Being the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu has mustered all the potential and prerequisite of the country making it the most developed city. It is also a prehistoric city illustrated by several heritages and monuments dating back to thousands of year.
Kathmandu is not actually the native name used by the Newar people of the valley. The term “Nepa-al” is derived from Newari dialect meaning land of Newar people, and it was traditionally used to refer the Kathmandu valley. However, the name Kathmandu originated from a structure in Durbar Square called by Sanskrit name Kassthamandapa meaning “Wooden shelter.”
Along with the development, the valley has been haunted bythe overpopulation ever since causing exasperation with overly crowded streets and mismanagement. But, despite the odd Kathmandu holds a charm which attracts millions of tourist from around the world every year.
As per very famous folklore, the formation of Kathmandu valley is actually some kind of divinity. A very long time ago, during the Pleistocene era, Kathmandu valley was a beautiful large lake. Then around the same era Manjusri, a holy Buddhist Saint saw a lotus flower in the center of the lake, and he was immediately captivated by the brilliant radiance. A devotion towards the flower started to grow in him finally evoking him to cut a gorge at Kashapaal (now Chobhar) with his sword called Chandrahrasha and drained away all the water. And it is believed that the place where lotus flower settled became Swayambhunath Stupa and the valley became habitable.
Well, all these interesting stories make the Kathmandu valley more enticing to explore. The unique architecture, rich culture, warm-hearted people and vibrant festivals have made the valley even more admirable.
A Brief History of Kathmandu Valley
It is believed that Kathmandu Valley may have been inhabited as early as 300 BCE since the oldest known objects dates to a few hundred years BCE and the earliest known inscription is dated 185 CE. The oldest firmly dated building is of over 2,000 years old. The four stupas situated around the Patan city is said to be constructed by a purported daughter of Ashoka, the emperor in third century BCE.
The Licchavis were the next rulers of the valley whose earliest inscriptions dates to 464 CE. Then, the Mallas ruled the valley and surrounding area from 12th to 18th century CE when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Gorkha king of Shah dynasty captured the valley.
Also, before, the valley and adjoining area made up a confederation known as Nepal Mandala. Bhaktapur was the capital city until the 15thcentury when two other capitals Kathmandu and Lalitpur was established.
The history of Kathmandu is incomplete without the Newars, the indigenous inhabitants and creators of historic civilization of the valley. It is understood that they are the descendants of various ethnic and racial groups that have inhabited and ruled the Kathmandu Valley in two-millennium history.
Kathmandu Valley in April 2015 Earthquake
In April 2015, Nepal faced a devastating earthquake causing thousands of death and destructions around the country. Like the rest part of the country, Kathmandu Valley also faced damage beyond repair. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and became homeless with their entire housed collapsed.
Apart from the causality, centuries-old buildings were destroyed at Durbar Squares, Swayamnhunath, Boudha, and Changu Narayan. However, the nation is still in the phase of recovery.
Highlights of Kathmandu Valley
Newari culture and architecture
Newar people are the historical inhabitants of Kathmandu valley and the creators of historic heritage and civilization. Newars of Kathmandu valley has developed a division of labor and a sophisticated urban civilization which can’t be seen elsewhere in the Himalayan foothills. They have made a huge contribution to art, sculpture, architecture, culture, literature, music, industry, trade, agriculture and cuisine and has left a mark on the art of Central Asia.
The Newari architecture has very unique and detail art consisting pagoda, stupa, chaitya, shikhara, and other style. The excellent multiple-roofed pagoda is the trademark of the Kathmandu valley which gradually spread to India, China, Indochina,and Japan. It is quite a surprising fact,but the artist who influenced stylistic developments in China and Tibet was a Newar named Araniko.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square has several ancient palaces of Malla and Shah kings along with temples, quadrangles and revealing courtyards. The durbar square has gone through several reconstructions as a result of being damaged by natural causes or neglect. In present, there are less than ten quadrangles in the square. The temples are preserved as national heritage sites,and the palace is being used as a museum. But only few parts of palace are open for visitors,andTeleju temples are open for people of Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
Kathmandu Durbar Square has one of the surprising and curious attraction, Goddess Kumari, also known as the living goddess. It is believed that Goddess Kumari is the incarnation of Taleju and is worshipped on certain festivals.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is located in Bhaktapur district along with other squares; Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Square,and Pottery Square. The durbar square has several historical monuments and structure along with 55-window palace now a national gallery, constructed by King JitamitraMalla and was home to royalty until 1796. There also lies a temple dedicated to goddess TalejuBhawani and includes shrines of both Taleju and Kumari.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is surrounded by exemplary and spectacular architecture and clearly depicts the skill of Newari artists and craftsmen over several centuries. Another thing the durbar square is famous for is Juju Dhau (yogurt). Let me tell you it is not an ordinary yogurt which literally melts in your tongue.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan Durbar Square is another durbar square of Kathmandu valley and another world heritage site. It is rather famous for the ancient royal palace of Malla Kings of Lalitpur.
Patan is also important from religious point of view. It is one of the oldest Buddhist cities and is central to both Hinduism as well as Buddhism with 136 courtyard and 55 major temples most of them lying in the vicinity of Durbar Square. The whole complex has courtyards, temples, religious shrines,and historical places, all noted for their exquisite carvings and beautiful display of ancient Newari architecture.
Changu Narayan is an ancient Hindu temple, which is also considered as the oldest temple in the history of Nepal. Located on a high hilltop in Bhaktapur district, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
Said to be the oldest temple, Changu Narayan is a milestone in Nepali temple architecture with rich embossed works. The temple held many sculpture, temples,and arts in surrounding area which is neither Shikhara style,not the pagoda, so experts describe it as “traditional Nepali temple.”
Boudhanath is one of the important pilgrimage sites for Buddhist, especially for Tibetan Buddhists. The vicinity of Boudha is mostly populated by refugees from Tibet,and it has caused establishment of over 50 gompas around the stupa.
It is believed that Boudhanath was founded by Nepali Licchavi king Sivadeva (590-604 CE), though other Nepali chronicles fate it to the reign of King Manadeva (464-505 CE). However, Tibetan sources claim a mound on the site was excavated in 15th or early 16th century and the bones of King Amshuvarmawere discovered here.
Swayambhunath is another important religious site for Buddhist in Kathmandu valley. Located at hilltop, the Tibetan name for the site means ‘sublime trees.’ Stupa, shrines, temples, monastery, library, museum, shops and market surrounds the complex.
Kathmandu offers some of the best food for the prying eyes of hungry travelers. You can enjoy the authentic Nepali cuisine as well any continental cuisine,and some street foods in here are very famous and equally savory. So, whenever you stumble upon Kathmandu Street, be bold and try the foods from local stalls. Momo, bara, chatamari, laphing, samosa, choila, sekuwa are some of the favorite and popular street foods in Kathmandu Valley.