Place to Visit

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.

Orientation and arrival

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.

Arriving by air

Arriving by air at Tribhuwan International Airport, 5 km east of the city centre, you1l first have to deal with immigration. An exchange window in the immigration hall cashes travellers' cheques. Baggage claim is downstairs, where if you're quick you might be able to grab a trolley. The bank, to the right as you exit customs, changes money at rates slightly lower than those in town. Nearby is a government tourist information desk and a desk operated by Travellers' Nepal, which hands out free magazines and city maps. Taxi fares into town are quasi-fixed buy a coupon from the cooperative association desk and present it to one of the member drivers. Blue (Sajha) buses offer a cheap but inconvenient alternative. They depart from the main intersection at the end of the airport drive (a 200m walk) and drop passengers off at the City Bus Park, a good lkm from most guest houses.