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Uncovering Kathmandu's Timeless Magic

Updated: Mar 17

Kathmandu was once a charming little city surrounded by rice paddies that extended as far as the eye could see. Its narrow streets were bustling with pushbikes and sacred cows. The aroma of fresh raisin buns and apple strudels filled the air. And souvenir shops lit with butter lamps were filled with unique stuff that most of us had never seen before in our lives.

That was in 1988.

An old Nepali woman raising both the Index fingers while smiling into the camera
A smile is never far in Nepal (image credit: unknown)

Much of this former idyll has given way to insane traffic, concrete, noise, polluted rivers, and rapid, sterile urbanization. The gap between rich and poor is widening at an alarming speed. And in many places, the spirit of serene coziness has turned into the faster-paced and hectic nature of reaching places and meeting all sorts of modern deadlines.

Despite the dramatic changes, Kathmandu continues to charm those visitors with its timeless magic.

A blessing at Kathmandu’s most iconic site

Pashupatinath is an extraordinary place to check out. Located on the banks of the Bagmati River, Pashupatinath is one of Nepal's most sacred Hindu sites.

Its centerpiece is the two-story gilt-roofed pagoda, but hundreds of smaller temples, shrines, and cremation sites are nearby. Pashupatinath is dedicated to Lord Shiva, a powerful deity in Hinduism.

It’s usually cramped with people from all walks of life: Hindu devotees, sadhus, grieving family members, and stunned tourists. 

The place feels somewhere between that of a carnival and a burial ground.

Vendors are lined up on both sides of the access road that leads to the main temple, selling beads, offerings, and sweets. At the same time, Hindu families come here to pay their last respects to their departed loved ones. From across the river, you can observe as the bodies are ceremonially washed and cremated in public.

Pashupatinath is renowned for sadhus. Wrapped in weathered colorful robes with fanciful hairdos and wild face paintings, they hang out in the temple area. They are genuinely happy to give blessings or even pose for a photo for a small fee. 

It may seem a little awkward, but it’s worth the money and the chat.

A scramble up to Monkey Temple 

Gazing across Kathmandu’s hazy skyline, you’ll likely catch sight of the white, spire-shaped stupa resting on a distant hilltop. This is Swayambunath, more commonly known as Monkey Temple.

This site is a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage that dates back to the 5th century. It is one of the oldest and most revered sites in Nepal and worth the climb.

365 weathered stone steps lead to the top, which houses the main attraction—a large, domed stupa with a white base displaying the watchful eyes of Lord Buddha and a tall gilded spire that reaches 43 meters into the sky. 

The stupa holds great importance as a pilgrimage site for Buddhists worldwide. You will see prayer wheels enveloping the stupa, which are in constant motion. Buddhists perform a practice called kora, where they rotate the prayer wheels while circumventing the stupa in a clockwise manner. This is a form of prayer and highly meditative to watch.

The monkeys are a notorious yet integral part of the stupa's experience.

A chilled stroll through Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square is a marvel of Nepali architecture and a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Kathmandu valley. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its intricate wood carving, stunning metalwork, and beautiful stone masonry.

The unique feature of Patan Durbar Square is the fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism, which is reflected in the sculptures and temples. The palace complex also houses several museums that exhibit Nepal's art and history.

The square is a popular meeting spot for the locals, vendors, and small markets, making it fun to explore and a must-visit site for anyone interested in art, history, culture, and good vibes.

You will be absorbed into a different, laid-back world once you leave the square and head down any of the numerous alleys. Take a leisurely walk, enjoy a bite at a local eatery, and immerse yourself in the peaceful ambiance of this heartwarming place.

Be prepared to share a chat and a smile with the locals. While some are after your money, others genuinely want to engage with you.

A dive into Boudhanath's magic

If you are planning to visit Boudhanath, make sure to set aside some extra time. This place has a unique charm that grows on you the more time you spend within its walled perimeter.


Boudhanath features the country's largest Buddhist stupa, a significant pilgrimage site, and is believed to have been built in the 14th century.


Boudhanath is an authentic expression of the Buddhist way of life and a vibrant and bustling residential area that's worth exploring. From various rooftop restaurants lining the stupa, you can observe pilgrims passing by, chatting and turning rosaries, or watch devotees performing endless prostrations in front of the stupa.

The stupa's unique architecture and the colorful prayer flags surrounding it give it a mesmerizing aura that leaves a lasting impression on anyone visiting. Its design and the peaceful atmosphere surrounding it make Boudhanath one of Kathmandu's most winning places to spend time repeatedly.

Remember to get behind the stupa and hunt for some typical Tibetan food in the less frequented corners.


No doubt, Kathmandu can be intense and nerve-wracking.

But it still has its gems where you will uncover the city's true magic. Where you will follow the sound of ancient temple bells, inhale the sweet fragrance of burning incents stick, and tune into the rattling of the prayer wheels of bypassing devotees. Or simply catch the vibrational charm that has nourished so many hearts and souls for so long.

Enjoy this magical side of Kathmandu!

Much love

— Kerstin

PS: Photo credit by Laura Rust (unless indicated otherwise)

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