General Information

Say "Nepal", and most people will go, "That's where Mount Everest is, right?" But Nepal is also the land of the brave Gurkha soldiers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and home to the world's greatest mountaineers, the Sherpas. However, for the visitor, it's the astounding natural beauty and diversity of the countryside as well as the heart-warming friendliness of the Nepalese people that is endearing.

This small Himalayan nation, Nepal is endowed by nature with an unimaginable diversity in topography resulting in a wide range of flora and fauna. From the massive Himalayan region in the north to the sweltering sub-tropical jungles of the tarai (plains) in the south, it is home to 2% of all flowering plants in the world, 848 species of birds, 167 species of mammals, 500 species of butterfly families, 600 indigenous plant families and 319 exotic species of orchids. Rising from a mere 70m above sea level in Kanchan Kalan, to 8,848m above sea level, the world's highest point – the summit of Mount Everest, the altitude changes rapidly within 200 Km. This amazing diversity has given Nepal a widely varied ecosystem comprising thick sub-tropical jungles swarming with diverse wildlife, the mid-Himalayas with a pleasant climate to the great Himalayan peaks with alpine conditions. The Nepal Himalaya comprises frozen valleys, deep gorges, mysterious canyons, fast and furious rivers, rolling hills and cool, placid lakes.

Nepal has a population of 30 million people, who speak 70 different languages and belong to more than 40 different ethnic groups. This Himalayan nation is a colorful tapestry of vibrant cultures, ancient traditions, fascinating festivals and wonderful, unique art and architecture. Add to this, the warm hospitality of the ever-smiling Nepalese people. All these have made Nepal a living museum that visitors find irresistible and feel a need to come back for more.

History

Ancient historical data tell us that the first rulers of Nepal, which then comprised the Kathmandu valley, were the Gopalas, followed by the Mahishapals, succeeded by the Kirants, the Licchavis, the Mallas and finally the Shah dynasty. Prithvi Narayan Shah launched his integration campaign and brought under his rule most of the independent principalities.  His successors completed the task and Nepal finally became one nation under the Shah dynasty. Unfortunately for them, the Rana Prime Ministers then usurped power from the ruling family and ran the affairs of the country for 104 years from 1846 to 1951. The monarchs of Nepal became mere figureheads, while the Ranas enjoyed all the power, wealth, pomp and ceremony. The Shah dynasty was powerless, but retained the status of a royal family. The Ranas then closed the country to all foreigners except for the few who entered the kingdom on their invitation. Finally King Tribhuvan escaped to India with most of his family and the people revolted, leading to the ouster of the Rana regime. In 1951, the king flew back to Nepal to a warm welcome from the citizens and introduced democracy. Since then the borders of Nepal have been open and tourism was introduced to Nepal.

King Mahendra who succeeded King Tribhuvan, abolished democracy, banned all political parties and introduced the Panchayat system. After the major party leaders were jailed, King Mahendra’s appointees ran the autocratic Panchayat government. A more lenient ruler, King Birendra ascended to the throne in 1975, succeeding his father, King Mahendra. But although popular with his subjects, the winds of change blowing over from Europe forced King Birendra to give in to demands for a democratic government in 1990. An elected government took charge of the state’s affairs with the king as a constitutional monarch and head of state. Then followed the infamous palace massacre of 2001, that did away with the entire ruling family leaving behind only the family of the king’s brother, Gyanendra Shah, who was then crowned king of Nepal. But King Gyanendra soon took over absolute power by removing the Prime Minister and appointing his own hand-picked ministers. However, this wasn’t to last long, as all political parties including the Maoists joined hands to rise up against him. King Gyanendra was forced to step down and stripped of all his powers. A coalition government has been in place ever since, with the Prime Minister and his ministers ruling the country and the king’s future yet to be decided.

Geography

Nepal shares a border with China in the north and India in the south, east and west and its total area is 147,181 square kilometers. The length of Nepal from east to west is 885 km while its breadth, north to south varies from 145-241km. The country is divided into three topographical regions on the basis of their altitudes: the High Himalaya, Lesser Himalaya and the Tarai (plains). And the country is further divided into seventy-five districts and five development zones.

High Himalaya:

The High Himalayan region of Nepal occupies 15% of the total area of the country and the altitude varies from 4,000m above sea level to 8,848m above sea level. This region embraces eight of the fourteen highest peaks in the world exceeding 8000m. These eight thousanders are Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho-oyo, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna.  The climate is extremely cold and windy and the land is less fertile. Thus, cultivation is very poor in this region. However, this is a very popular tourist destination in Nepal, both for trekking and mountaineering.

Middle Hills & Lesser Himalaya:

This is the largest region of Nepal occupying 68% of the country and encompasses much of the country’s huge population. This region has a temperate climate and the land is fertile compared to the High Himalayan region. The altitude ranges from the Mahabharat range at 4000m above sea level to the lower level of the Churia range. This region boasts some of the country’s popular tourist destinations such as Pokhara, Tansen, Khaptad and others including the nation’s capital, Kathmandu.

Terai region:

The Tarai occupies 17% of Nepal’s land, with its plains stretching from east to west in southern Nepal. The lowest point is 70m above sea level. The climate is sub-tropical and the land, very fertile. It consists of sub-tropical jungles, Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, which are home to many endangered species of mammals including the One-horned Rhinoceros and the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger.

Culture

People:

The diversity of ethnic groups that make up the Nepali population is amazing. Their distribution reflects the geography of the country with the mongoloid people of Tibetan origin occupying the higher regions while the majority who are of Indo-Aryan stock live in the lower regions. A large part of the population is made up of Brahmins (Bahuns) and Chhetris. Other diverse groups consist of Tamangs, Gurungs, Magars, Rais, Limbus, Sherpas, etc. who live mostly in the hilly and mountainous regions. Newars are concentrated in the Kathmandu valley but are also found in many other parts of the country. The Tharus predominate in the tarai (plains) where Danuwars, Darais and Rajbanshis also live. They are collectively known as the Madhesi.

Religion:

Hinduism and Buddhism are the two major religions practiced in Nepal. They co-exist in an amazing harmony, often even overlapping as devotees lay offerings and pray at both Hindu and Buddhist shrines. Being the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the country encompasses many Buddhists. Muslims, Sikhs and Christians make up a small portion of the population. While the first Muslims were invited to the country in the 12th century by a Malla King, Sikhs migrated more than 300 years ago, and the Christian population is made up of converts as well as migrants.  There are however, others who follow their own religious practices which are unique to their ethnic groups.

Art & Architecture

Nepal is a land of migrants who in centuries past, came from various parts of Asia, and settled in the hills, valleys, the plains and the high mountains. They brought with them their diverse cultures, beliefs, art and architecture. What we see today is an amalgamation of all these influences. The reign of various dynasties like the Kirantis (Saivites), Licchavis (Vaishnavites) and especially Malla Kings (Hindu) influenced the religions beliefs of the Nepalese people. The harmonious existence of Hinduism and Buddhism side by side, have endowed Nepal with a rich heritage of Art and Architecture. Much of the exquisite woodcarvings, sculptures and architectural designs seen in the temples, palaces, stupas, road-side shrines, water spouts and religious objects are unique to Nepal, and can easily enrapture any art lover.

Over the centuries much of the monuments had deteriorated and some structures had even collapsed completely. Thanks largely to generously funded projects like the Bhaktapur Development Project and subsequent projects under local municipalities; NGOs and UNESCO, much of the old monuments have been restored. The most impressive architectural works are found in the three Durbar Squares that house the old palaces and temple complexes. Apart from these, the two great stupas, the Swoyambhunath and Boudhanath as well as the famous Pashupatinath temple stand testimony to the creative genius of Nepali craftsmen.

Buddhist religious scroll paintings developed to a high degree in Nepal. These remarkably detailed paintings known as thangkas are made in all three cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and many of the artists are Tamangs. Fetching very high prices, thangkas are made for both religious as well as commercial purposes. Similar paintings made by the Newars, known as pauba may also include images of Hindu deities along with images of Buddha. There are many thangka schools where the skill of painting them is taught even today.

The art of statue making has reached a high degree of sophistication in Nepal and ranks high among the handicrafts exported to the west. Statues are made of metal, stone and wood, but it is the metal ones that are exemplary. Woodcarving has proliferated and woodcarvers can be seen everywhere in the valley while stone carving is today limited to making chaityas and images of lions.

The art and architecture found in the Durbar (palace) Squares of  Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are predominantly from the Malla period and enable one to visualize what the palace complexes looked like in the 18th century. The vast number of beautifully crafted temples and other shrines that one encounters in every corner of Kathmandu Valley have moved people to call it the ‘Valley of the Gods’.

Festivals & Special Events

With more than 40 indigenous ethnic groups inhabiting Nepal, the country enjoys numerous colorful and spectacular festivals. Festive celebrations often take place on the streets and squares, providing days of entertainment to visitors. Many of these elaborate festivals follow ancient traditions and are celebrated predominantly by the Newar community. Most festivals are either Hindu or Buddhist, but many deities are common to both religions while indigenous groups celebrate their own unique festivals. Chariot processions, masked dances and tribal dances are some of the more colorful aspects of Nepali festivals. Given below are some important festivals of Nepal.

January

Shree Panchami

Shree Panchami also known as Basanta Panchami is a festival celebrating the birthday of the Hindu goddess Saraswati. The festival is especially important to students who pray to her on this day. Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom.

February

Lhosar

Various ethnic groups in Nepal including the Gurungs, Tamangs, Sherpas, Manangés and Tibetans celebrate Lhosar, their New Year festival on different days around February/March. Worshippers pray to Lord Buddha and visit Buddhist shrines. There are many days of celebrations with feasting, singing and dancing as they visit various relatives. Large numbers gather at Boudhanath in Kathmandu, where masked dances are also performed.

February/March

Maha Shivarati

Maha Shivaratri is celebrated as the Night of Shiva, one of the most revered Hindu gods. This important festival attracts a large number of pilgrims from India along with the hordes of Nepali Hindus. On this day, thousands of devotees congregate at the Pashupatinath temple queuing up to enter Lord Shiva’s holiest shrine where they pray and make an offering. People take a holy dip in the river and stay up all night lighting bonfires.

Fagu Poornima or Holi

Fagu Poornima, popularly known as Holi, is the festival of colors, and is a celebration of the death of the Demoness Holika. It falls either in late February or early March. Hindus douse each other with colored powder or colored water during this day. For this festival, a wooden pole is erected at Basantapur. Sacred thread is tied around this pole; women pray and light oil lamps. On the final day, the pole is dragged to the Tudikhel ground where it is lit up in a bonfire. The ashes are taken home by revelers as it is believed it will protect them from evil spirits.

March/April

Ghode Jatra

Ghode Jatra is literally the Horse Festival and celebrated with a grand parade at the Tundikhel grounds (central Kathmandu). The Nepali army plays a central role by holding an equestrian display, a horse race and drills such as parachuting. A large crowd of onlookers gathers around the Tundikhel.

Seto Machhendranath

A chariot procession starts from Durbar Marg in Kathmandu with the idol of the Seto Machhendranath (also Avalokiteswara) inside the chariot. The chariot comes to a halt at various locations around the old part of Kathmandu city, where devotees come to pay homage and to receive Prasad (blessed food) which is distributed from the chariot.  The Living Goddess Kumari is also brought out on her chariot and worshipped by devotees. The idol of Seto Machhendranath is eventually returned to its temple in Machhendra Bahal near Indra Chowk, where it stays for the rest of the year.

Ram Nawami

Ram Nawami is the birthday of Lord Ram, a popular Hindu God and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu – God of Protection. Hindus visit temples dedicated to Lord Ram, and large crowds gather at the Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, southern Nepal.

Chaite Dashain

Chaite Dashain is dedicated to Goddess Durga, consort of Lord Shiva and also dedicated to Lord Ram. On this day, Goddess Durga is said to have slain two demons, Sur and Maishur in order to save the earth and its people. It is also believed that on this day, Lord Ram killed the demon Rawan, a symbolic victory of good over evil.

April

Nepali New Year

The first day of the Nepali year is a public holiday. Celebrations begin from the eve and continue on to New Year’s Day. Many Nepalis hold pujas in their homes to welcome in the New Year. Hordes of people go out for a picnic to their favorite destinations while others celebrate with elaborate parties.

Bisket Jatra

Bisket Jatra is a spectacular nine-day festival unique to Bhaktapur as it is not celebrated in the other cities. The central characters in the festival are Bhairav and Bhairavi whose images are taken around the city on two chariots. At a place called Yashinkhel, a 70-foot pole is erected and later brought down to mark the Nepali New Year. The chariots are brought here and many rituals follow before they are pulled back to the temple of Bharavnath from where the processon started. Each day people worship at various Astamatrika shrines around the city. The devotees from upper and lower parts of the city fight for the right to pull the chariot to their half first. There is much music, dancing and revelry to enliven the atmosphere.

Rato Machhindranath Jatra

This is a Newari festival unique to Lalitpur and dedicated to Rato Machhindranath, god of plenty and rain, also known as Bunga Dya (Newari).To Buddhists, the god is Avalokiteswara of the Mahayana sect. The image of Macchindranath is brought from the god’s temple in the village of Bungamati, and placed on a wooden chariot at Pulchowk in Patan. A smaller chariot carries the image of Minnath. The chariot is then taken around Patan city for more than a month, coming to rest at various traditional points where worshippers flock. It is left on one spot for many days. It finally comes to rest at Jawalakhel, where an ancient jewel-studded vest is displayed. The Living Goddess Kumari of Patan also attends this ceremony. After the festival, the idol is taken back to Bungamati where is remains for the rest of the year.

April/May

Matri Aunsi

Matri Aunsi often known as “Aamako Mukh Herne” is Mother’s Day in the Nepalese calendar. People pay homage to their mothers by offering sweets, gifts and delicious foods. People whose mothers have passed away, visit Mata Tirtha where they bathe and pray for the eternal peace of their mother’s soul. Some erect statues in their mother’s likeness.

May

Baishak Purnima/ Buddha Jayanti

Buddha Jayanti is a full moon day dedicated to Lord Buddha to mark his triple anniversary – Birthday, Enlightenment and Death. Buddhist devotees visit various stupas and chaityas especially at Swayambhunath, Bouddhanath and Lumbini. In Patan, local Buddhists take a small chariot around the city mostly to courtyards where there are Buddhist vihars (monasteries). A Grand National festival is organized at Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, where many Nepalese and foreigners pay homage.

June/July

Guru Poornima

Guru Poornima is a full moon (Poornima) day dedicated to teachers (Guru) in the month of June or July. Among Hindus, teachers are highly respected, second only to the gods and it is believed that a student who does not respect his/her teacher can never succeed in his/her life. On this day, students pay homage to their teachers and receive blessings from them. The ashram known as Vyas of Maharishi Vyas (the sage who wrote the great Hindu epic ‘Mahabharat’) situated on the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway is also visited by Hindus. This is an auspicious day when Lord Buddha entered the womb of Queen Mayadevi and Buddhists celebrate this day as Dilla Punhi.

July/August

Ghanta Karna Chaturdasi

This festival, also known as Gathemangal, is celebrated in the month of July or August on the occasion of the death of a demon called Ghanta Karna. Later in the evening, an effigy of Ghanta Karna is made and set on fire symbolizing his death. People wear special metal rings on this day.

Janai Poornima (Rakshya Bandhan)

Janai is the sacred thread worn by some Hindus. After undergoing a ritual called Bratabandha, they wear a Janai around their body, which is sanctified with various chants, believed to protect one from any evil. On Janai Poornima, a festival dedicated to Lord Shiva, Hindus bathe in a holy river, and then change their janai. A Brahmin then ties a thread around their right wrist. On this day, some Hindu women bathe in the holy river and tie this sacred thread to their left wrists. Janai Poornima is also known as Rakshya Bandhan and on this occasion, sisters tie a sacred band around their brothers’ wrists worshipping Lord Shiva for protection against any evil, accidents or death. The major areas of celebration of this festival are Gosainkunda in the Himalaya and Kumbheshwar Mahadev temple in Patan where an idol of Lord Shiva is placed on a platform in the middle of the pond created by blocking off the outlets. It is believed that the water that flows from the waterspouts of Kumbeshwar originate in Gosainkunda.

August/September

Gai Jatra

Gai Jatra is a festival in honour of family members who passed away during the year or the year before. Families that lost a loved one during the year or previous year, bring out some of their children dressed up to represent cows. These children visit temples around the city where they are given food. Cows are held sacred by Hindus and are believed to be the reincarnation of Goddess Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth; hence feeding a cow is seen as auspicious. Some families take along a real cow. For onlookers, this is entertainment as they watch the procession of cows followed by people dressed in funny outfits, masked dancers and musicians. It is celebrated all over the valley, but the festivities in Bhakrapur are far more elaborate as the festival carries on for eight days. It was during the reign of King Jaya Prakash Malla, that the festival was born. When the royal couple lost their son, the Queen went into a deep depression, mourning endlessly. She could not come to terms with it and became weaker as her misery worsened. In order to console her, the King came up with the idea of showing her that she was not the only one who had lost a loved one. He commanded his subjects to start a procession to honour all the dead, and to worship Yamaraj, the God of death, who would thus take care of the departed souls. Thus the festival was born.

Matayaa

Matayaa is a day-long festival unique to Patan and is always held the day after Gaijatra. Devotees visit all the Buddhist shrines in the city, tossing rice grains, flowers and lighting candles. Just as they did on the day of Gaijatra, some wear funny attires and masked dancers also join the procession.

Krishnaastami, Rath Yatra and Gaur Parva

Krishnaastami is the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday. He is one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the festival is celebrated countrywide by all Hindus. Devotees visit Krishna temples around the cities; women devotees fast and stay up all night chanting bhajans. The largest number of devotees can be seen at the famous Krishna Mandir of Patan where they pay homage to the god. In Biratnagar – a tarai city in eastern Nepal, Krishnaastami is celebrated with a ‘Rath Yatra’, the pulling of a spectacular 6meter-tall chariot carrying idols of Radha and Krishna. Starting from the Radha Krishna temple, it is taken around the city. In Western Nepal, Krishnastami is celebrated as ‘Gaur Parva’ and locals perform a traditional dance called Deuda (where participants dance in a circle) and married women put on a sacred thread.

Teej

Teej is the time for a Hindu woman to fast and pray to Lord Shiva, asking for a long and healthy life for her husband, and the purification of her own body and soul for marital bliss. The day prior to Teej is called Dar Khane Din, when married women are invited to their parents’ homes to have meals and other delicious food, along with singing and dancing all night long. During Teej, the women fast, refraining from eating or drinking anything; not even water, until they finish their Puja in the evening and receive tika from their husbands.

Gokarna Aunsi

Gokarna Aunsi is Father’s Day according to the Nepalese calendar. It’s a day to honor one’s father, offering him delicious food, sweets and gifts. Those who have lost their fathers visit Gokarna, where they pray and offer “Pinda” – food for the departed soul, praying for his eternal peace. It is believed that if a son offers Pinda at a holy pond of Gokarna after conducting a puja, his departed father will eat it and find peace.

Indra Jatra

Indra Jatra, a festival dedicated to Lord Indra, god of rain and King of the gods is celebrated in Kathmandu. It is said that Indra came down from heaven to look for a special herb ordered by his mother. Seeing a stranger amidst them, the locals captured him. When eventually his true identity was known, they released him and established a chariot procession to appease him and his mother. In this grand procession, there are three chariots carrying two young boys representing Lord Indra and Lord Ganesh and a third larger one carrying the Living Goddess Kumari – the incarnation of goddess Taleju. They are taken around old Kathmandu and worshipped by thousands of devotees. Indra Jatra is also famous for the masked dances.

Neel Barahai Pyakhan

Neel Barahi Pyakhan, or Neel Barahi dance is a local festival of Bode, a place near Thimi, 8 km east of Kathmandu. It is dedicated to Neel Barahi, the incarnation of Goddess Durga, consort of Lord Shiva. The masked dance is performed for four consecutive days during the month of August or September when nineteen dancers represent the city guardians accompanied by a local orchestra playing traditional Newari music. It is believed that this festival calls for peace and harmony among people. The temple of Neel Barahi is located in a jungle just outside Bode.

October/November

Dashain

Dashain is the biggest festival celebrated by most Nepalese people. It is a time for family members to come together to receive blessings from their elders. The festival commemorates the victories of Goddess Durga over the demons Sur and Mahisasur and of Lord Ram over the demon Rawan. It is believed that on this day – Dashain, the tenth day of the war between God and demons, god was victorious, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. It is also on the tenth day that elders put tika on the foreheads of their junior family members. People wear new clothes and paint their houses. Dashain is the longest Nepalese festival, lasting fifteen days. Temples of the goddess Durga are visited, and goats, chicken, ducks and buffalos are sacrificed at her shrines. This is the time for all people to come home and be with their loved ones. During this entire period, gambling is legal and people spend much of their time eating, drinking and gambling.

Tihar

Another big festival of Hindus, Tihar also known as Diwali is a five-day festival of lights when Nepalese homes are lit up with oil lamps, candles and electric lights. Tihar starts with Kag tihar, when the crow is worshipped and offered food followed by Kukur tihar, the day when dogs are worshipped. Then comes Laxmi Puja, the third and main day of Tihar when goddess Laxmi, goddess of wealth and consort of Lord Vishnu is worshipped. From this day people decorate their houses with garlands, purify the entrance by applying red soil and cow dung, putting auspicious signs on the entrance of the house. Footsteps of goddess Laxmi are made with rice paste starting from the home entrance to the room where the image of the goddess is established symbolizing that the goddess has visited one’s home. In the evening, after conducting a puja or ritual, oil lamps and candles are lit up to welcome the arrival of the goddess. Laxmi Puja is followed by Gobardhan puja when the cow is worshipped - Hindus believe cow dung to be sacred. The last day of Tihar is Bhai Tika – brother’s day when sisters put tika on their brothers and worship Yamaraj, god of death praying for the long and healthy life of their brothers.

Chhat

Immediately on the heels of Tihar (a week after Laxmi puja) comes Chhat Puja celebrated by the Madhesi people of the tarai. During this two day festival, devotees worship the sun god. A large number of worshippers, mostly women gather at the banks of holy rivers and lakes (Bagmati and Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu/ Lakes Ganga Sagar and Dhanush Sagar in Janakpur). On the first day, just as the sun goes down at sunset, many enter the river or lake to pray, facing the sun. Offerings of fruits and lamps are made. The ritual is repeated the next day, but this time just as the sun is coming up on the horizon. A lovely sight to behold is the multitude of lamps floating on the surface of the river.

Mani Rimdu

Mani Rimdu is the biggest festival of the year for Sherpas living in the Khumbu region held during the full moon in October/November. Sherpas from this Himalayan region congregate at Thyangboche Monastery (gompa), the monastery that lies on a picturesque spur at 3,870 meters from where both Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam can be seen. The other Mani Rimdu is celebrated at Chiwong with slightly different rituals and takes place at a different time of the year. The festival is attended by a high ranking lama, a rinpoche whose blessings are sought by all after a weeklong puja by the monks. The highlight of the festival is the masked dances by the monastery’s monks.

December

Maghe Sankranti

Maghe Sankranti is the first day of the month of Magh, which is considered to be a holy day as this brings to an end the ill-omened month of Poush when any religious festival is forbidden. It is celebrated all around Nepal and people take baths in the holy rivers like Bagmati, worship deities and have delicious food to celebrate the beginning of warmer and better days. The special foods eaten on this day are Gheu – Nepali butter, Chaku – form of sweet, Til ko Laddu – Sesame sweet, Tilaura – Sesame sweet and Tarul – a form of a potato.

Bibaha Panchami

This festival is celebrated as the marriage week of Lord Ram and his consort Sita in Janakpur. Many Nepalese and Indian pilgrims visit Janaki Mandir during this week to observe the festival. The idols of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita are worshipped and adorned and the marriage ceremony is conducted with the idols of the god and goddess in a grand manner.

Heritage

The small Himalayan Kingdom is a living natural and cultural museum. Of the many historical and natural sites found in Nepal, UNESCO has chosen the following places as World Heritage Sites. Seven sites are located inside the vicinity of Kathmandu Valley and two outside the valley.

Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath is the sacred shrine of Lord Shiva for all Hindus. Situated at the bank of the Bagmati River, 5km east of Kathmandu’s city center, built in the Pagoda style this two-tiered golden roofed temple holds a very strong religious belief. If a Hindu takes his/her last breath at Pashupatinath and her/his body is cremated here and ashes are sprinkled in the holy water of Bagmati it is believed that her/his soul is released from the cycle of rebirth and finds the ultimate nirvana or salvation. Pashupatinath, which dates back to before 400AD is believed guard and protect Nepal and its people. UNESCO designated Pashupatinath temple as World Heritage Site in 1979.

Swayambhunath

Swaymbhunath Stupa is the most ancient and mysterious of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu Valley. Its origin is related to the visit of Manjushree – a Bodhisatva sage who created the Kathmandu Valley from a primordial lake. According to a legend of 15th century Swayambhu Puran, it is believed that past Buddha planted a lotus that miraculously blossomed from the lake. Manjushree, while meditating at the sacred mountain, had a vision of the brilliant but mysterious light radiated by the lotus and flew across China and Tibet to worship it. In order to make it accessible to the pilgrims, Manjushree drained out water from the lake and thus, the lotus was transformed into a hilltop and the light into Swayambhunath Stupa. Hence, the derivation of the title Swayambhu, which means self-creation. This superior white mound and glittering golden spire is visible from all sides of the valley. Both Hindus and Buddhists equally worship Swayambhunath eve though it is a Buddhist Stupa. Everyday people ascend the 365 steps to pay a visit to the deity. Every part of the Stupa holds a religious belief; according to Buddhism the thirteen gilded circles of the spire symbolize the thirteen steps that lead to nirvana or ultimate salvation – Moksha; the eyes on each of Stupa’s four sides symbolize the God’s all-seeing perspective that the God is looking everywhere to distinguish justice from injustice. The third eye on each face of the Stupa symbolizes wisdom. It is also believed that the only way to salvation is through Buddhism. Swayambhunath Stupa was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Monument List in 1979.

Bouddhanath

The largest Stupa in South Asia situated 6km east of the city center Bouddhanatha is one of the most auspicious pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. The huge Stupa stands 36m high on the ancient trade route to Tibet. It is believed that Bouddhanath Stupa was built in the 5th century and entombs the remains of a Kasyap sage who is respected by both Hindus and Buddhists. The Tibetan refugees, who migrated in 1950s to Nepal, settled around Bouddanath and today it has become the center of Tibetan Buddhism in the world where one can still observe the Tibetan lifestyle in Bouddhanath. Tibetans and monks in maroon robes with prayer wheels in their hands still practice the rituals. Devotees still hold big functions during celebratory in particular occasions, Buddha Jayanti – Buddha’s Birthday. UNESCO listed Bouddhanath in World Heritage List in 1979.

Changu Narayan

Changu Narayan temple is situated on of a peaceful hilltop about 6km north of Bhaktapur near Changu village, which offers a beautiful view of the surrounding hills, valley and mountains. This astounding artifact is believed to be an ancient temple built in the Kathmandu Valley some 1600 years ago. It is dedicated to Narayan, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is also worshipped by Hindus as the auspicious shrine of Vishwarupa. The two-tiered pagoda-styled temple, the struts with the carvings of ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the beautiful metal doors and the artifacts found inside the premises of the temple all signify the flawless talent of ancient craftsmen. This grand sanctuary reveals the secret of ancient Nepal. It was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

The name Kathmandu, previously known as Kantipur, derived from Kasthamandap, a rest house built from the wood of a single tree. King Yaksha Malla divided the valley into four parts – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan and Kirtipur and presented them to his four children, three sons and one daughter respectively. Later, the three brothers started an artistic competition or warfare to outdo each other in impressive constructions. Thus, the three Durbar Squares were made, so rich in artifacts and craftsmanship. Kathmandu Durbar Square is in the heart of the city. It is most often called the Hanuman Dhoka Palace by the locals rather than Kathmandu Durbar Square on account of the big sculpture of the Monkey god – Hanuman placed at the entrance of the Palace, which is now a museum that houses the souvenirs of Shah Kings. Visits to the following are a must, if you have time: The Kumari Ghar – houseof Living Goddess, Shiva Parvati Temple, various shrines situated inside the square premises, carvings, Bhairav temple. One can also visit Indra Chowk, Seto Machhindranath temple and Annapurna temple, which are ten minutes walk from the square. Kathmandu Durbar Square was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square is yet another museum of brilliant artifacts, sculptures, temples, monuments and crafts. It is concentrated with a dense number of temples each with its own importance and value, revealing the splendor of stunning artwork. Inside the Durbar square one can wonder around the museum, stroll around beautiful temples, courtyards, palaces and the carved stone waterspouts. One can also visit the Royal coronation spot of Malla Kings inside the square next to the beautiful Malla Palace. Other places to visit in Patan Durbar Square are Mahabouddha, Hiranya Varna Mahavihar, Kumbheshar Mandir, Akhcheswar Mahavihar, Ashoka Stupas, Batuk Bhairav, Sundhara, Bahals and many more. One can also watch the designing and making of bronze crafts and ancient-styled utensils by the local Tamrakars of the Newar community. Patan Durbar Square was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Once a Walled city in historical days, Bhaktapur Durbar Square still reflects the lifestyle of the medieval era and is a glorious place to stroll around. Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the most unexploited of the Squares with the old 55 Windowed Malla Palace built in 15th century, the Golden Gate, exquisitely artistic temples, courtyards, a museum exhibiting historical artifacts, Nepal’s tallest temple – Nyatapola and many more masterpieces. Bhaktapur was the linking city of the Nepal – Tibet trade route and the architecture of the houses still reflects the lifestyle of the ancient people. With century-old houses still in existence as well as the many places to stroll through Bhaktapur, don’t miss the Pottery Square. And if you are hungry, try Bhaktapur’s famous curd the Juju Dhau. The other famous spots near Bhaktapur are Changu Narayan, Nagarkot and Dhulikhel. And one can always drop in on the way to or back from Tibet journey. Bhaktapur Durbar Square was listed in UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Lumbini

Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is the most sacred place for Buddhists and also for those who believe in devotion. In its former life, Lumbini was a beautiful tranquil garden. The story goes that when Mayadevi mother, of Siddhartha Gautam (who became Buddha after enlightenment) was on the way to her parents’ home in May, 642 BC, she was astounded by the exquisiteness of Lumbini and rested there under a sal tree. After a while she felt labour pains and, catching hold of a drooping branch of a Sal tree, she gave birth to Buddha. The sites to visit in Lumbini are Mayadevi temple, the Pond, the Ashoka pillar, erected in 249BC to commemorate Emperor Ashoka’s visit to Buddha’s birthplace, monasteries and stupas built by different nations. One can either take a flight to Bhairahawa and then drive till Lumbini garden or can go overland. Lumbini has been listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Royal Chitwan National Park

Nepal’s first wildlife sanctuary and National Park situated in the sub-tropical lower lands of inner central Nepal, the Royal Chitwan National Park is the home to the multitude of wildlife including the endangered One Horned Rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal Tiger. The park is home to 44 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, 45 species of amphibians and reptiles and a mass of flora. Established in the year 1973, the park aims to preserve the pristine area with its unique ecosystem. Either on elephant back, jeep ride, boat or simply on foot, you are welcome to explore the territory of these wild animals. However, out of the total area of 932sq. km of the park, only a small part of it is opened for Jungle Safari activities and a large area of the park still remains unexplored and undisturbed in its effort to preserve it as an important vicinity of Nepal. Being one of the country’s natural treasures, Royal Chitwan National Park was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.