Guests on Safari in India




Durbar Square

Even though the Nepali royal family moved from the Hanuman Dhoka palace about a century ago, Durbar (Palace) Square remains the tourist heart of Kathmandu.

The jewels in the crown are the Hanuman Dhoka itself (the complex of royal palaces), the magnificent Taleju Temple (built in 1564 by Mahendra Malla, standing on a 12-stage plinth, and reaching 35 metres in height), and the Kumari Bahal (an intricately carved three-storey structure built in 1757 in which the 'living godess', a young girl selected from the Kathmandu valley, still lives).

Other must-sees are the Kasthamandap (aka the 'Pavillion of wood', the building after which Kathmandu was named and which, legend has it, was constructed using a single sal tree) and the Maju Deval (a triple-roofed Shiva temple dating from 1690, built by the mother of Bhaktapur's king Bhupatindra Malla)

Narayanhiti Palace Museum

Full of chintzy meeting rooms and faded 1970s glamour, the palace interior is more gaudy than opulent. The highlights are the impressive throne and banquet halls and the modest royal bedrooms (check out the great armchair with built-in speakers). Stuffed gharial, tigers and rhino heads line the halls next to towering portraits of earlier Shahs and photos of the royal family.

The Pashupatinath Temple

Constructed in the pagoda style of architecture, Pashupatinath stands on the banks of the Bagmati river, has a distinctive gilded rooftop, intricately carved rafters (featuring members of Shiva's family) and four silver-plated main doors surrounded by statues of deities.

Pashupatinath reaches a maximum height of 24 metres, Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple.

There is nonetheless much to see. The temple's exterior and its surrounding buildings are worth a look. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) watch the world go by. Traders hawk marigolds, incense and conch shells. And the riverbanks of the Bagmati river are a popular place for cremations.

Boudhanath Stupa

Assigned UNESCO world heritage status in 1979, Boudhanath (aka the Boudha, Chorten Chempo and Khasa Caityais) has a diameter of 120 metres, making it the largest temple in Nepal.

The stupa is built on an octagonal base, is surrounded by prayer wheels, and has colourful prayer flags draped from its 36-metre central spire.

Boudhanath is rich in symbolism: it has five statues of Dhyani Buddhas, representing the five elements (earth, fire, water, air and ether); nine levels, representing Mount Meru (the mythical peak at the centre of the Buddhist cosmos); and 13 rings from its base to its apex (representing the steps to enlightenment or Nirvana).

Boudhanath is the religious centre of Nepal's Tibetan/Buddhist community, and is surrounded by around 50 monasteries and shops settling Tibetan artefacts. About 15% of the population are Buddhists.

Old City Tour

A day trip to Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur, which became an independent city-state under King Ananda Malla in the 12th century, also has its own Durbar Square (replete with a number of temples, including one featuring erotic cows, camels and elephants!).

The northern section of the square is home to the Royal Palace, with visitors able to access the Golden Gate, intricately carved and set into a bright red gatehouse, and the National Art Gallery, with an extensive collection of Tantric cloth paintings.But the town also has a timeless air, with visitors able to see grain laid out to dry in the sun, potters at work in Potters' square, locals weaving baskets, drying laundry or collecting water, and children playing.

Keep an eye out for exquisite architecture as you wander the streets: many buildings feature intricately carved woodwork (such asthe famous Peacock window, on an alley leading south-east from the Tachupal Tole).

No cars are allowed inside the Bhaktapur town centre and, as a result, it is quiet by comparison to the country's capital.

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