If you want to see the sights but escape the tourist crowds then check out my suggestions for the best things to see and do and the best time to do them.
1. Watch the sunrise over the city from Swayambunath Temple (Monkey Temple)
Avoid the tourist hordes and get up in the chilly predawn. Join in with the locals on their daily exercise route or pilgrimage to the Monkey Temple. You will soon get warm after climbing the stairs in time to see the sun peak over the Himalayas and shine down on the city of Kathmandu.
2. Visit Bouldanath Stupa during the full moon
A full moon is an auspicious time for Buddhist. It is a particularly beautiful time to visit Bouldanath, the biggest stupa in South East Asia. Here hundreds of people come out to circumnavigate the stupa and light butter candles around the entire structure. This is truly beautiful and cultural experience.
3. Sip local chai at a street side vendor
It’s cheap and it tastes great. Duck up any alleyway and sure enough you will find a little old lady sitting in front of a gas stove. Guaranteed she will make the best sweet tea ever and it will only cost you 7 rupees. Sit back on a stool and watch the world go by.
4. Watch the world go by in Durba Square
Kathmandu’s Durba Square is a fabulous place to sit back and enjoy the daily life of Kathmandu. Climb up to one of the temples and hang out with the locals as the daily street life of Kathmandu unfolds itself.
5. Step behind the colourful curtain and sample steaming momos in a Tibetan restaurant
All those little doorways covered in a blue or maroon curtain, you may think are somebody’s house, are in fact restaurants. Step inside and be greeted by a burly mama who will offer you a plate of steaming buffalo filled dumplings (Momo’s) and some spicy red dipping sauce we call Achar. A plate of Momo’s will set you back about 60 rupees.
6. Take a rickshaw ride around the back street
The cycle rickshaw is the very best way to get around Kathmandu. Beat the crowds on the street and get a great view over everyone’s heads. Whizz around the back streets and explore the local markets and alleyways. Your driver will know all the best places to take you and it will not cost you an arm and a leg like a private tour would.
7. Bargain for spices and herbs in Asan Tole
Asan Tole is the shopping hub for most of Kathmandu. Here you can find colourful piles of spices, assortments of fried products, fresh fruit and vegetables and in fact almost anything. An hour or two spent here is well worth your time and you may end up with a nice selection of condiments to spice up your cooking at home (although check your countries regulations before slipping it past customs).
8. Pay homage to Lord Shiva at Pashupatinath temple
The best time to visit Pashupatinath is between 5am and 7am to see the authentic crowd offering worship to Lord Shiva. Though you cannot go inside the temple you can get a tremendous view of Nandi, Lord Shivas Bull and his huge golden bollocks! Well worth the early start and best bit is if you go early you avoid the 500NPR entry fee.
9. Paddle a kayak down the upper Bagmati River
Even if you are not an experienced Kayaker, this gem of a river is a good fun way to paddle. No rapids but lots of fun to be had on the meandering seven kilometre course through the agricultural regions of Kathmandu. Beautiful village life and a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon!
10. Ride a mountain bike to Jamcho
One of the seven peaks in the Kathmandu Valley. This is a challenging ride for the fit rider, but solo time in the jungle and the breathtaking views from the top are simply stunning and the downhill that follows is well worth sweating it out on the way up.