Kathmandu is such an exciting city – full of heart and a little chaotic – it’s surprisingly easy to fall in love with. Though we stayed in Thamel (along with every other tourist that’s ever visited Nepal), we got a sense for what this city had to offer right away and knew we wanted more so without hesitation, we booked a Kathmandu city tour.
Sadly the earthquakes of April 2015 caused massive damage to this vibrant city (though more still in the outlying areas where who villages were decimated) but the Nepalese people seem to have bounced back quickly making the country all the more worth visiting.
Are the temples the same as they once were? In some cases, yes, but mostly not. With that said, they need our support now more than ever – teachers and doctors from the villages outside of Nepal have had to move into the city to find work as taxi drivers and restoration teams work tirelessly in a bid to rebuild their gorgeous temples and stupas as quickly as possible.
If there was ever a country that needed your support, this might just be it.
Pro Tip: We only had a short amount of time in Nepal but should you have longer, this Nepalese itinerary will be a great help in your planning.
The Basics of a Kathmandu City Tour
We spent USD30 for our driver for the day and another USD25 for an English-speaking guide to join us – at a total cost of USD55 between two of us we were more than happy. The driver was easily booked through our accommodation and arrived promptly in the morning.
You could potentially just get the driver (though ours barely spoke a stitch of English so I’m not sure how easily we would have communicated) or try your luck with taxis but at the end of the day, I don’t think you could beat a tour like this for ease and cost.
Whether you’re planning to join a private tour (as we did) or navigate your own way, I’ve included a run down of our main stops below on our Kathmandu city tour…
Swayambhunath Temple (Monkey Temple)
Perched high above Kathmandu, Swayambhunath Temple (or Monkey Temple as it’s also known) was one of my favourite stops of the day. Our driver got us fairly close to the top in the car which meant we had an easy walk to the top, but there is a lower access point (which involves a lot of stairs) if you’re that way inclined.
There are two sides on this UNESCO site and spread across them are a stupa, temples and shrines and a variety of small shops selling local goods. Traditional Tibetan prayer flags flit peacefully in the wind, reminding you of exactly where you are.
As the name would suggest, the site is strewn with monkeys (which for this Kiwi, was one of the best parts!) For the most part they’re friendly but be mindful of keeping your distance, especially if they’re with their babies – and to be safe, it’s a good idea to leave any food you have in the car.
From the Monkey Temple we made our way back down the hill into the chaos of Kathmandu and before long, found ourselves wandering the back streets, almost without another tourist in sight. Though the damage from the earthquake was obvious in places, the majority of this area appeared to be unaffected (apart from a few posts propping up walls here and there), but I can’t help but wonder how far this resilient city has come over the past year.
Hiranya Varna Mahavihar (Golden Temple)
In the midst of Kathmandu City a beacon of gold sit discretely behind unassuming wooden doors. Behind them, you’ll find a stunning gold Buddhist monastery. The level of detail in this place was out-of-this-world – monkeys holding jackfruit, ceremonial bells, detailed carvings, countless prayer wheels and scripture etched into doorways – everything element was a delight for the senses.
Though it’s a relatively smell temple, don’t miss it!
Continuing onwards we wandered the streets, observing locals as they went about their daily lives. There’s something magical about soaking up the mundane daily life of a different culture – to attempt a glimpse into what life might be like in a different country.
Exploring the Temples
At one point in time, it felt like there was a little temple around every twist and turn. Deities and bells were covered in rich red paint-powder as a sign of worship and intricate carvings covered buildings as far as the eye could see. As beautiful as Kathmandu is still, I can’t even imagine how it must have looked before the earthquakes hit.
Like what you’ve seen so far?
Stay tuned to find out how we spent the rest of the day on our Kathmandu city tour – one of the real highlights is yet to come!