The sensation of connecting with a bygone era is always close at hand in Nepal, and nowhere more so than in its capital, Kathmandu. Wandering past eons-old temples in ghostly twilight, as the aroma of cooking fires cloaks the air, you’ll feel you've travelled in time. Naked light bulbs in shop windows sparkle and dazzle, as kids play hide-and-seek around the narrow streets. It's spellbinding. Atmospheric temples, dusty museums and ornate gardens await. Kathmandu is the kind of place you’re happy to get a little lost in, as you reach to see around the next corner.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Kathmandu's historic core is Durbar Square, home to a cacophony of sites, some of which are still supported by scaffolding after the devastating earthquake in 2015. Hindu and Buddhist pagodas sit comfortably next to the imposing neoclassical portico of a palace built by the ruling Rana dynasty. Close by, the old hippy enclave of Freak Street is lined with snug coffee shops and souvenir stalls, ideal for browsing or watching the world go by. Stroll a little further and you're quickly lost in a fascinating labyrinth of lanes lined with shrines, teahouses and markets, like bustling Indrachowk bursting with shops selling bright copperware and iridescent textiles.
A short hop in a taxi across the Bagmati River brings you to the second of the three ancient kingdoms: arty, bohemian Patan. It has its own Durbar Square with a richly decorated, wing-roofed palace and an excellent museum packed with bronzes, sculptures and ancient photos. There's a certain counterculture vibe to Patan which many people love. It's known for its artists and cafés, and is a great part of town to stay in. Music lovers on the ‘70s hippy trail introduced jazz to Kathmandu, and Patan is the birthplace of the city’s annual jazz festival - the only jazz festival in the Himalayan region - popularly referred to as Jazzmandu.
For spectacular views across the city towards the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, a sunset visit to Swayambhunath - the Monkey Temple - should not be missed. Watching the red-robed monks circumambulating the stupa murmuring mantras is truly spellbinding. Join the faithful walking around the serene Boudhanath temple, with its huge white dome draped in a rainbow of prayer flags, to the sound of blissful chanting. This is the most important Tibetan Buddhist monument outside Tibet. For many, however, it's the funeral ghats at Pashupatinath temple that are Kathmandu's most arresting experience. Ritual cleansing and cremation ceremonies are observed here, whilst mystical wise men known as sadhus, daubed in coloured dye and ash, watch over the proceedings.
Taking an alternative approach to a classic Nepal combination, this journey contrasts the heady and hectic streets of Kathmandu with the open savannah of Chitwan National Park. Slow down to search for tigers and rhinos amid the wilderness, before strapping up your boots for a light trek between two atmospheric lodges in the Himalayan foothills around Pokhara.