Nepal is one of Asia’s most prolific cultural destinations. It has numerous culturally rich heritage sites some of which have become UNESCO world heritage listed sites. Whether an adrenaline junkie or a cultural fanatic, Nepal has a little bit of everything and a whole lot of history. It has everything from shopping bazaars to sacred temples, each promising a unique experience of its own. And if you’re up for it, the hikes and trek to some of the highest peaks of Mt. Everest certainly are an adventure. Despite extensive damage from the 2015 earthquake, most of the ancient structures are still standing-a testament to their incredibly resilient architecture and unbridled spirit. Restoration is currently underway in some of the sites. Nepal has 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites with Kathmandu having 7 sites combined as one.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site in 1979, it has seven groups of monuments and buildings that reflect the rich historic past and architectural marvels of the valley. Kathmandu is home to poignant events full of pomp and traditional glamour and unmatched shopping experiences.
The seven UNESCO world heritage listed Durbar Squares of Kathmandu are;
- Hanuman Dhoka palace or the Kathmandu Durbar square; an old royal palace, courtyard and the seat of the Malla and Shah dynasties. Dating back as far as the 15th century, the whole complex is a spectacular collection of historical structures like the Hanuman Dhoka monument, Taleju Mandir, Nine storey Basantapur Tower, Sundari Chowk, Tribhuvan Museum, King Mahendra Memorial Museum and Kal Bhairab temple.
- Patan Durbar Square; the oldest palace of the kingdom of Lalitpur/Patan. Found 8km southeast of Kathmandu, the palace is the perfect exhibition of Newari culture and craftsmanship.
The old gallis feature ancient carvings of wood and stone and artistic masterpieces depicting national deities of Hindu and Buddhist culture. Notable places are the Mahaboudha Temple, Kumbeshwor temple, Krishna Temple, Golden Temple, Jagat Narayan Temple, Hari Shanker temple, Vishwanath temple, Bhimsen temple and Rato Machhendra Temple.
- Bhaktapur Durbar square; also known as Kwopa or Bhadgaon, this medieval city 12km east of Kathmandu hosts the 55-windowed palace, statue of King Bhupatindra Malla, and an art gallery with relics and antiques. The Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square, Golden Gate, Dattatreya Square, and Pottery Square are what make it the Bukhtapur square.
- Swayambhunath Stupa (the monkey temple); overlooking the valley is this gorgeous historical landmark dating back more than 2500years ago. Its architecture represents the four elements and the 13 rings of the spire are the 13 steps of the ladder to Nirvana. Built by King Manadeva , Swayambhunath is full of chityas, statues and shrines of Buddhist and Hindu deities.
Some 365 stairs lead up to the shrine and you can see the image of Shakyamuni Buddha on a high pedestal to the western side. With its history tied to that of the whole valley, ‘self-sprung’ or Swayambhunath is a place to witness the harmonious existence of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Also, the view of the valley from here is spectacular.
- Boudhanath– Visible from the Tribhuvan International airport, this 36-meter-high marvel is the largest stupa in the valley. As the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal, its golden white façade is an absolute spectacle in the shape of a mandala when viewed from above replicating the Gyangtse of Tibet. the temple has buddha’s all-seeing eyes and a 13-stage canopy including hundreds of niches and images of the meditational Buddha inset behind copper wheels.
- Hindu temples of Pashupatinath; located 6km east of Kathmandu, this ancient temple is dedicated to lord Shiva. The complex is surrounded by several smaller temples, ashrams and sculptures. Entry is reserved only to the Hindus while everyone else can observe from the banks of the holy river Bagmati. To fully appreciate the significance of this temple, witness the holy occasions like Teej and Shivaratri which bring multitudes to its steps.
- Changu Narayan; nestled 14 km from Kathmandu, Changu Narayan is the oldest temple in Nepal dating back to 464 AD, some of the oldest edigraphs are found here. Dedicated to lord Vishnu, Changu is found on a high hill-Changu/Dolgari, surrounded by champak trees.
Sagarmatha National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site since 1979-3 years after its creation. It is Nepal’s second national park famous for scenic wilderness and elusive wildlife. Sagarmatha or Mt. Everest has the highest peak of 8848m here. Its landscape is full of glaciers, rivers, mountain peaks, valleys. The park is over 1100sq, km and features stunning flora and fauna like rhododendrons, blue pine, silver fir and birch. While here, look around for mountain dwelling wildlife including snow leopard, pandas, lynx, snow cock, pheasant, snow pigeon. The Everest base camp trek also begins here.
Chitwan National Park
It is Nepal’s first national park and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Natural site in 1984, Chitwan lies at the foot of the Mahabharat range in the inner Tarrai lowlands. It is home to the fabled royal Bengal tiger and the one horned rhino, and wild elephants. Chitwan is Nepal’s ultimate safari experience. Here, you can find over 700 species of birds and mammals like the Clouded leopards, Sloth Bears, Striped Hyenas, Golden Jackals, Gaurs, Antelopes, Bengal Floricans, Oriental Darters, Kingfishers, Spotted Eagles, King Cobra, and the Rock Python. A most spectacular 932sq kilometer of jungle, birds and wildlife.
Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site in 1997, Lumbini is a haven for Buddhist pilgrims, located some 300km southwest of Kathmandu in the plains of terai. The vast monasteries strewn across the Mayadevi gardens are home to Mayadevi temple; the exact spot for buddhas birth marked by ancient inscriptions on the nearby Ashoka pillar-built by the Indian emperor Ashoka back in 249BC.
It is the spot where prince Siddhartha Gautama delivered his message to humanity after completing his 7 steps. After decades in isolation, he attained enlightenment and became buddha. His teachings are what is Buddhism today. The sandstone carving depicting the birth of buddha is believed to have been left there by Malla King Ripu Malla in the 14th century. Lumbini garden is 2.56sq km with three zones each covering 1 square mile and connected by walkways and a canal. Top places include the Maya Devi Temple, Sacred Garden, World Peace Pagoda, China Temple, Thai Monastery, Burmese (Myanmar) Temple, Nepal Buddha Temple, Dharmaswami Buddhist monastery and Tilaurkot Palace.