Characterised by the natural beauty of the world’s mightiest mountains, Nepal also has a tradition of equally impressive art and design. To see the best, explore the Kathmandu Valley where it was once said that every other building is a temple and every other day is a festival.
Only united to create modern Nepal during the late 18th century, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu were once separate kingdoms where rivalry extended to trying to outdo each other in architecture and the arts. A stroll around each city’s Durbar Square reveals a multitude of atmospheric temples and grand royal palaces decorated with exquisite carvings in wood and stone, and elaborate metal and brickwork financed from the taxes on the passing trade routes between India and Tibet. So artistically skilled were the indigenous Newar people, they are credited with inventing the pagoda, and after the architect Arniko was called to the court of Kublai Khan, their multi-tiered pagoda style was spread across Asia.
They may be World Heritage Sites (UNESCO has given the status to seven sites in the Kathmandu Valley) but these are living monuments, still very much part of everyday life and central to local culture. While marvelling at this incredible open-air medieval art gallery you will find a legend behind every magnificent temple and an ancient ceremony to be performed for many a gilded statue, flower sellers proffering strings of orange marigolds for temple offerings and goats munching on discarded vegetables being fattened up for the next festival sacrifice. A stone’s throw away you can join Buddhist monks and pilgrims making ritual perambulations around a perfectly proportioned giant stupa, or catch a glimpse of Nepal’s living goddess, the Kumari Devi, who may appear at an intricately carved window in what must be the most beautiful courtyard in Kathmandu.
Not far from the cities are yet more beautiful shrines and remote temples surrounded by rural tranquillity. In untouched villages that time forgot families still practise the same ancient skills to preserve the valley’s architectural heritage. Head as far as the valley rim, and just 30km from the centre of Kathmandu your cultural pursuits will come with a backdrop of the finest mountain scenery in the world.
See our itinerary suggestion for an idea of how a trip to Nepal including the Kathmandu Valley might look.
Andrea Hulme joins Natural High with a wealth of knowledge, first-hand experience and love of the Indian Subcontinent gained from more than 15 years living, working, volunteering and travelling in India, Nepal and Bhutan.