Ah, base camp. Everest. Climbing. Is there another reason to go to Nepal? To many, no – but unfortunately, these folks miss out on the incredible religious, historical, and cultural offerings of the country’s capital, Kathmandu. If you’re not much of a climber (and we would definitely fall in that camp), then explore the many opportunities afforded by the cosmopolitan city of Kathmandu. Here are a few to get you started:
1: Take the Pashupatinath Tour.
The Pashupatinath Temple is a must-see for anyone who visits Kathmandu; it is one of the four most important religious sites in Asia for devotees of the Hindu God Shiva. More than just a religious landmark, however, it a true time capsule; built in the 5th century BCE, it has been renovated throughout the ages to reflect different artistic and religious stylings. The main building, built in pagoda style, boasts four sides covered in silver along with intricate wood carvings depicting various Shiva narratives. The Pashupatinath complex, however, includes many other buildings and sites, including Sleshmantak Forest and the Gaurighat Holy Bath. In fact, the entire compound includes 492 temples, 15 shrines to Shiva, and 12 additional shrines.
When you visit, you’ll notice a daily ritual that flows from the early-morning washing of the idols (including their clothing and jewelry) through a breakfast offering, worship, lunch, bathing, and final prayers. You can either experience these things on your own or book a tour – prices run from about 5,400-13,450 Rupees ($44-110), depending on length and what you visit.
2: Enjoy a full moon concert at the Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple.
As part of the Pashupatinath compound, the Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple attracts people not just for worship, but for entertainment. Every full moon night, the Kirateshwar Sangeet Ashram musicians put on a beautiful classical music performance covering all sub-genres in the classical canon. What’s more, students of the Ashram compete to perform at one special full-moon concert each year; the winners not only get the attention of the city for a night, but get a cash prize and a one-year scholarship. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see them perform. Also, expect to hear more than your usual orchestral instruments; everything from the flute and cello to the harmonium, sitar, and membranophone are featured in performances.
Concerts are free and open to the public, usually running 4-7pm.
3: Take a class in Thangka painting.
Thangka painting is more than just an art form; it’s a meditative practice. Traditional Buddhist thangka painting involves carefully painting a Buddhist deity or religious scene on cotton canvas. Historically, they were used both during festivals to honor Buddhist gods, and to teach students about various Buddhist deities. Today, several Thangka schools exist in Kathmandu, including Rincheling Thangka and Lama Thanka, though perhaps the most visited school is slightly outside of the city to the east: the Sunpati Thanka Painting School. At all three locations, you can either browse galleries of existing paintings and purchase one to take with you, or sign up for instruction on how to paint a Buddhist deity/scene. Keep in mind that thangka painting requires tremendous patience and is far more than a creative endeavor – as the Buddhist preach, it is an opportunity to enrich your mind and soul.
4: Learn meditation at the Dhamma Shringa Vipassana Centre.
Also a little ways outside of Kathmandu (to the north) lies the gold-domed Dhamma Shringa, a meditation center nestled in the wooded hills. Here, visitors learn Vipassana meditation, an ancient Indian practice dating back some 2,500 years. The word “Vipassana” itself translates to “seeing things as they really are,” enabling practitioners to escape the hunt for ideals and the burden of expectation so that they may find calm in the reality that surrounds them. Courses are available for teens and children as well as adults and either run a few days (typically three) or as long as 10 days. Some prerequisites apply, depending on which course you’d like to take, so be sure to consult the website above for full details. Also, note that courses are free of charge and even include meals; the cost for these is covered by donations from visitors.
5: Explore authentic Nepalese cuisine in downtown Kathmandu.
When in Nepal, eat like the Nepalese. We recommend spending most of your meal time right downtown (near Thamel Marg Street) where most of the top restaurants reside. You’ll find countless options here – from western-themed stops that sate comfort food cravings to authentic haunts frequented by locals. As you might imagine, we recommend sticking to the local faves so you get a true sense of Nepalese cuisine. First up: Utse Restaurant, housed inside the Utse Hotel. With a mission to provide locals and tourists alike a taste of Tibetan cuisine at incredibly affordable prices, this must-try features simple but rib-sticking braised and stewed dishes. Gacok, for example, is a mainstay here; this veggie and meat-rich hotpot dish is kept hot over a small charcoal fire and served with noodles and tea. Another delightful hotel stop, Toran Restaurant offers a more elevated version of Tibetan/Nepalese cuisine with western influences. Cases in point: Kwanti ko Johl, a mixed beans-sprout soup; Thukpa, the classic Sherpa noodle soup; and various kinds of locally-sourced fish. If you’re still craving some western flavors, head to the “Eurasian” concept Gaia Restaurant & Coffee Shop, where you can get everything from meatballs to gyros and eggs Benedict.