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Guide to the Kathmandu Valley

A valley of ancient royal capitals
| Updated: | Nepal travel guides

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An ancient valley filled with kingdoms
- about - highlights - history - getting there - map -
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About the Kathmandu Valley

The Kathmandu Valley (काठमाडौं उपत्यका) is located in the north east central region of Nepal. From ancient times to today it remains an important trading route from Tibet/China to India. The valley itself is the most populous in Nepal with a population of over 2.5 million people which continues to grow at a rate of 4 percent a year.

The capital city of Nepal, Katmandu, is located in the Kathmandu valley along with several other cities of historic and cultural importance (including several UNESCO World Heritage sites). These include the old royal capitals of Bhaktapur and Patan.

The Kathmandu Valley is also noted for being origin of the Newari people who still populate most of the valley. Due to being a region of commercial value today there are people of many different cultures and religions living there.

Did you know?

Swayambhunath is said to be the first building ever constructed in the Kathmandu valley. Whereas Kasthamandap is said to be the first building that joined two old Yala towns together which formed Kathmandu city..

For visitors to the Kathmandu Valley there's a tremendous amount of cultural lineage and physical architecture to be found here that's unlike anywhere else on earth.

Highlights & places to see in the Kathmandu Valley

While many tourists flock to Nepal for the exquisite mountain views and trekking opportunities the Kathmandu Valley holds its own in terms of stunning architecture, areas of profound cultural significance and places of historic importance for all of Asia.

Kathmandu city itself holds several areas of intense interest. Thamel is the tourist hotspot with most of the accommodation, restaurants and night spots located there. It's also where all the trekking stores and trekking agents are located. But don't overlook the fantastic heritage walks through the older part of Kathmandu city too.

Such places include Kathmandu's old royal capital Durbar Square. Here you fill find such unique buildings like the old royal place, the nine-story temple, the Kumari (living goddess) house and so much more.

On a hill to the west and walkable from the city is Swayambhunath (monkey temple) which is said to be the first building in valley.

To the west is the Boudhanath which contains the great stupa, the most important location for Buddhists outside of Tibet.

Just to the south of Boudhanath is Pashupatinath which is attracts thousands of devotees every year to the Pashupatinath temple. As well as being a revered place for Hindu's to be cremated.

A mere 20 minute bus trip from Kathmandu city will take you to the virtually unvisited and pristine Newari town of Kirtipur.

Just 30 mins outside of the capital within Kathmandu Valley is home to the former capital of Patan. Easily visited on for a day or half-day trip it's a city filled with art and architecture. From the magnificent Golden Temple to Patan Durbar Square and the chance to visit a Living Goddess there's a lot to see here.

If you are looking to avoid the expensive tour prices then just jump on a bus or taxi to visit Gokarna where there's a great temple surrounded by more shrines than anywhere else in Nepal!

Perhaps the Kathmandu Valley's crown jewel is the Bhaktapur, a truly beautiful city which is well worth a night or two's stay. Much less congested than the capital Bhaktapur contains such amazing sites as the 55-window palace, the Golden Gate, the Nyatapola Temple (the tallest temple in all Nepal) and so much more.

Just outside Bhaktapur is the world's tallest Shiva statue Kailashnath Mahadev.

Finally for those seeking some mountain views and nature there's Nagarkot where on a clear day you can spot a tiny dot (literally) known as Mount Everest.

Probably one of the best preserved Newari townships to visit is that of Panauti. Located on a confluence its like stepping back 300 years visiting this historic city that sees few tourists.

Further out to the Valley's eastern rim is Dhulikhel where there's heritage and even Everest views!

Take some Kathmandu Valley tours

If time is against you or you want to plan ahead the following Kathmandu valley tours are recommended:

Kathmandu Valley History

Physical objects indicate the Kathmandu Valley was inhabited as far back as 300BC. The earliest inscription is dated as 185BC (found in Swayambhunath ). Various stupa's were allegedly constructed around Patan in the 3rd century by the Indian Emperor Ashoka's daughter. However much like the Buddha's visit there is no factual proof.

The Kirats are accredited to be the first ruling inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley. Following on in 464AD was the The Licchavi Dynasty. From the 12th century the Malla's rule the valley in what was its most popular period until finally in the 18th century the Shah's took over and formed what is known as Nepal today.

Throughout the history of the Kathmandu Valley the Newari people have remained at its forefront. They are accredited for the unique style of architecture within the valley (multi-roofed pagodas/temples).

Preservation of the Kathmandu Valley

Since 1991 the independently run Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) has tried to safeguard the architectural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. They have saved more than 50 historic buildings including temples, step-wells, monasteries, and palaces, and have launched major campaigns for urban preservation of inhabited buildings throughout the valley. The trust was founded by the architectural historian Eduard Sekler.

Some of the buildings saved include such popular attractions as Mul Chowk, Golden Gate, Indrapur Temple, Kal Bairab and the Taleju Temple.

Though they do work with the Nepalese government most of the funding comes from overseas donators. The urban preservation projects have been particularly difficult to carry out due to local bureaucracy and privatization.

Nevertheless the work that has been carried out by the trust throughout the valley has been quite astounding. To find more about KVPT and see some of the before and after photographs you can visit them at their office in Patan Durbar Square or

The KVPT are not the only organizations trying to preserve the Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhunath's recent renovation was also privately funded from overseas donations.

In 2015 the Digital Archaeology Foundation became the first organization to digitally preserve Nepal's temples in 3D and kick off the current restoration preservation boom. Following the 2015 earthquake it became blatantly obvious that there was an astute lack of engineering, restoration or even cataloguing of Nepal's temples, monuments, artifacts and cultural heritage.

The Digital Archaeology Foundation is digitally preserving Nepal's cultural heritage in the event of another natural disaster, continued mismanagement, help restoration projects and to help provide free educational material on Nepal's great buildings of the past.

The biggest fear many historians and architects have for the future of the Kathmandu Valley not only comes from an impending earthquake but from a lack of funds or private land buyers.

Getting to the Kathmandu Valley

internationally there is only way to fly into Nepal and that is via Kathmandu's international airport. Once in Kathmandu city transport to the rest of the Kathmandu valley is easily accessible via road. Either by taxi or bus.

The main destinations within the Kathmandu valley are all within one hours drive of each other. The only hiccup is the increased congestion along the main roads. Traveling before peak traffic times is advised.

Kathmandu Valley Map

The Kathmandu Valley is 1,425 metres (4,675 ft) above sea level. It covers an area of 220 square miles and is surrounded by four mountain ranges.

You can get a much more detailed map of Kathmandu Valley to download via my guidebook below.

Download my guidebook to the Kathmandu Valley!

Liked this page? You'll love my book!

It covers everything you need to know with detailed easy to follow mapswalking toursdefinitive descriptions (with photos) of every templerecommendations plus personally visited restaurants and accommodation reviews with so much more for you to discover right now in your hands that you won't get anywhere else.

Available now for tablets, mobile, desktop and print.

Kathmandu Valley Travel Guidebook
Find out more!


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Full guide:
» Guide to Patan    
Central Patan
  - Patan Durbar Square
 South Patan
  - Mahaboudha Temple
  - Uku Bahal
  - Machchhendranath temple
North Patan
  - The Golden Temple
  - Kumbeshwar Temple Complex
West Patan
  - The Kumari Living Goddess
East Patan
  - The Balkumari Temple

Make the most out of your journey:
» Get my full guidebook to Patan!


Full guide:
» Guide to Bhaktapur City
Inside Bhaktapur city:  
» Guide to Bhaktapur Durbar Square
  - Erotic Elephants Temple (Shiva Parvati)
  - Basantapur Chowk (Sculptures)
  - National Art Gallery / Museum
  - The Golden Gate (Sundhoka)
  - Taleju Temple (Mul Chowk)
  - Naga Pokhari 
55 Window Palace
  - Siddhi Lakshmi
  - Stone Lions
  - Pashupatinath Temple (Bhaktapur)
  - Vatsala Durga Temple & Taleju Bell
  - Chyasalin Mandap
Near Durbar Square
» Taumadhi Square
» Pottery Square
» Dattatreya Square
Just outside Bhaktapur
» Kailashnath Mahadev (Tallest Shiva statue)
» Nagarkot

Like to know more?
» Get my full guidebook to Bhaktapur!

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