The Boudhanath stupa is one of the holiest and most recognisable sites in Kathmandu.
Assigned UNESCO world heritage status in 1979, Boudhanath (aka the Boudha, Chorten Chempo and Khasa Caityais) has a diameter of 120 metres, making it the largest temple in Nepal.
The stupa is built on an octagonal base, is surrounded by prayer wheels, and has colourful prayer flags draped from its 36-metre central spire.
Boudhanath is rich in symbolism: it has five statues of Dhyani Buddhas, representing the five elements (earth, fire, water, air and ether); nine levels, representing Mount Meru (the mythical peak at the centre of the Buddhist cosmos); and 13 rings from its base to its apex (representing the steps to enlightenment or Nirvana).
Boudhanath is the religious centre of Nepal's Tibetan/Buddhist community, and is surrounded by around 50 monasteries and shops settling Tibetan artifacts. About 15% of the population are Buddhists.
Look out for Tibetan monks, with shaven heads and maroon robes, and pilgrims spinning prayer wheels and buying yak butter and tsampa (roasted barley flour). Be careful to observe Tibetan custom by walking around the stupa in a clockwise direction.
There has been a stupa on this site since Tibetan king Songsten Gampo converted to Buddhism in around 600 AD.
The stupa was heavily damaged in the 2015 earthquake. It re-opened, following extensive repairs, at a three-day purification ceremony held in November 2016.
The Losar (Tibetan New Year) celebrations are held here in February or March.
Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, is a vibrant, noisy city. Packed full of history, palaces and temples, it is also within touching distance of Nepal's premier attraction: the Himalaya.
Kathmandu is home to gems such as Durbar Square (with temples dating back to the 12th century), Boudhanath Stupa (a world heritage site), and Pashupatinath Temple (the country's most important Hindu temple, on the banks of the Bagmati river).
Another must-see attraction is the Royal Palace, the site of the infamous 2001 massacre of the Royal Family by the then Crown Prince, and now converted into the Narayanhiti Palace Museum.
The mountains hold a magnetic attraction for many who visit Nepal, with half of the world's 8,000 metre mountains found here. The trek to Everest base camp, a two-week trip starting with a nerve-racking flight to Lukla airport, is the most popular mountain activity, whilst the stunningly beautiful Annapurna base camp can be achieved by a 7-10 day trek from Pokhara.
Kathmandu, and most of Nepal, are now recovering from the April 2015 earthquake that claimed over 9,000 lives. For example, the first ascents of Everest since the earthquake took place on 11 May 2016 and the number of foreign tourists jumped 40% in 2016 (to just over 750,000). In 2017, Lonely Planet ranked Nepal as their best value destination.
Even though the Nepali royal family moved from the Hanuman Dhoka palace about a century ago, Durbar (Palace) Square remains the tourist heart of Kathmandu.
Most visitors are surprised by the sheer number of temples surrounding the square, and the two adjoining squares, some dating back to the 12th century.
The jewels in the crown are the Hanuman Dhoka itself (the complex of royal palaces), the magnificent Taleju Temple (built in 1564 by Mahendra Malla, standing on a 12-stage plinth, and reaching 35 metres in height), and the Kumari Bahal (an intricately carved three-storey structure built in 1757 in which the 'living godess', a young girl selected from the Kathmandu valley, still lives).
Other must-sees are the Kasthamandap (aka the 'Pavilion of wood', the building after which Kathmandu was named and which, legend has it, was constructed using a single sal tree) and the Maju Deval (a triple-roofed Shiva temple dating from 1690, built by the mother of Bhaktapur's king Bhupatindra Malla).
Durbar Square has still not been restored to its former glory following the 2015 earthquake. Many foreign visitors also remark on the steep Rs1000 entrance fee.
Bhaktapur, a small town about 10 kilometres from Kathmandu, is famous for its many varied temples.
The most impressive is the five-storey Nyatapola Temple on Taumadhi Tole (pictured), the tallest temple in Nepal built in 1702 during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla.
Bhaktapur, which became an independent city-state under King Ananda Malla in the 12th century, also has its own Durbar Square (replete with a number of temples, including one featuring erotic cows, camels and elephants!).
The northern section of the square is home to the Royal Palace, with visitors able to access the Golden Gate, intricately carved and set into a bright red gatehouse, and the National Art Gallery, with an extensive collection of Tantric cloth paintings.
But the town also has a timeless air, with visitors able to see grain laid out to dry in the sun, potters at work in Potters' square, locals weaving baskets, drying laundry or collecting water, and children playing.
Keep an eye out for exquisite architecture as you wander the streets: many buildings feature intricately carved woodwork (such as the famous Peacock window, on an alley leading south-east from the Tachupal Tole).
No cars are allowed inside the Bhaktapur town centre and, as a result, it is quiet by comparison to the country's capital. As a result, many travellers prefer to stay in Bhaktapur and take day trips to Kathmandu (about 15 kms away, which takes c. 45 minutes by car).
Built in 1696 on the orders of King Bhupendra Malla, Pashupatinath is Nepal's most important Hindu temple.
Constructed in the pagoda style of architecture, Pashupatinath stands on the banks of the Bagmati river, has a distinctive gilded rooftop, intricately carved rafters (featuring members of Shiva's family) and four silver-plated main doors surrounded by statues of deities.
Pashupatinath reaches a maximum height of 24 metres, and is presided over by priests called Bhattas and a chief priest called Mool Bhatt or Raval. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple, though a glimpse of Shiva's bull, Nandi, can be caught from outside the western entrance.
There is nonetheless much to see. The temple's exterior and its surrounding buildings are worth a look. Sadhus (Hindu holy men) watch the world go by. Traders hawk marigolds, incense andconch shells. And the riverbanks of the Bagmati river are a popular place for cremations.
Whilst the 'ghats' in front of the temple were reserved for the cremation of royalty, four other ghats to the south of the nearby bridges are in regular use. There is often a cremation in progress, with a shrouded body lifted on top of a log fire with surprisingly little ceremony. Cremations are followed by ritual bathing in the river.
The Narayanhiti Palace Museum (aka Narayanhiti Durbar) served as the primary residence of Nepal's monarchy for over a century until 2008.
It was here that, in June 2001, King Birendra, Queen Aiswarya and six other royals were shot dead by Crown Prince Dipendra before Dipendra turned his weapon on himself; the apparentmotive was revenge, after the King and Queen refused to approve the Prince's marriage intentions.
Birenda's replacement, King Gyanendra, was deeply unpopular, and Nepalis voted to abolish the monarchy in 2008. The new parliament promptly gave Gyanendra 15 days to vacate the Palace. The opening of the Palace Museum by Nepal's prime minister in February 2009 was a highly symbolic event.
The Palace comprises 52 rooms (19 are open to the public) and occupies 74 acres. It was designed by American architect Benjamin Pol in the style of a contemporary pagoda. The Museum showcases the belongings of former royalty, such as pictures of Queen Elizabeth II taken when the Windsors were on friendly terms with the Shah dynasty.
Visitors comment on the Palace's chintzy decor, including extensive gold-plating, numerous chandeliers and a large tiger-skin rug. The Museum's extensive grounds are open to visitors; look out for fruit bats and 20 foot-tall bamboo.
One morbid feature is of note: the Museum's buildings and grounds identify the places in which members of the royal family perished during the 2001 massacre (including the place on a small footbridge where Dipendra shot himself). One of the most interesting things to do in Kathmandu.