For centuries, little was known about Nepal. Foreigners were banned so mountaineers and explorers could only gaze longingly at the gleaming Himalaya glimpsed from the distant plains of India. It was considered a secretive mountain kingdom, a Shangri-la grown rich on lucrative trade routes and protected by its ferocious Gurkha soldiers. When it finally opened its borders in the 1950s, visitors found a country untouched by the outside world, a time-warp back to medieval days. There were no roads and the few cars there were in Kathmandu had been dismantled and carried through the hills by porters. A password was given out daily to the ruling classes, allowing them out after dusk while the rest of the population was under curfew.

Since then Nepal has done its best to catch up with the rest of the world. It’s possible to visit its monuments, mountains and jungles with no more hindrance than the cost of an entrance ticket. Those mysterious mountains are now known to contain eight of the world’s ten highest peaks, part of the Great Himalayan Range that makes up the breathtaking northern boundary of this stunning mountainous country.

The Kathmandu Valley, with its three ancient rival kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, contains no fewer than seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other place in the world. Once at the heart of Himalayan trade between Tibet and India, the wealth this generated can still be seen in the palaces, shrines and temples of the valley. Modern development and the earthquakes of 1935 and 2015 have taken their toll, but if you know where to look you can still find the medieval cities first glimpsed by the early Western visitors and a way of life little changed by time.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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