If you only have one day to explore Kathmandu, this is for you. With only one day left to explore Kathmandu, I went to some wonderful places not only in Kathmandu, but also to Bhaktapur and Patan to check their majestic Durbar Square. Seven days is all i had, a short period of time for travelling, and I wanted to experience hiking in Nepal. At the same time, I wanted to immerse in its highly cultured and remarkable durbar Square. So, I decided to hike for three days, and explore Kathmandu in one (and a half) day. On that “half” day, i went for souvenir hunting in Thamel. This article will focus on that one day.
What to Visit
The first thing came to mind once i decided to explore Kathmandu is to visit the Durbar Square. Durbar square means Royal Palace in English. It’s a complex with historical Newar buildings and temples. Newar people is the indigenous people in the Kathmandu Valley which highly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. Hence, the buildings also embedded and heavily influenced by both religions. Not only religious influence, Newar artistry is also visible in its architectures everywhere in Durbar Square.
Durbar Square is basically a historical complex with many historical landmarks inside it from temple, museum, religious buildings, restaurants, locals residence, as wells stores. During 2015 Earthquake, most Durbar Squares in Nepal were destroyed. So, pictures that I saw in google about Durbar Square were mostly taken before the earthquake. Although, when i went there, some of them have been well restored. There were three main Durbar Square in Nepal that are part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
After some diggings in the internet, I found this article that give many details about how the earthquake impacted each of the Durbar square, the damages done, and the construction progress to restore them. I thought that selecting which Durbar Square to visit was very important both because i have only one day and i want to visit Durbar Square with less construction activities. So, I decided to visit Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Patan Durbar Square for it’s the least impacted by the earthquake, and Bhaktapur Durbar Square for it was said its construction went pretty well and fast. Both Durbar Square are located outside Kathmandu, but they are still in the Kathmandu Valley region.
Beside Durbar Square, the other major places that i wanted to visit was Shree Pasupatinath temple, Shyambhunath temple, Senchen Monastery, and Boudhanath Stupa.
The next thing I knew, I found myself searching for a transport and or tour options to explore those places. I opted out using public transport since often times it involves waiting, and searching for the correct bus can be a bit tricky. I searched for travel agents and came up with a few, and decided to go with Adventure Great Himalaya for its quick response and the price was the best among the few others I contacted (and this is not an ad 😊)
I got 50 USD per day for visiting Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pasupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Temple, Patan Durbar Square, Swayambunath Temple, and Senchen Monastery. If I added a tour guide, the additional cost was USD 35. I went with a friend, so it’s 25 USD per day per person and I think it’s a good price. We did not go the last place (Senchen Monastery) since the traffic that day was pretty bad and it was raining intermittently since afternoon that day.
For some reason, if you google-map Swayambhunath temple, the result is “Lemonade Café”, a café inside the temple, and I found this hilarious 🤣. Anyway, this is the first place that I visited that day. Swayambhunath stupas said to be the oldest in Nepal and has numerous shrines and monasteries in its large complex.
Swayambhu literally means “self-existent one”. Believed to date back to 460 A.D., it was built by King Manadeva and by the 13th century, it had become an important center of Buddhism. Legend has it that Swayambhu was born out of a lotus flower that bloomed in the middle of a lake that once spread across the Kathmandu Valley once was. The largest image of the Sakyamuni Buddha in Nepal sits on a high pedestal on the western boundary of Swayambhu beside the Ring Road. Behind the hilltop is a temple dedicated to Manjusri or Saraswati – the Goddess of learning. Chaityas, statues and shrines of Buddhist and Hindu deities fill the stupa complex. The base of the hill is almost entirely surrounded by prayer wheels and deities. Devotees can be seen circumambulating the stupa at all times. (source: Welcome Nepal)
This complex is very big and with a lot of shrine and stupas, it takes about 2-3 hours to explore it. Also, it has one spot that overlooking the Kathmandu City, one of my favourite spots inside the complex.
Tips: wear sandals so it’s easy to take it off in some shrines (where shoes/sandals are prohibited). Circle the main stupa clockwise. Dress comfortably, but make sure all body part from neck-down is covered. A hat during the day certainly helps, and bring much water. Be careful with the monkey (don’t feed them) and the stray dogs inside the complex. Explore mindfully and be ready to get your senses overloaded.
Patan Durbar Square
After Swayambhunath temple, we went to Patan Durbar Square. Patan is located 5 km away from Center Kathmandu. The entrance fee to the museum is NPR 250. The complex has several temples, they are Khrisna Mandir, Bhimsen Temple, Vishwanath temple, and Taleju Bhawani Temple. Each of the buildings displays the magnificence of Newari culture in its architecture. My most favourite building is Taleju Bhawani Temple. The perfect symmetry it has on the inside made a perfect spot for a pic.
All of these architectures in the complex has things in common. One of them is the brick tile and the walls, a characteristic which is shared among other terracotta architecture in other Durbar Square. There are statue of lion in the entrance gate as well.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
By the time we arrived at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, it was already past the lunch time. So, we stopped by one of the restaurants inside the square and ordered some vegetarian momo and Dhal Bhat. Momo is like dumplings, with vegetable fillings and eaten with curry dip or sauce. It can be steamed or deep fried. My favourite is the steamed one because of the softness of the skin.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is more vast than Patan Durbar Square, and it also has local houses inside the complex as well as traditional market. It is definitely livelier than Patan Durbar Square.
Several notable building inside the complex are Nge Nyapa Jhya Laaykoo (55 window palace), Vatsala Temple, Statue of Bhupatindra Malla, Nyatapola Temple, Bhairava Nath Temple, Lun Dhwākhā (Golden Gate), Lion’s Gate, Mini Pashupati Temple (source: Wikipedia)
Our time at Bhaktapur Durbar Square was interrupted by the rain, so we went out quicker than what we wanted and headed to Boudhanath Temple. The road towards the temple was not very good, and with the rain pouring down it only get worsened. Our car stopped at muddy spot and we had to tiptoeing towards the temple. But once inside the temple, it was another story.
The Boudhanath temple was circle with the stupa being in the middle. It has several steps which you can also circle and It’s one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. The Bouddha Stupa inside the temple is 36 meters high. Though it was drizzling, it did not stop the many visitors from roaming around the complex.
We circled the stupa from the bottom level to the top and from there we could see the situation outside the temple wall. It wasn’t that long before the drizzle stopped and we welcome the school of birds flying around on top of the stupa. It was such a great experience to close the day.
Every stupa architecture in Nepal represents teachings of the Buddhism. If you are interested in understanding about the shape, the eye painted in each stupa and what are these building characteristics represent, you can read it here.
I want to summarize by saying that one day is not enough to get the best experience of Kathmandu and its surrounding. Especially, if you want to immerse and learning the Newar culture deeper. Learning to cook Nepalese food, explore its bustling narrow street are some activities you can do on your own as well. But, having experienced both hiking and cultural tour in Kathmandu, I have to say that the heart of Nepal is in its Mountains. Having said that, if you have days to spend in Nepal, try hiking its Himalayan mountain range. Depends on your fitness, you can have a day or multiple days hiking and no matter what your hiking choice is, it’s going to be amazing. I am not saying that you should choose hiking over cultural tours that focuses on the city, but the majority of the time spent in Nepal are best spent at its Mountain, in my opinion. Then, try one to three days relaxing from your hiking in Kathmandu.
Note: I went to Nepal on 17-23 April 2019. On 18-20 April, I hiked for three days towards Australian Camp, then spent a day touring Kathmandu Valley. I had half a day left and use my time to buy souvenire in Thamel area.