Inside Kathmandu valley
The Kathmandu valley consists of three medieval cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and other small towns of Panauti, Dhulikhel, Kirtipur, etc on its outskirts. These three cities are like an open museum of medieval arts, culture, and tradition.
There are seven world heritage sites declared by UNESCO within a periphery of about thirty kilometers in this valley.
Kathmandu, the capital and the largest city of Nepal, derives its name from Kasthmandapa or "house of wood" a pagoda-style temple you can see in Durbar square. A few steps away is the Temple of the Living Goddess, where the clients may catch a glimpse of the living goddess Kumari at one of the open windows overlooking the inner courtyard. All around the splendor of historical monuments is the hustle & bustle of the market place. Vegetable vendors, trees of flutes, salesmen with their wares displayed on their person, souvenir hawkers, and a street shop selling imported goods and tucked away in a quiet corner the glittering bead market for custom made bead necklaces.
Bhaktapur or Bhadgaon meaning the "city of devotees" lies 14 km east of Kathmandu. This well-preserved city is the home of medieval art & architecture and still retains its rich medieval aroma. A city of farmers, Bhaktapur is also known for its pottery and weaving. Bhaktapur is the most charming and the best preserved of the valley’s three cities. The intricately carved temples, alleyways and timeless atmosphere of this place are simply intriguing. The major sightseeing places in Bhaktapur are The Durbar square, the Golden Gate, Palace of 55 windows, Bell of the barking dogs, 5 storied Nyatapole Temple, Bhairavanath Temple, Dattatrya Temple, Pujari Math, etc Bhaktapur can be done along with a hike to Changunarayan temple or a visit to Nagarkot.
Patan is also known as Lalitpur or the "city of fine arts" and is the oldest city in the valley. This Buddhist City is said to have been founded by the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Patan is the source of arts and architecture of the valley, a great center both of the Newari Buddhist religion and of traditional arts & crafts with 136 bahals or courtyards and 55 major temples. Well known among these are the Krishna Mandir, Hiranya Varna Mahavihar, Kumbheshwar temple, Jagatnarayan temple & the Mahabouddha temple. Patan is enclosed within 4 Buddhist stupas set on the four corners of the outer boundaries of this ancient city. A tour of Patan would also include a visit to the Tibetan refugee camp to witness the hand weaving of Tibetan carpets using age-old methods of dyeing and finishing. The central zoo of Nepal is nearby and has interesting varieties of wild animals.
About 45 min of walk from the city center, atop a green hillock west of Kathmandu, stands the great stupa of Swayambhunath, a site over 2,500 years old marking the point where the legendary patriarch Manjushri discovered the lotus of the ancient Valley Lake. For centuries an important center of Buddhist learning, the painted eyes of the Buddha gaze out from all four sides of the monument. Constructed to specific rules each with a symbolic meaning, the stupa of Swayambhunath is a model of its kind. The whole is hung with multi-colored prayer flags whose every flutter releases holy prayers. The faithful circumambulate the stupa clockwise, turning the banks of prayer wheels and even prostrating full-length in reverence.
Swoyambhunath commands a great view of Kathmandu valley and the Himalayas and a visit around sunset time will be highly enjoyed.
The stupa of Boudhanath lies 8 km east of Kathmandu. It is the biggest Stupa in Nepal and the Pilgrimmage center for the great number of Tibetan refugees living in Nepal., Many Tibetan Lamas and Rinpoches reside in the surrounding area. Kathmandu is a better place than Tibet or even Dharmashala to learn Tibetan Buddhism as the atmosphere here is not politically charged. This colossal Stupa is set on concentric ascending terraces in the powerful pattern of a Mandala. Around the base of this strikingly enormous and simple stupa is a ring of 108 images of the Buddha and 147 insets
It is situated 5 km east of Kathmandu on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. The temple of Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath, with a tiered golden roof & silver doors, is famous for its superb architecture. The entrance to the temple precinct is forbidden to non-Hindus. The best view is from the terrace on the wooded hill across the river. The large gilded triple-roofed temple was built in 1696 AD though 300 years earlier there was a structure on this site. The Bagmati River is lined with dharmasalas and cremation ghats. There is usually a cremation in progress on one of the platforms by the river, regarded as holy as it flows into the sacred Ganges. There are many occasions when the faithful take ritual baths in the river. One of the most colorful is the women's festival of Teej when dressing in their finest red and gold saris hundreds of women, laughing and singing converge on Pashupatinath. Another great time to be here is the Festival of Shivaratri, the birthday of Lord Shiva.
18 km east of Kathmandu and a 45 minutes walk up from Bhaktapur lies the beautiful temple of Changunarayan, at the end of a ridge. Changunarayan is the oldest temple in Kathmandu valley dating back 467 AD. The lavishly decorated two-tiered temple was rebuilt after a fire in 1702, testifies to the considerable talents of the Licchavi King Mandeva I, Nepal’s first great historical figure. The temple stands in a spacious courtyard, with priceless stone sculptures, and writings on copper plates and stone slabs from the 4th to 9th century A.D. (Licchavi period). produced masterpieces that were entire. Changunaryan is a world heritage site declared by UNESCO. There is a pleasant day hike from Nagarkot to Changunarayan.
Dakshinkali is a 45-minute drive south from Kathmandu. Located inside a lovely forest at the confluence of two streams, the shrine of Dakshinkali is the most spectacular of all Kali temples. Animal sacrifices are offered to this deity signifying fertility and the procreative powers of the Female, every Tuesday & Saturday. The animals are presented to the priest who will ritually decapitate them with a khukuri knife & bathe the black stone image of Kali in blood.
Bungmati and Khokana and Pharping
The twin villages of Bungmati & Khokana date from the 16th century and are located south of Kathmandu, down a rutty road dotted with Chaityas. Bungmati is the winter home of lord Rato Machhendranath, the protector God of Patan. The shrine of Karya Binayak is located between the two villages. At Khokana ancient oil presses can be seen at work in village houses. Bungmati, Khokana and the nearby village of Pharping are the places to see traditional Newari villages in their traditional way.
9 km north of Kathmandu in a small pond at the foot of the Shivapuri Hills lies the half-submerged massive black stone statue of the reclining Vishnu resting on a bed of snakes. Worshippers strew the sleeping Vishnu with offerings of flowers & rice. It is a monumental sculpture from the Lichhavi period
Perched on twin hillocks and clinging to a saddle about 5 km southwest of Kathmandu lies the village of Kirtipur. A long flight of steps leads up to Kirtipur from the valley floor & a motorable road goes partway up the hill. Steep paths link brick houses built on terraces. The villagers dressed in traditional costume work on ancient looms. The people are well known for their strength and valor. Many historical battles were fought and won by the inhabitants of Kirtipur.
A center of Mahayana Buddhism was established in 1969 by two Lamas; Lama Thupten Zopa Rinpoche & Lama Thupten Yeshe. Since its inception, the center has been responsible for introducing thousands to Buddha's teaching through meditation courses, lectures & retreats.
Hills surround the sleepy village of Sankhu, once on the trade route east to Helambu. Forests above the village hide an important temple to the tantric goddess, Bajra Jogini. Follow the wide stone path north of the village and walk up the steps to the temple, flanked with smaller shrines, stupas, and statues. The main structure is the 17th century and has a fine golden Torana above the door. Behind the temple there are others.
Shivapuri, at a height of 2,732m, allows one a 360-degree view of the Himalaya in the north & the Kathmandu valley in the south. The trail up to Shivapuri hill leads through small farming villages & a protected forest of Rhododendrons & orchids with little mountain streams running through it. This can be made into a most enjoyable full-day program.
Namo Buddha meaning "hail to the Buddha" a sacred site, where according to the legend Buddhist prince sacrificed his body to feed a starving tigress & her cubs. A carved stone slab at the main stupa depicts the moving story. Buddhist pilgrims from all over the hills visit this stupa.It is a lovely day hike from Dhulikhel to Namobuddha and back to Panauti.
The tiny settlement of Nagarkot clings to a hilltop 36 km east of Kathmandu at an altitude of 2100m. It is one of the best vantage points to view the peaks - from the Annapurnas to Everest, the peaks seem no more than a day's walk away. The sunset and sunrise view over the Himalayan panorama from Nagarkot is a memory of a lifetime for many. It is also possible to do a day hike from Nagarkot to Dhulikhel along the valley rim.
30 km east of Kathmandu lies the small resort town of Dhulikhel set on a hilltop, enveloped in copper soiled terraces with magnificent views of the central Himalayan peaks. Dhulikhel is well known for its sunrise views and a number of day trails lead along the north ridge of the town.
Panauti is a quiet town near Dhulikhel and it can be visited on Namobuddha hike. Many tourists have no idea of this interesting l town with its beautiful temples and picturesque farmlands.
The banks of the river are packed with temples, shrines and cremation ghats. Across the river lies the recently restored Brahmayani temple. The Indreshwar Mahadev temple is a 15th-century Newari structure with exquisite woodcarvings.
Outside Kathmandu valley
For those seeking the ultimate pan Himalayan view, Daman is the place to visit. Located 80kms southwest of the Kathmandu valley, Daman (2,400m) offers the only unimpeded view of the entire Himalayan range. Daman is located on the Tribhuvan Highway between Kathmandu and the town of Hetauda. There is a view tower fitted with long-range telescopes.
Pokhara valley is a scenic 6-hour mountainside drive or a 25-minute flight west of Kathmandu. It is famous for its lakes and its location beneath the towering Annapurna massif. It is highly recommendable to visit this scenic valley, stay in small resort hotels with views of the magnificent Himalayan peaks, go boating on the calm waters of the Phewa and the Begnas lakes or go on tours or day hikes in the nearby hills or if time permits, on a well organized trekking holiday to the base camp of the Annapurna.
Further 12 km east of Pokhara at the end of a road that turns north from highway to Kathmandu lies the Begnas Lake offering the perfect nature retreat because of its elative seclusion. Splendid hiking, boating and fishing opportunities can be found here. Trekking of different duration can be organized from Pokhara.
Gorkha is an interesting and historical town and lies about 5 hours drive from Kathmandu. Nepal was unified by a Gorkha King some 240 years ago. The historical palace is perched on a high rock. The palace and the temples stunningly beautiful and have a great view of Himalayas. It is one of the hidden jewels of Nepal not visited by many tourists.
About a 5-hour drive or a 30 min flight from Kathmandu lies the Chitwan National Park. This tropical national park is the home of rhinos, different species of deer, crocodile, leopard, Bengal tiger, peacock, wild cow, wild boar and a great number of bird species. More than 450 bird species are found in this National park. An elephant back safari in this park is highly recommended for every visitor in Nepal. Chitwan is at a distance of about 4-5 hour drive from Lumbini or Pokhara.
Tansen, a colorful hill town is situated at an altitude of 1,450m. It is the most popular summer resort in western Nepal on account of its location and climate. It has the most extensive views of the country’s chief attraction the Himalaya; from Dhaulagiri in the west to Gaurishankar in the northeast. Walking around Tansen town is an interesting or short day hike to Ridi can be a rewarding experience. It takes just five hours by car from Pokhara to reach Tansen or just a couple of hours' drive from Lumbini.
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, is the pilgrimage destination of the world’s millions of Buddhists. The main attraction at Lumbini remains the sacred garden spread over 8 sq. km and possessing all the treasures of this historical area. The Mayadevi temple (under reconstruction) is the main attraction for pilgrims and archaeologists alike. This site, identified by the Indian Emperor Ashoka’s commemorative pillar is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. To the south of the pillar, we find the sacred pond Puskarni, where Queen Mayadevi had her bath just before giving birth to the Buddha. Other attractions include the various monasteries and stupas erected by different Buddhist countries.
If you do have faith in Hindu gods, there are many shrines where you can pray and worship for your wishes to come true. One goddess is said to fulfill your wishes if you have it from the heart, she is Manakamana Devi. One of the Devis (goddesses) Manakamana, “mana” came from the word “mann” which means heart and “kamana” means to wish. So it is believed that if you wish from your heart the Goddess Manakamana fulfills those.
The temple of Manakamana is located just 102 kilometers from the capital, Kathmandu, en route to Pokhara and Chitwan and on banks of Trishuli River which is famous for white water rafting.
The Manakamana temple overlooks terraced fields, and the Trishuli and Marsyangdi river valleys. The hilltop (1302m) also offers a vantage point for taking in the breathing view of the Manaslu-Himanchuli and Annapurna massifs to the north.
The legend of the Manakamana Goddess goes back to the time of the Gorkha King Ram shah (1614-1636 AD). His queen possessed divine powers known only to her devotee and religious preceptor, Lakhan Thapa. On one occasion, the king chanced upon the revelation of his queen as a goddess and Lakhan as a lion. But as soon as he told the Queen what he saw, death took him. When the Queen approached the funeral pyre to commit sati as was the custom back then, she consoled the lamenting Lakhan by saying that she would reappear soon near his home. Six months later, a certain farmer ploughing a field hit a stone, cleaved it and saw blood and milk flow forth. When the news got around to Lakhan, he knew that his wish had come true. The flow ceased when Lakhan worshipped the stone using his tantric knowledge. When the then ruling king of Gorkha learned of the incident, he donated land and a granted to perpetuate the worship of Manakamana.
This deed was invested with a Lal Mohar, and the present Thapa-Magar pujari is the 17th generation descendant of Lakhan Thapa. The shrine of Manakamana has been renovated many times over the centuries. The present two-story temple on a square pedestal has pagoda-style roofs, and the entrance is marked by one stone which is the sacrificial pillar. The Thapa-Mangar priest performs rituals behind closed doors by offering egg, orange, rice, vermillion, and strips of cloth to the Goddess, only after the pujari is done with his puja, that the public’s turn comes. The devotees' form queue at the temple gate and the priest inside it take the offerings the pilgrim has brought and dedicates them to Goddess Manakamana. Those who want to worship the Goddess by sacrificing animals have more rituals to perform. The priest chants the holy mantra while the sacrificial beast is beheaded and the gushing blood is splashed all over the sacred idol of the Goddess.
The duration of the puja ceremony depends on the period of the year and the crowd gathered there. Normally the busiest period is between November to February of every year. Besides, Tuesdays and Saturdays are also relatively crowded throughout the year.
It is believed that goddess Manakamana has chosen the top of a rugged hill as her earthly abode as if to test the determination of her devotees. It is also believed that if one's prayers are unheard of by the Goddess, one has to keep trying by going there again and again. It is said that the third trip is rewarding. This belief keeps devotees repeating their visits.
The number of visitors to Manakamana is always increasing day by day. Most of them travel by Cable car which is the only one in Nepal and some still prefer to walk. Don’t be surprised to see a long queue not only on the way to cable car but to the holy shrine as well. A cable car is best to make the trip for a day or else you can choose to trek uphill as many love to hike and enjoy the beautiful scenes of the hills and mountains of Nepal.
MANAKAMANA ON FOOT
A four-hour bus journey from the capital city will drop the visitor at a place called Abu Khaireni which is just 25km away from the well known historical town of Gorkha. The ascent to the temple starts only after crossing a long and somewhat scary suspension bridge that undulates over a river. After crossing the bridge a stone stairway will lead the pilgrim right to the Manakamana temple. However, the trek leading up to the temple is arduous and exhausting. There are numerous bends that seem determined to ensure that the pilgrim has a tough time reaching his/her destination. Usually, the climb to the temple begins early in the morning.
The approximately four hours will take the pilgrim through breathtaking greenery and sparkling streams. Along the path one can see school children on their way to school, herdsman casually looking after their cow, and villagers ever willing to offer drinking water to thirsty passerby.
Further uphill, one comes across local tea stalls stuffed with cigarettes, soft and hard drinks, and cookeries, chautaras, a sort of rest places, usually under the huge tree is really refreshing and rejuvenating in between the exhausting trek. After reaching the Manakaman Village which consists of residences, hotels, restaurants, and shops, one can find the temple situated in the center of the courtyard-type space. One can also see pigeons feeding themselves with rice brought by the devotees.
For descending downwards the hill it will take about one hour. The steepness is overwhelming but care should be taken on maintaining an even pace, preferably only a couple of steps at a time. One has again to cross the same suspension bridge and reach onto the highway at Abu Khaireni, and hop onto a bus coming for Pokhara or Gorkha city to return back to Kathmandu.
MANAKAMANA ON CABLE CAR
Manakamana Cable Car has made the visit to the famous Manakamana temple easy and convenient. The Cable Car was formally inaugurated on November 24, 1998.
The distance covered by the Manakamana Cable Car-the first passenger-carrying Cable Car in the country is 28 kilometers. The fleet of the cable car consists of 31 passenger cars and 3 cargo carriers. Each cable car can carry 6 people and takes about 10 minutes to reach the other end. The project station of this Cable Car which has the capacity to carry 600 people an hour, is situated at Cheres -midway between Mugling and Kuringhat. The Cable Car station at Cheres is within two and a half hours driving distance from Kathmandu, 2hrs from Pokhara and 1hr from Chitwan.
For the elderly and those who are not able to visit the temple due to frail health, the cable car has come as a relief. Gone are the days when they had to sadly abandon their wish to visit the temple to worship the famous deity. The cable car transport system is very safe and reliable making it the choice by travelers.