A crowd gathers around the rear of the car in the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. The door opens and a body swathed in orange is lifted deferentially from the rear and slowly carried to the side of the Bagmati River. Tourists congregate on the opposite bank, trying to keep a respectful distance, but curious to understand more of this ritual. The mourners place the body on the top of the stairs leading down to the river. Then, begins an elaborate ritual that involves placing garlands of marigolds around various body parts. They hoist the body into the air and carry it to the water’s edge. It seems morbid and grim to be spectating at such an event however it is a fascinating insight into Nepalese life and a must-do if you wish to experience an amazing 12 hours in Kathmandu.
12 hours in Kathmandu
It is worth bartering with a taxi driver to agree on a price for the day so that you can easily visit several attractions. We paid around $25 to travel between a few destinations from the Lonely Planet guide and also got a little history lesson from our driver in the process.
You can do organised tours but I often find them expensive and too intense. I like to take things at my own pace so would much prefer to DIY a trip. Then, you can depart at a time to suit you and spend as much or as little time at each place as you like. You will, of course, need to be selective if you have only 12 hours in Kathmandu as traffic is chaotic and sights can be widespread. These sights are relatively close to one another meaning little drive time.
Earlier that day, we stumbled from the hotel with fuzzy heads after a late night of celebrating with the Action Challenge team (yay, we successfully made it to Everest Base Camp.) Our taxi dropped us at Bodniath, Asia’s largest stupa. It is in a quaint courtyard with old architectural marvels lining the perimeter. It is a gay colourful stupa where prayers flags flutter in the breeze and tourists pose for selfies.
We enter the stupa and start circumnavigating in the wrong direction. An elderly gent calls out to us and good-naturedly sets us straight. As we wander, I watch fascinated as locals stop occasionally to gently push the prayer wheels or make pujas to the gods. We are keen to continue our exploration of the city though and head next to the Pashupatinath Temple.
The temple is on the outskirts of town, by the airport and we spend more time here, soaking up the local ambience. Our taxi driver drops us by the gates and we wander past bright stalls selling ornaments and artwork. Families visit en masse to visit the largest temple complex in Nepal, another UNESCO World heritage site.
The main pagoda temple is decorated with exquisite wood carvings and temples dedicated to other Hindu and Buddhist gods are dotted around the main temple. We watch, slightly horrified, at the public cremations but are keen to understand more.
Durbar Square is the most popular tourist attraction in the city. The entry fee is 1000RP (around £7) and it is a beautiful place to wander for an hour or so. You may spot the occasional sadhu in brightly coloured yellow robes or even a few monks. The square was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979 and is a great place to people watch.
Note, that much building work is currently ongoing following the 2015 earthquake which destroyed many buildings in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.
Shopping in Thamel
A short walk from Durbar Square brings you to Thamel. No trip to Kathmandu would be complete without shopping for souvenirs in this area of the city. It is a labyrinth of stores selling souvenirs, clothes and trekking paraphernalia.
I haggle for a yak blanket, woollen Everest base camp hat and t-shirt, prayer flags and fridge magnets but soon my enthusiasm wanes. Merchants haggle hard and devoutly attempt to sell me items I do not want or need.
You may wish to return in the evening when the area throngs with tourists wishing to enjoy the nightlife of the city. We particularly enjoyed ‘Purple Haze’, the Irish Bar and ‘Fat Buddha’.
One day itinerary in Kathmandu
I do not profess to be a Kathmandu expert, as our short visit was at the end of our Everest Base Camp trek. We were too exhausted to explore much but if you only have a day to spare than this could be a great itinerary for you and all you need is just 12 hours in Kathmandu.