than most western-style restaurants in Thamel, serves very good quality, fresh food. (Kathmandu Travel Guide 2020)
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