When people hear Nepal, the first things to come to mind are the Himalayas, Asian religions and exotic Eastern culture. The mere mention of the country’s name raises curiosity and a longing to experience Eastern charm and mysticism. The country does not disappoint since the culture and festivals in Kathmandu are among the most colorful and unique in South Asia.
Kathmandu is Nepal’s capital. It is also the largest, busiest and most tourist-friendly. Any and all tourist activities in Nepal begin in Kathmandu. The city itself is a leading tourist attraction for its many palaces, temples, structures and streets that have remained untouched through the centuries. There are no modern structures here but the ancient architecture and Mother Nature’s charm are enough to make up for the country’s lack in modern facilities and comfort. There is also much to be desired in infrastructure. Many of the roads, including the major ones, are potholed and unpaved, making local travels slow and uncomfortable. Yet, tourists continue to pour in.
The Kathmandu Valley (where the capital city is located) is described as an enormous treasure house of art and sculptures, pertaining to ancient images made of wood, stone, metal, and terracotta. They elaborately decorate the many temples, stupas, shrines, and palaces in the city, as well as in street corners, courtyards and open grounds. Nepal tourism opened to the world only in 1950 and one could imagine the delightful shock experienced by the first Western tourists to see the tremendous number of statues and icons of gods and goddesses scattered all over the city. The most popular deities are Bhavani, Durga, Hariti-Sitala, Gaja-Lakshmi, Mahsishamardini, Saptamatrika and Sri-Lakshmi. The ancient architecture and structures found around the valley are from the Licchavi period (the classical period from 500 to 900), which was influenced by India’s Gupta period, the post-classical period (from 1000 to 1400), which was largely influenced by the Palla art form, and the Malla period (from 1400 onwards), which is mainly focused on tantric art and the demonic art of the Tibetan Demonology.
Kathmandu culture is best displayed in the leading museums and galleries in the capital city, which include the National Museum of Nepal, the Natural History Museum of Nepal, Tribhuvan Museum, Mahendra Museum, National Library, Kaiser Library, Hanumandhoka Palace Complex, and National Art Gallery, among many others. These museums (especially the first two) display the best of Nepalese art and architecture, which is an amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism. Also on display are rare artifacts and paintings, some from as early as the 5th century.
If these intriguing mementos of culture are not enough to persuade tourists to come, the city of Kathmandu has an array of festivals that take place throughout the year. These include Shivrati, Puja, Bada Dashain, Tihar, Chath Maghe Sankranti and Naga Panchami festivals, to name a few. These colorful fairs and events trace their beginnings to the Malla period and the coming of the Gorkhas and Parbatiyas. Kathmandu festivals are primarily religious in nature, and therefore earnestly participated in by Hindu and Buddhist communities. Clearly, the culture and festivals in Kathmandu are one of the most colorful and spectacular in the world.