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Kathmandu History

According to legend, the Kathmandu valley was created by the Buddhist saint Manjushree, who used his sword to burst the valley wall, draining the huge lake that filled the valley in prehistoric times.

Archaeologists have since discovered that the lake drained away naturally around 10,000 years ago, but the first signs of a permanent city appeared in the second century BC.

Religion played a pivotal role in Kathmandu’s rapid development – the stupa at Swayambhunath became a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, while the sacred Bagmati river attracted Hindu pilgrims.

The first of many golden eras came in the fourth century AD, with the rise of the Licchavi kingdom, whose rulers kickstarted trade across the Himalaya.

Subsequent centuries saw a succession of dynasties rise and fall, before the Malla kings gained control of the valley in the 11th century. Kathmandu’s rulers filled their capital with temples, palaces and stupas, competing with the rival city-states of Patan and Bhaktapur.

With Kathmandu as the capital, the three kingdoms were united in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, whose descendants ruled as kings until the abolition of the monarchy in 2008.

Following the murder of King Birendra and nine other members of the Royal Family by Crown Prince Dipendra in 2001, the new king, Gyanendra, assumed direct control, leading to massive civil unrest.

Democracy was restored in 2006 and the Maoists declared a unilateral ceasefire. Maoist parties gained a massive majority in the 2008 elections, leading to the formal abolition of the monarchy that year.

The Communist-dominated government has maintained a fragile peace, but has done little to address the Kathmandu Valley’s most pressing concerns – corruption, poverty and chronic shortages of water and electricity.

Did you know?
• Seven groups of historical monuments, buildings and public spaces make up the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage site.
• Kathmandu took its name from the 16th-century Kasthamandap temple, which is said to have been created from the wood of a single tree.
• Freak Street was a hippy hub during the 1960s and 1970s, largely thanks to its licensed cannabis shops.

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Hotel Tibet

A firm favourite with tour parties bound for Lhasa, this Tibetan-run hotel offers quiet, comfortable rooms in a quiet location away from the Thamel bustle. The grand lobby gives a sneak preview of Tibet, with its vivid Buddhist carvings and murals. Facilities include a rooftop terrace, a private garden, a restaurant and a meditation chapel.

Hotel Yak and Yeti

This famous 5-star hotel was founded by a Russian entrepreneur on the site of a former Rana's palace. The stylish rooms are set in two modern wings that were untouched by the 2015 earthquake, and damage to the Rana-era buildings was quickly repaired. As well as swish restaurants and bars and superior business and sports facilities, the hotel has lush gardens and its own casino.

Hotel Ganesh Himal

South of Thamel, this friendly, family-run hotel offers above-average facilities for budget travellers in quiet location away from the tourist hubbub. Rooms have reliable hot water, there's a sunny rooftop terrace and owners offer airport pick-ups and mountain bike hire.

Hyatt Regency Kathmandu

Kathmandu’s grandest 5-star hotel benefits from a secluded location, away from the centre but right on the doorstep of the Bodhnath stupa. The 290 rooms are luxurious, service is impeccable, and the hotel bar and restaurants are favourite hangouts for Kathmandu’s power players. Other facilities include a business centre, pool and spa.

Kathmandu Guest House

Probably the most famous budget hotel in Kathmandu, with a prime location in the heart of Thamel. The 121 rooms come in all shapes and sizes, from simple fan-cooled backpacker rooms to handsome air-conditioned rooms in an old Rana palace. However, the old wing was damaged in the 2015 earthquake and restoration work is ongoing. Bonus features include two courtyard restaurants with Wi-Fi, a peaceful garden and secure parking for bikes and motorcycles.

Kantipur Temple House

Built in traditional Newari style, with brick courtyards and carved timber window and door frames, this eco-friendly boutique hotel has 48 comfortable rooms decorated with traditional Nepali fabrics and furnishings. It’s Rana-style living without the royal budget.