With half a million people, Kathmandu is Nepal's biggest and most cosmopolitan city, a meeting place of a dozen ethnic groups, and the home town of the Newars. Nepal's master craftsmen and traders extraordinaire. Trade indeed, created Kathmandu for at least a thousand years it controlled the most important caravan route between Tibet and India - and trade has always funded its Newar artisans. Little wonder, perhaps that Kathmandu has so deftly embraced the tourist business.
Tradition has it that old Kathmandu was laid out in
the shape of a khukuri knife. Positioned at what would be the hilt of the
knife is Durbar Square -a non- stop carnival set amidst temples, monuments
and the fonner royal palace while the city's oldest neighbourhoods stretch
northeast and south- west New Road, the city's best-known shopping street,
runs east from the square.
Kathmandu's budget hotels are
concentrated in two areas: Thamel, north of Durbar Square in a new part of
town, and Jhochhen, better known as Freak Street, immediately south of the
square. Suburban Kathmandu sprawls mainly east of Kantipath, the main
north-south thoroughfare, and is dominated by two landmarks, the Royal
Palace and the Tudikhel (parade ground).
Most of the expensive
hotels, restaurants and airline offices huddle along Durbar Marg, the broad
boulevard running south from the palace gate. West of the Bishnumati River
is not, strictly speaking, part of Kathmandu, but the hilltop temple of
Swayambhu is close enough to be reached easily on foot.