Situated within the steep terrains of midland Nepal, Kathmandu Valley is a patchwork of terraced fields and sacred temple towns. Its undulating, richly fertile land is surrounded by the mountains. Its central lower part stands at 1,425m above the sea level and is surrounded by 4 mountain ranges: Shivapuri (2,800m), Phulchowki (2,795m), Nagariun (2,725m) and Chandragiri (2,300m).
Covering an area of 220 square miles, it is also densely packed with sacred sites and one-third of farmlands. Much of the geography remains largely unchanged, but the number of houses and people has flourished since the 1980s. The valley is a cultural and political hub of Nepal and was listed as a World Heritage Site by in 1979. While the valley is filled with many religious monuments throughout, the valley fringe is a great location for hiking and cycling.
There are seven Monument Zones listed as UNESCO World Heritage in the Kathmandu Valley – namely in three cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. These monument zones are located in the Durbar square or urban centres with their palaces, temples and public spaces. Religious ensembles include the oldest Buddhist stupa in the Valley, the largest stupa in Nepal, an extensive Hindu temple precinct and traditional Newari settlement.
Patan, or Yala, is separated from Kathmandu by the Bagmati River. Home to the finest collection of temples and palaces in the whole of Nepal, these can all be found at Durbar Square. Spend a night and you can explore the myriad tole (squares) and bahal (courtyards), as well as the four stupas which are said to have been erected in the 3rd century BC.
Bhaktapur is the third of the medieval city-states. The three squares here are full of spectacular temples which are the finest in the region. The town is known for its culture, and visitors have to pay a town entry fee (which goes to protecting and maintaining the temples). In Kathmandu, just beyond the Ring Road, lies the hearts of Nepali religions: the Shiva temple and cremation ghats at Pshupatinath, the sacred centre of Nepali Hinduism. There are other historic Hindu holy places, including the sleeping Vishnu statues at Budhanilkantha and Balaju, the sacrificial pit of Dakshinkali and the hilltop temple of Changu Narayan.
Although it’s surrounded by high mountains, the lower altitudes of the surrounding mountains of the Kathmandu Valley Rim allow for easy short treks (either camping or lodge-to-lodge) of 2-3 days.
For a day hike, to Pharping, and climb through a pine forest where you will reach Champadevi Hill (2,285m) after a few hours. It commands a good view of Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas and has a small Buddhist and Hindu shrine.
Nagarkot Hill is another option for hiking. It is a popular viewpoint for a panorama of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest. The 4-hour hike begins at Sankhu, passing an uphill trail through scattered villages, forests and farmlands. On the second day, hike from Nagarkot to Changunarayan, Nepal’s oldest living monument dating back to the 5th century, through a forested ridgeline.
For more woodland solitude and views, hike up Shivapuri, Nagarjun Ban’s Jamacho, or any high point on the valley rim.
Cycling tours around the valley range from one day to one week. The popular Nagarkot-Bhaktapur route is a downhill trail starting from Nagarkot through small villages, tea shops, forests and green terraced farms. After Changunarayan (home to an ancient World Heritage monument), the trail descends on the tarmac to Bhaktapur, the oldest city in Nepal.
The tougher trail from Kathmandu to Phulchowki via Godavari takes you through the rich forests to Phulchoki (2,800m), the highest point on the valley rim. This gorgeously rural side-valley, with small rock gardens, is also popular as downhill singletrack that hugs the ridgeline.
The Scar Road is one of the most well known and challenging rides in the Kathmandu Valley. Starting with a 34km climb on winding paved road, it leads to Trishuli and the heart of Langtang. On a clear day, the views of the Himalaya are spectacular. Once in the national park, the trail becomes narrow and technical with fast and furious downhills, traversing the jungle with a cliff drop on one side.
There are direct flights from Singapore to Kathmandu Valley via Silkair.