Kathmandu – The City of Beautiful Chaos

Becki Enright June 12, 2013 9

Kathmandu, Nepal’s enormous and sprawling capital, sucks you into the vortex of its fast pace and chaotic atmosphere immediately upon entry. Swerving between revving cars and beeping motorbikes as you squeeze through the narrow streets, you will be greeted by eager street hawkers and the humming throng of people on every street, lane and corner, while your senses go into overdrive and the dust gathers pace around you… locking you into the frenetic world that is Nepal’s magnificent capital city and its gateway of tourism.

It’s likely that you will use Kathmandu as a base from which to start a trek to Everest Base camp, travel to the adventure sport playground of Pokora where the famous Annapurna trek also awaits you, or be at one with nature in Chitwan National Park. Afterall, it’s easy to become quickly frustrated by Kathmandu and seek immediate comfort in the nearby mountain ranges, stunning scenery and trekking expeditions.

But don’t be too quick to give up on Kathmandu – you have to learn to become a part of its magical mayhem – because with a bit of patience you will learn to lose yourself within it. Spend a few days there uncovering its charms rather than rapidly passing through. There’s more to it than meets the intimidated eye, and a whole adventure awaits you beyond the backpacking area of Thamel, which many rarely look beyond.

Look Up, Look Down, Look All Around

Street market, photo by Becki

Street market, photo by Becki

Exploring Kathmandu is like stepping back in time. Here you will find a haven of old, decaying yet decadent architecture; wonky but still stable structures; the intricate details of carved wooden doorways and window frames; shop fronts so low that you can easily miss the treasures inside; narrow streets filled with shops dedicated to specialist businesses from fabrics to dentistry and quiet courtyards where community spirit thrives.

You will soon master the main roads that lead to the bustling local markets and main open squares such as the well-known Asan Tole, India Chowk and the ancient Durbar Square – all of which you can use as main navigation points to find your way forward and, in good time, back. But the fun is in getting lost and, somehow, you will find yourself back at a key point on the map from which to start exploring again. It really is a labyrinth teeming with life, sounds, smells and colour.

Kathmandu is also known to be a treasure trove of artistic and religious deity sculptures made from wood, stone and other materials scattered around the city, many of which are easily missed if you don’t keep your eyes peeled. Some are high up on buildings or perched next to a random shop front door, others can be found at foot level, within a curb, narrow alleyway or tucked away in a remote place and the majority can be found near or within temples, stupas, shine and other respected buildings.

Finding Calm Within The Chaos

The slight calm of a side street, photo by Becki

The slight calm of a side street, photo by Becki

If you are one who craves complete serenity, you won’t find it here. However, beneath the layer of frenetic activity lies a simplicity of life in the in tea houses and snack shops where the shouts of street sellers and busy streets are swapped for the kind nature of the local people wanting to get to know you. Subdued backstreets and residential areas on the outskirts will throw you into the heart of local life as you wander with no direction, where the calmness of the temples and open courtyards await you before you prepare yourself for jumping back into chaos of the main lanes and markets places. Every twist and turn is a surprise and each and every day you venture out into the city you will be guaranteed to find something new.

Main Sights & Sister Cities

A less crowded street market, photo by Becki

A less crowded street market, photo by Becki

While I am a passionate advocator of the sporadic and unplanned wander, there are key sights to see within the city and around the outskirts. Visit Pashupatinath temple, oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, or the dominant Boudhanath, said to be one of the holiest sites in the country. Swayambhu, also known as monkey temple for its holy inhabitants, is set atop a hill and provides the perfect panoramic view for sunset.

If you can’t get enough of Kathmandu, visit the nearby sister cities of Patan and Bhaktipur, which are smaller and less chaotic than Kathmandu, but just as beautiful and interesting. All three have been branded under the one heading of ‘Kathmandu Valley – UNESCO World Heritage Site’ and can be accessed easily by local transport from Kathmandu, which is itself is a unique experience.

Kathmandu is as fascinating as it is frantic; as charming as it is chaotic. A melting pot of culture, history and religion, its exotic atmosphere is unique and not easily forgotten. Lose yourself within the streets of this incredible bustling city and, if you can, give it more than a two-day pass.

9 Comments »

  1. Raj June 12, 2013 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    very beautiful article that truly covered the real aspect of the subject written.

    Thanks,
    Raj Basnet
    Nepali living in Canada

  2. Shannon June 13, 2013 at 3:23 am - Reply

    A really interesting read! Kathmandu, Nepal has always been in the back of my mind, especially trekking & after reading this article, you’ve given me excitement to go & check it out :-) Thankyou!!

  3. Elysia June 14, 2013 at 12:47 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for your insight about Kathmandu! I’m Canadian and just got to Kathmandu 3 days ago and will be staying here for 4 weeks (I’m volunteering in the city). I haven’t even begun to crack the surface of exploring this crazy city. Thanks so much for the points to look out for. I think your article will give me a greater appreciation for the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu!

  4. Becki | Backpacker Becki June 18, 2013 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Glad you enjoyed the post!! I am keen to get back just to explore a whole new layer of the city… it’s one of my most favourite places I have ever visited so far in my travel life. Enjoy!

  5. Ashley June 18, 2013 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Great article! I hope I have the chance to visit someday!

  6. Roshan Bhatta June 20, 2013 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Great article on Kathmandu.

    Thanks!!!

  7. Mary Ann Farrugia July 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm - Reply

    Truly a well-written concise article. You pushed me more to experience the same. Hope to leave next March.

  8. Kathmandu Blog November 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    The pictures are show Kathmandu and its history. Thats how everyone in Nepal used to shop for food just 20 years ago. Nowadays its a bit more westernized shopping style of malls/stores etc.

  9. Annapurna Circuit December 20, 2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

    Really nice to find your awesome post of useful stuff on about Kathmandu. Thanks and keep sharing such informative post with all.

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