Day 1 to 2:
Welcome to bustling Beijing! Discover the awe-inspiring wonder of the iconic Great Wall of China on a trip to this impressive feat of engineering.
Nimen Hao! Welcome to China.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Join your fellow travellers for a group dinner at a local restaurant of your leader's choice to try some Beijing speciality dishes.
The capital of the most populous country on earth, Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favour of modernity. However, there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation's ancient past as well as sights that showcase China's contemporary culture.
Walk the Mutianyu Great Wall (approx 2 hrs drive from Beijing). An incredible piece of engineering, it stretches 6,000 km westwards from the mountain ridges north of Beijing. It was originally constructed to protect Chinese empires from the 'barbarians' of the north and even though it failed in this purpose, it's still without a doubt one of the country's most remarkable achievements and an iconic destination. Please note that the wall is quite steep in places so make sure you have some appropriate footwear for this activity but it's up to you how far you walk once up on the wall.
The only inclusion in Beijing is our trip to the Great Wall so we recommend you arrive a couple of days early to see some of the city's other sights including:
Explore Tiananmen Square - the largest downtown square in the world. It covers an area of 44 hectares, big enough to hold one million people. From the Gate of Heavenly Peace in the north to the southern Front Gate, it measures 880 metres, and from the Museum of Chinese History in the east to the Great Hall of the People in the west, it's about 500 metres.
The Forbidden City is the former home to China's imperial rulers. Take a guided tour of the palaces, buildings and seemingly never-ending grand courtyards.
The Temple of Heaven Park is one of the most popular in Beijing and at any time of the day is full of people of all ages taking part in traditional pastimes such as tai chi, fan dancing, diablo, kite flying, water calligraphy and more.
Take taxis to the Beijing West railway station, one of the biggest and busiest in the world, to board our train to Lhasa (approx 45 hrs).
- Informal Chinese language lesson
- Welcome dinner
- Mutianyu Great Wall day trip
- Tiananmen Square, Beijing - Free
- Forbidden City, Beijing - CNY65.00
- Acrobat show, Beijing - CNY150.00
- Hutong cycle tour, Beijing - CNY150.00
- Beijing Opera, Beijing - CNY180.00
- Beijing Zoo (including Aquarium), Beijing - CNY130.00
- Lama Temple, Beijing - CNY30.00
- Summer Palace, Beijing - CNY60.00
- Temple of Heaven, Beijing - CNY40.00
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Beijing is the throbbing, bustling capital of the vast Chinese universe. It controls the whole country and little goes on without Beijing's authority. It's a great place to visit as a traveller as there's a huge amount to see and do. Take a tour of the Forbidden City and learn about the history of the Ming Dynasty, or discover the wonders of the Summer Palace. With so much on offer we recommend you allowing yourself plenty of time in this amazing city, it's worth allowing yourself a few extra days here before or after a trip with us.
Train to the Roof of the World
Travel from Beijing to Lhasa on one of the world's great train journeys and soak up stunning landscapes on the climb to the Tibetan plateau.
The train to Lhasa is truly one of China's greatest engineering feats in recent years. It's the highest railway in the world, traversing some incredibly mountainous and remote terrain. Our journey takes us through the major cities of Xi'an, Lanzhou and Xining, and across the Qinghai Plateau before arriving in Lhasa.
Train travel in China/Tibet may not be entirely luxurious but it's certainly one of the best ways to come face to face with the country and its people as it's a major form of transport for locals. The Beijing - Lhasa train is one of the newest and best in China. We use hard sleeper class trains for our overnight train journeys. These are not as rough as they sound - compartments are open-plan, clean, with padded three-tiered berths (6 to a compartment). Sheets, pillows and a blanket are provided. We recommend bringing your own sleeping sheet as the quality/cleanliness of sheets may not be what you are used to. Safe hot drinking water is always available for making coffee, tea or instant meals. We recommend bringing a mug, spoon, knife and fork if you will be preparing your own hot drinks or food on the train (as these are not provided in cabins) The train has a dining car although meals are of better quality on the first day as by the second day we are travelling at altitude which makes cooking difficult! You may wish to purchase extra snacks of your choice before the journey to supplement food available on the train.
Basic bathroom facilities are situated at the end of each carriage with toilets and washbasins. As toilet paper isn't always available it's advised to carry some of your own, keep in mind general train cleanliness may not be to the same standards you are accustomed to. While we always try to have our groups staying together, there may be times where due to ticket availability the group will be staying in different compartments and carriages, and possibly sharing with passengers who are not part of the group.
On rare occasions it may be possible to upgrade to a different carriage class once on the train itself for an additional cost paid to the train conductor but this can not be guaranteed and and should not be relied on as an option.
Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)
Day 4 to 8:
Lhasa/Nam Tso Lake, Lhasa
Arrive in Lhasa, Tibet's eclectic capital city - a place of beauty and mysticism. Enjoy a cooking class and visit Potala Palace - the former residence of the Dalai Lama, which contains more than 1,000 rooms. Stop by Jokhang Temple - Tibet's spiritual epicentre which is constantly awash with pilgrims. Interestingly enough Buddhist monks are not permitted to have any days off in a year. Later in the day enjoy a peaceful boat trip on the Namtso Lake, a reminder of the simple beauty of nature.
Colourful and historic, the holy city of Lhasa is situated in a small valley 3,650 m above sea level. For many years it was a mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world with even the most adventurous and hardy of explorers rarely reaching the city without being turned away, either by the treacherous terrain or the fierce warrior monks that protected Tibetan territory from intruders. While now welcoming tourists and much modernized, Lhasa remains an intriguing city with deeply fascinating culture, sights and stories.
Altitude sickness and oxygen deprivation will be felt while travelling in Tibet, particularly when arriving in Lhasa. We've allowed five days here to allow for appropriate acclimatisation. For more information about altitude and altitude sickness prevention please see the 'Health' section of these notes.
Due to Chinese government regulations, all foreign tour groups in Tibet must be accompanied by an official licensed Tibetan guide. Our guide will accompany us on our activities in Lhasa and travel with us all the way to the Tibet/Nepal border. While we try to request experienced guides with a good level on English, please note that we often have no control over which guides are assigned to our groups and some may be very new to guiding or have limited communication skills. You will still be accompanied by your Intrepid leader from Beijing to Kathmandu.
Take a Tibetan lesson to learn some basic greetings, numbers and phrases.
Learn how to make one of the staples of Tibetan cuisine - momos (steamed dumplings).
Go with our guide to the incredible Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama. This is the most popular attraction in Lhasa so it can be very crowded and tickets are for a limited time period only. We need to stick to our scheduled time to go around the exhibits and buildings. Although we're not free to explore the Potala Palace on our own, this in no way lessens the impact of seeing what is truly a wonder of the architectural world.
Please note that inside many of Tibet's monasteries and temples, including Potala Palace, photography is not permitted. In those buildings where it is permitted, often this requires the purchase of a photo permit. Your guide can organize this photo permit for you for an additional fee.
Visit the Sera Monastery where the monks hold daily debating sessions.
Explore Jokhang Temple, which is often regarded as the spiritual heart of Tibet and one of the region's most active religious sites.
As the majority of the cultural and historical sites in Tibet are temples and monasteries we advise choosing carefully which activities you do in your free time and pacing yourself in order to enjoy the sites we visit as a group as much as possible. Tibetan Buddhism is certainly a fascinating part of the region's culture, however some travellers find that they get 'templed out' quickly as there's just so much information to take in. Take your time, ask our local guide about what interests you most and if you would rather have time on your own instead of joining the group to explore a monastery or temple please let your leader know.
Visit our friends at Braille Without Borders, a wonderful organization that provides support, education and training to visually impaired Tibetans. Blindness and visual impairment in Tibet are very widespread due to the climate and lack of adequate medical care. Braille Without Borders' key message is to give Tibetans the 'right to be blind without being disabled'. We visit their school where young children receive education in Tibetan, Chinese, English and learn to read Braille, as well as prepare for future professions in order to be self supporting. We have a chance to see their classrooms and meet some of the students who are always very proud to show off their language and music skills. Braille Without Borders is supported by The Intrepid Foundation. If you would like to make a donation to support their programs we recommend donating through The Intrepid Foundation rather than while at the centre. That way any donation you give will be matched dollar for dollar by Intrepid and therefore doubled! You can either pass on your donation through your leader or donate online at www.theintrepidfoundation.org
Head out of Lhasa for a day trip to one of the most stunning natural sights in Tibet - Nam Tso Lake. The imposing Tangula Range with its peaks of over 7000 m dominates the south shore of the lake which turns a magnificent turquoise shade in spring. Along the way we'll see nomadic tent camps and sweeping grasslands, as well as devoted pilgrims making the trek to Tashi Do Monastery on foot. While here, you can walk the kora and hike to the top of the surrounding hills for intoxicating views. In the evening we drive back to Lhasa.This is a long day - the drive will take us to over 4500 m and the road is far from smooth. For those who would rather take it easy there is the option of staying in Lhasa for the day. During the months of October through April the road to Nam Tso can be inaccessible due to snow. We will arrange alternative activities in or around Lhasa for those departures not able to visit the lake.
- Johkang Temple
- Group dinner - Chinese/western
- Tibetan language lesson
- Braille Without Borders visit
- Momo class and lunch
- Potala Palace
- Sera Monstery
- Nam-Tso Lake day trip
- Group dinner - Tibetan
- Norbulingka (Summer Palace), Lhasa - CNY60.00
- Ganden Monastery day trip, transport and entrance, Lhasa - CNY145.00
- Drepung Monastery, Lhasa - CNY60.00
- Ramoche Monastery, Lhasa - CNY40.00
Hotel (5 nts)
Lhasa sits at a lofty 11,850ft above sea level and has a pleasant climate. This is the religious, cultural and economic centre of Tibet and home to many interesting buildings include the Potala Palace (the 13 story - 1000 roomed palace of the Dalai Lama), Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka (Ruobolink or summer palace of the Dalai Lama), Barkhur Street and the Drepung Monastery.
Spend the night in the atmospheric shadow of Samye Monastery, the oldest in Tibet.
Today we begin our overland journey which will take us all the way from Lhasa to Kathmandu. For the Tibetan part of the tour we must be accompanied by a local guide according to the local laws. As foreigners are not permitted to travel by public transport in this region, we will have a private van and driver for the journey.Driving times will vary and any times listed here are approximate only. While much of the infrastructure in Tibet has been improved in recent years it still lacks regular maintenance and travel time will rely heavily on weather and road conditions. As we have our own vehicle it may also be possible to make some stops along the way for photos, meals or to chat with locals however we need to aim to complete our drives before nightfall for safety reasons.
Our journey to Samye will take around 5 hours.
Samye sits at over 3600 m and is home to the oldest and one of the most enchanting monasteries in Tibet. This is where Buddhism was established and the monastery has withstood centuries of invasion and other threats to remain standing, imposing and immense beside the river.
Explore the magical structures that make up the Samye Monastery with our local guide giving some explanations about the complicated religious symbolism and rituals. Go through the assembly hall with its statues and the Jowo Khang inner chapel. Some of the murals here are amazingly vivid and detailed, although you'll need to purchase a permit to take photos. The entire Samye complex is huge so we'll have some time to explore here on our own or you can continue to walk with our guide. In the afternoon we make the 30 minute climb to the top of Hepo Ri Hill with prayer flags and a spectacular view.
Stay in the monastery guesthouse within the complex walls. The rooms are simple, with shared bathroom facilities. Sometimes hot showers are not available and be prepared for occasional 'romantic candle nights' in the case of a blackout.
Accommodation in Tibet outside of Lhasa can be of a very basic standard and with limited options. The region is still hurting from the riots in 2008 which lead to tourism practically being halted for over a year and many hotels and other businesses are still struggling with the financial loss and unable to pay for regular maintenance or sufficient staff to keep things in good condition. Hot water, when available, can be sporadic and in some destinations hot water and showers are not available at all. Many hotels have shared bathroom facilities and unreliable plumbing. Most places we stay will have twin-share rooms although on occasion we'll stay in multishare rooms on a same gender basis.
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Listen to the monks' morning prayers before taking a spectacular drive across the Kamba-La Pass. Make the pilgrim circuit at Pelkor Chode Monastery and see the imposing hill fortress of Gyantse Dzong. A visit to Kumbum Chorten is an unforgettable experience - its five storeys represent the five steps to enlightenment and the pilgrim route through the mandala is a visual feast of technicolour Buddhist images.
The long drive to Gyantse today is spectacular, with unforgettable views of the turquoise coloured Yamdrok Tso Lake from the top of the soaring Kamba Pass (over 4700 m). The road takes us along the lake shore, stopping at the town of Nangartse for lunch before climbing again for more views of glaciers and peaks. We aim to arrive in Gyantse (around 4000 m) by late afternoon.
As well as many religious sites, Gyantse is a great place to see contemporary Tibetan life in the backstreets where pilgrims, pop music, cows, "cowboys" on motorbikes, kids and monks all mingle in a lively mix of cultures.
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Gyantse is a small agricultural town set at 3950m above sea level, famed for its wool carpets. It has a very traditional feel to it and everyday Tibetan rural life continues here much as it has done for centuries. There are a number of interesting buildings in the town, including the Pelkhor Chode Temple complex, a unique structure built in 1414, with five stories representing the five steps to enlightenment.
Day 11 to 12:
Travel to Shigatse, one of the most spiritually important cities in Tibet, and explore Tashilhunpo Monastery. Browse curios and produce at the Shigatse bazaar; from slabs of yak butter and fur hats to prayer wheels and rosaries - this is shopping heaven. Meet locals on a visit to a rural community project that improves the lives of visually impaired Tibetans.
Spend time in the unique Gyantse Kumbum, a layered stupa designed as a kind of 3 dimensional mandala and model of the Buddhist universe, each storey representing a step to enlightenment. If you have a head for heights you can wind your way up the pilgrim circuit, the passages steadily getting narrower as you get higher and the air becoming more and more intoxicating with incense and smoke from yak butter lamps.
Drive to Tibet's second-largest city, Shigatse (90 km, approx 2 hrs).
Sitting at just over 3800 m, Shigatse is a busy, buzzing and dusty city that's rapidly modernising.
Visit the Tashilhunpo Monastery, one of the few in Tibet to have come out virtually unscathed by the Cultural Revolution. With its expansive territory inside thick stone walls it's almost like a town in itself. We visit with our local guide, but if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the myriad monastic buildings each with their own intricate decorations, legends and religious imagery, ask for directions to the Chapel of Jampa which houses the world's largest gilded statue. The courtyard outside of the Kelsang Chapel is the best place to observe the pilgrims and monks prepare for ceremonies.Join the pilgrims on their evening kora (prayer circuit), spinning prayer wheels as we walk around the perimeter of the monastery and taking in the great views and atmosphere. The walk takes around 1 hour to complete.
Drive about 1 hour to the countryside outside of Shigatse to visit the Braille Without Borders organic farm and training centre. Along with a primary school, the training centre is home to music and massage schools, handicraft workshops, a cheese kitchen and cafe, all employing and training visually impaired Tibetans, providing opportunities for future careers and improving their livelihoods. We have a chance to tour the facilities, chat with the trainees and sample some of their delicious organically grown food.
Back in the city, a great activity is to head to the Shigatse bazaar and browse stalls that sell everything from slabs of yak butter and yak wool to prayer wheels and rosaries. Be tempted by antiques, jewellery and fur hats with elaborate gold brocade, or simply watch as Tibetans vie with each other to win a sale. Alternatively, you could visit the carpet factory where hand-woven carpets are made to traditional designs. Don't forget to bargain hard if you decide to make a purchase.
- Gyantse Kumbum
- Pelkor Chode Monastery
- Tashilhunpo Monastery
- Braille without Borders visit
Guesthouse (2 nts)
Shigatse is Tibet's second biggest city and an important cultural centre. Having been the capital of Tibet from 1565 to 1642 the city is home to some fantastic architecture including monasteries, fortresses and palaces. The most famous is the Tashilhunpo Monastery - the seat of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism behind the Dalai Lama. Perhaps the most impressive building is the monastery, the Chapel of Jampa, which houses the world’s largest gilded statue. Standing at 26 metres high, the image of Jampa (the future Buddha) took four years to complete and used a remarkable 300kg of gold in it's construction.
Journey onwards to the remote Sakya Monastery which boasts a collection of rare artwork.
Continuing our journey along the Friendship Highway, drive to the small town of Sakya, which is situated at about 4300 m (approx 4 hrs).
Sakya's monastery and town buildings are quite unique. The monastery is built in medieval 'Mongolian' style and rather than whitewashed, the secular buildings are painted in red and while stripes. With its high imposing walls, the monastery is sometimes nicknamed the "Great Wall of Tibet".
Explore inside the monastery with our local guide. At first the halls may seem similar to other monasteries we've visited, but spend some time here and soak in the atmosphere and you'll soon realise that Sakya has a subtle ancient beauty that is unlike any other.
After the monastery tour you can choose to climb the hill through the Tibetan Village to see what's left of the original monastery complex. Make sure you pick your way through the ruins and remaining buildings in a clockwise direction as this is a kora route. Tonight for dinner, why not try some spicy food at one of the little restaurants run by Sichuanese immigrants. Stay the night in a basic guesthouse. Please note that there's usually not hot running water available here.
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Everest National Park
Discover the world's highest monastery, Rongphu. Travel higher again, trekking to Everest Base Camp - the view is out of this world.
Another early start and an exhilarating drive (approx 8-9 hrs) along what at times seems little more than a yak track brings us to Rongphu - sitting at around 5,000 m above sea level and a mere 8 km from Everest Base Camp. The views from here are utterly spectacular.
Rongphu Monastery is the highest in the world. On a clear day you may even get a photo of the monastery's chorten against a backdrop of mighty Everest, or Qomolangma as it is called in Tibetan.
A relatively modern monastery by Tibetan standards, Rongphu was built in the early 1900s and originally housed more than 500 monks. Today around 50 monks and nuns remain. Unusually, they share the same prayer hall although they have separate residences. We are received very warmly by the monks and nuns here and it's often possible to join them for their evening prayers.
Stretch our legs and our lungs on the gentle two hour return hike up to Everest Base Camp. Follow the prayer flags up the slope, hope for a clear sunny sky for amazing photos and even text a friend back home when you reach the camp at 5200 m. Yes, there's mobile reception even here!
In the summer months we stay nearby Rongphu in the Tent City that is sent up along the road that leads to Everest Base Camp. Accommodation here is in nomad-style tents. Tents sleep up to seven people with basic mattresses and bedding provided but we recommend using a sleep sheet and preparing some warm clothes as it can get quite cool in the evenings. There are basic pit toilets nearby. For heating there is a yak dung stove in the central open area of each tent. At such close proximity to the tallest mountains in the world the surroundings more than make up for the basic sleeping conditions. In colder months when the Tent City is not operational we stay in the monastery guesthouse. Rooms here are quad-share with very simple, shared facilities.
- Rongphu Monastery
- Everest Base Camp visit
Permanent tented camp (1 nt)
Rise early and hit the road for a drive across the Tibetan Plateau. On the way, stop at the meditation cave of the famous mystic, Milarepa. Travel onwards to Zhangmu and watch the harsh landscape give way to lush green valleys.
For early risers there may be another chance to visit Everest Base camp this morning depending on group departure time.
Today we head for our final stop in Tibet - the town of Zhangmu on the border between China and Nepal. We see the landscape change quite abruptly, from barren plateau to green valleys. As the altitude drops to around 2250 m the humidity increases. Depending on the recent rainfall we might even see some amazing waterfalls cascading down the gorges. In the summer, driving time may be longer as with the road often submerged in clouds and fog we may need to take it extra slow. Landslides are also common in this part of Tibet which is why we leave a whole day to get to Zhangmu and stay the night there so that delays do not disrupt our schedule in Nepal.
Zhangmu has the restless feel typical of border towns with a congested city centre, plenty of shops and traders about and many restaurants.
Guesthouse (1 nt)
Cross the Nepalese border, trek to nearby villages or simply relax and enjoy the panoramic views.
Say goodbye to our Tibetan guide and driver at the Chinese border and go through the immigration procedures. As immigration is often closed in the middle of the day we go across once it opens at 9.30am in order to maximize our short stay in Dhulikhel, our first destination in Nepal.
We get a lift across 8 km of no man's land and then walk across the Friendship Bridge to the Nepali border town of Kodari. After going through Nepalese immigration we meet our transfer and drive to Dhulikel (approx 3-4hours).Stopping in Dhulikhel, we have a chance to walk around a local village to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 17 to 18:
The Mountains and Monasteries adventure ends in the narrow streets of Kathmandu, with its great food and memorable sights. Recline in a cafe with a hot chai, shop for souvenirs or rise early to climb to Swayambhunath.
Continue on to Kathmandu by bus.
Kathmandu is the largest (and pretty much only) city in the country. It can feel like another developing-world city rushing into a modern era of concrete and traffic pollution, but take a walk in the back streets and the capital's amazing cultural and artistic heritage reveals itself in hidden temples overflowing with marigolds, courtyards full of drying chillies and rice, and tiny hobbit-sized workshops largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.
As there's not much time spent in Kathmandu on this trip we recommend you stay a few extra days to explore. Some great ways to spend your time here include:
Check out Durbar Square, home to the palace of the Kumari Devi, who's considered to be a living goddess.
See the ancient Swayambhunath Stupa (known to tourists as the Monkey Temple) - Kathmandu's most important Buddhist shrine. The sleepy, all-seeing Buddha eyes that stare out from the top have become the quintessential symbol of Nepal.
Join the pilgrims at Bodhnath Stupa - the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It's the centre of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism.
Head to Pashupatinath - a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km north-west of Kathmandu. It's dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals).
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart our accommodation at any time. Please check the 'Finishing Point Hotel' section for checkout times and luggage storage possibilities.
- Durbar Square, Kathmandu - NPR250.00
- Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu - NPR200.00
- Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu - NPR200.00
- Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu - NPR500.00
Hotel (1 nt)
Situated on the banks of the Bagmati River, Kathmandu is the hub of life in Nepal. A small medieval city, it is easy to get around on bicycles which can be hired very cheaply by the day or week. Worth visiting are Durbar Square, the Temple of the Living Goddess, the Royal Palace, Pashupatinath (Hindu Temple), Bodnath (Buddhist Stupa) and Swayambunath (Monkey Temple) - and all set against the magnificent Himalayan backdrop. The wonderful Indra Jatra Festival takes part here and the colours and chariots travel through the city.
The giant of Mount Everest lies on the border with China and with a chance to visit the base camp, it will feel like you have started to conquer on of the most enthralling challenges in the world. As soon as you set sight on this country you'll see that it was made for trekking. The pulse raising activities range from mountain biking and white water rafting, to the jaw dropping effects of one of the country's many national parks.
While many urban restaurants in the country have tables and chairs for meals, there's a chance to eat the traditional Nepalese way. Sit or squat on the floor as food is served. Eating is always done with the right hand, which is washed before and after each meal, while the left hand can only be used for holding cups. Try a traditional millet beer with your meal. The Tongba drink is an icon for the local Limbus people, and from the storing of the millet to the drinking of the beer can take 6 months, but the wait is worth it. Nepal is full of culture and this continues into the music scene. With a country of over 50 ethnicity's there is a wide variety of choice. The amazing Dolhori style of music is a rhythmatic style of conversation and with quick thinking, the song can carry on.
With traditional culture and diverse landscapes, this country has something for everyone, and added to the friendly atmosphere, it makes Nepal a memorable place to visit.
Kathmandu is not only the capital of Nepal, it is pretty much the only city in the country. Situated on the shores of the Bagmati river, it's a lively, bustling place where ancient collides with modern to create an exhilarating melting pot of sights, sounds and smells. Todays modern jumble of concrete buildings and busy streets has built up around the medieval old town, where wandering through the winding alleyways is like taking a step back in time. The heart of the old city is the magnificent Durbar Square, where Nepalese Royalty used to be crowned, and today it's a good spot to sit and watch the world go by. The buildings here date from the 17th and 18th centuries, although many of the original structures were even older and many suffered from earthquake damage in the 1930's. Other sights worth visiting are the Temple of the Living Goddess, the Royal Palace, the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, Bodnath Buddhist stupa and Swayambunath (the Monkey Temple), all of which are set against the magnificent Himalayan backdrop. When all the sightseeing gets a bit to much, you can kick back and relax in the numerous cafes and bars around the tourist areas of Thamel and ‘Freak Street’. If you can afford the time, it's also worth allowing yourself at least a couple of days to explore the surrounding area of the Kathmandu Valley.