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  • Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Kathmandu

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    Published 01/18/2013 05:04:27
    Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Kathmandu
    Monsoon clouds loom over the Kathmandu skyline, August 12, 2012. The monsoon season in Nepal typically last from June to August. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

    KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is an ancient town dotted with Hindu and Buddhist temples, a riot of color and dust with clogged streets where stray cows and dogs vie for rotting leftovers beside swanky malls.

    The city is ringed by rolling hills and has many satellite towns, such as Patan and Bhaktapur, which are popular with tourists. The area has seven old monuments that are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, all within less than two hours' drive.

    Reuters correspondents with local knowledge suggests how visitors can get the most out of a 48-hour visit.

    FRIDAY

    7 p.m. - Thamel, known as "a city within a city," is the tourist hub of Kathmandu. For dinner try one the rooftop restaurants that offer a fantastic view of the city skyline. For music lovers there are restaurants that offer food and drinks with accompanying live concerts.

    9 p.m. - Pop into one of the many discos which are popular with well-heeled Nepali youths.

    SATURDAY

    7:30 a.m. - After breakfast take a "heritage walk" through the ancient parts of Kathmandu. In a few minutes are in the 14th century, with narrow alleys and rutted streets, shops with low, carved doorways and pigeons sitting on a maze of telephone cables that swirl overhead from utility poles.

    The walk goes past balconies jutting out of brick and mud houses. Women with copper and brass trays of offerings such as vermillion powder, rice, sandalwood paste and incense sticks for figurines of Hindu and Buddhist gods rub elbows with street vendors selling fresh vegetables and fruits.

    Walk through the Ason, Indrachowk and Makhantole neighborhoods, which are lined with small shops displaying wares that range from golden ornaments to brass and aluminum utensils, before reaching the Monkeygod Gate palace, the ancient seat of Nepal's kings.

    9 a.m. - The palace has many tile-roofed temples sitting on high brick terraces. The old white palace where Nepal's kings were enthroned until the monarchy was toppled in 2008 is on one side, and on the other is the cavernous Kasthamandap hall, reportedly built from the wood of a single tree. Kathmandu is believed to have derived its name from this.

    The Kumari Ghar, the house of the virgin "Living Goddess" or Kumari, is nearby. Enter through the low door into a courtyard. Wait for the Kumari to appear in the second-floor window of an elaborately carved red-brick building. She is a virgin chosen from Kathmandu's Shakya clan who will serve the divine role until the onset of puberty, when a new one is selected. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, also hailed from the same clan.

    The girl, with a third eye painted on her forehead, is worshipped as a power goddess. Before the monarchy was abolished, the king of Nepal sought her blessings, a ritual now performed by the president.

    11 a.m. - Get a taxi and head out for Swayambhunath, a magnificent monument sitting on top of a forested hill full of monkeys. It has a stupa, or temple tower, with the ever-watching eyes of the Buddha painted on top of a white dome. Climb about 200 meters (yards) of steep stone steps to the top of the hill, or the taxi can take you up.

    Swayambhunath is a complex of monasteries and temples. Monks can be found jostling with locals to spin the prayer wheels and chanting from Buddhist texts. Devout Buddhists believe spinning a wheel can have much the same effects as reciting the mantras or religious hymns. Walk in a clockwise direction and spin the wheels with a slight rotation of the wrist.

    12 p.m. - For lunch head to Thamel where there is a wide selection of restaurants, including local and Indian cuisines as well as Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food.

    2 p.m. - Experience Thamel, which is spread over 2.5 square km (1 sq mile) and has about 3,300 shops selling everything from salt to smart phones, restaurants, book shops, bars, discos and shops selling climbing gear for mountain climbers.

    Visitors can find Tibetan Thankas, or wall paintings, hand woven carpets, huge curved knives carried by Gurkha soldiers, and singing bowls, brass vessels that produce soft sounds when struck with a wooden rod. Bargaining is advised.

    6 p.m. - Window shop in Kathmandu's fashionable Durbar Marg, or the King's Street, which is lined by posh hotels, shopping malls and fast food shops including the KFC and Pizza Hut, the only international fast food chains in Nepal.

    8 p.m. - For dinner try juicy momos, or steamed dumplings, which are served with pepper-hot sauce. There is also "Fire and Ice," which serves pizzas and is popular with tourists.

    SUNDAY

    7 a.m. - Hail a taxi and head out Patan Durbar Square, a complex of medieval temples and fabulous palaces built during the reigns of the Malla kings, between the 10th and the 18th centuries. It is also known as the art city because of its rich collection of arts and architecture.

    9 a.m. - Head to Bhaktapur, an ancient town 14 km (9 miles) east of Kathmandu. It is known for its crafts, pottery, magnificent temples, culture and festivals.

    Noon - Take a taxi back to Kathmandu to the Narayanhiti palace museum. It was a royal palace that housed the office and residence of the King of Nepal.

    A tour takes visitors goes through former royal bedrooms, a meeting hall with stuffed tigers and a massive crystal chandelier, guest rooms, the royal kitchen and the massacre house, where in 2001 Crown Prince Dipendra killed his parents and seven other royals before turning the gun on himself.

    The tragic event marked the beginning of the fall of monarchy in Nepal. Bullet marks can still be seen on the wall of a nearby building, and only the brick outline remains of the house itself.

    2.30 p.m. - After a quick lunch take a taxi to Lord Pashupatinath Hindi temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. Non-Hindus are not given access to the temple. But visitors can see the artistic shrine, roofed in pagoda style with brass plates, from a hill across the sacred but polluted Bagmati River and smell the smoke from nearby cremation grounds.

    (Reporting , editing by Elaine Lies and Patricia Reaney)

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