• Adventure
  • 02 September, 2022

A photographer’s guide to Kathmandu Valley

A photographer’s guide to Kathmandu Valley

As a photographer or a photo enthusiast, what is it that you look for when traveling to a destination? Lifestyle? Culture? Architecture? Or a je ne sais quoi that you need to feel?

Regardless of what you’re looking for, Kathmandu Valley has the charisma to tempt the  photographer in you to spend hours exploring the city with a camera dangling around your neck. 

At the foothills of the Himalayas, the Kathmandu Valley comprises the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The valley is full of serpentine alleys, bustling markets, beautiful temples, a welcome environment with rich culture and unforgettable history. Filled with folklore and mythology,Kathmandu Valley is a place that walks the fine line between tradition and modernity. To make life easier for the photographer in you, here are five of the most scenic and photo-worthy places to visit in Kathmandu Valley.

Hiking to Jamacho (for Nature lovers):

Photo: Pramin Manandhar

Located in the northwest corner of Kathmandu Valley, a short 3-hour hike (depending on one’s pace) walking past thick woods of rhododendron, oak, and pine leads to a small Buddhist monastery on the hills of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. The spot is at an elevation of around 2,100m from sea level, and is a great route for beginner hikers.

Photographers on the hunt for  nature will especially appreciate Jamacho with its magnificent views of the entire Kathmandu valley and jaw-dropping panoramic views of nearby mountain ranges. The melody of the leaves in the forest with birds chirping motivates every step you take and a refreshing breeze guides you throughout the trail. In this short and sweet hike walking past nature, the person shooting pictures along the route won’t know when they arrived at the top.

Experiencing Ason Bazar (for street and lifestyle enthusiasts)

Photo: Pramin Manandhar

Throughout the years, Kathmandu has changed a lot, both physically and culturally. However, one place that still retains its original historic vibe is the bustling and crowded street markets trailing from Ason Bazar to Basantapur Durbar Square through Indra Chowk. There are a lot of rich passageways in this historic market that lead to an unfiltered look into the local lifestyle, products, and cuisine. All of which you can witness within the countless street shops in an infinite variety. 

Derivative of the word ‘Ansaa’, which literally means ‘just there’ in Newari. Due to its convenient location in the center of the town, the bazaar is known to be a place where one can purchase anything from toiletries to dried meat to slippers and footwear.

In the early morning, Ason is a vegetable and meat market, and as the day goes, little shops all around begin to open. The vendors display their wares outside, near their doors. The entire area is a vibrant and crowded bazaar from dusk till dawn as this is where the town’s residents and vendors congregate. Besides the numerous shops displaying a vast array of goods, you will also find an ancient pagoda-style temple dedicated to the Annapurna Ajima (Goddess of Abundance) at one corner. 

Though the massive earthquake of 2015 left its mark on many old traditional houses, the lifestyle in Ason remains the same. Ason Bazar is famous for both its traditional and cultural way of life, and photographers who love to capture the street and its characters must certainly give it a visit.

Aarti at Pashupatinath (cultural enthusiasts)

The Kathmandu Valley exudes a mystical and spiritual air, which attracts pilgrims from all over the world. The Pashupatinath temple, located along the western bank of river Bagmati, is a manifestation of Lord Shiva, and is considered to be one of the most sacred places of worship of the Hindu deity. Dating back to 400 A.D. it is a masterpiece of Hindu architecture, and is embellished with beautiful carvings and sculptures.

Of various pujas and rituals of cremation performed at the ghats of Bagmati river, the evening ‘Aarati’ attracts massive crowds of people assembled on the temple’s eastern side to witness priests singing hymns of god, burning of incense, chanting of Vedic mantras, playing of classical instruments, ringing of bells, and lighting of oil lamps. The Aarati is performed at 6 pm every day, a ceremony that everyone can participate in. 

Despite the years, Pashupatinath remains the same. The ambience of the holy place is a gold mine for culturally enthusiastic photographers who love to dwell in legends and mythologies. Also, take part in the ritual of ‘Aarati’, and listen to stories of holy men or ‘Sadhus,’ but be ready to pay a little because they will charge you if you want to photograph them. 

There are many things that can stand out to a photographer in Pashupati. From witnessing the last rites of the Hindus being performed at the ghats, exploring the forest uphill which also has deer park, and observing devotees arriving from different places in different colors.

Exploring traditional Rudra Varna Mahavihar courtyards (for art and artisan enthusiasts)

Photo: Pramin Manandhar

Located south of Patan Durbar Square, the Newar Buddhist Monastery is known locally as Rudra Varna Mahavihar and contains 3 courtyards, each having its own interesting and unique features. Commonly referred to as Uku Baha, this monastery is an incredible site to reflect on the history of Buddhism, Newar society, and the artisanal brass craftworks of Patan. 

Built in the mid-17th century, the courtyard is teeming with “chaityas” and bronze statues of all shapes and sizes. There are massive bronze structure of Garudas, Lions, Elephants, Monkeys, Doves, Peacocks, Bajras (thunderbolts), figures of praying worshippers, and a statue of Juddha Shamsher Rana, who had granted restoration aid for the temple’s repair after the 1934 earthquake. Along the corners of the courtyard, which is lined with oil lamp railings, there are different bronze sculptures of monkeys clutching food in their hands. The main shrine is housed in a building with a two-tiered roof, and the entire temple complex is square in shape. Its majestic gate that marks the outer courtyard has two statues of lions with flags on top and two black stone lions guarding the gateway.

Photographers who are into handcrafted art and statues, living cultures, and preserved history,will find the place mesmerizing and enjoy finding a muse along every corner. 

While the temple is not on the main street and has to be searched in the back alleys of Patan, the place is worth a visit, especially for the bronze pieces inside and the ‘toran’ hung on the top of the entrance of the temple. To have a glimpse of the entire temple, be there around 3.30 pm when a priest comes to open it and conduct the daily puja.  

Dattatreya Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square (for architecture enthusiasts)

Bhaktapur has its own significance, culture, traditions, festivals, and architecture, and is often referred to as a living museum. There are many attractive historical buildings in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and the Dattatreya Temple in Dattatreya Square is one of a kind. 

Originally built in 1427 by King Yaksha Malla, supposedly using timber from a single tree. The three-story temple is raised above the ground on a brick and terracotta base and is decorated with numerous erotic carvings. The front porch, which is slightly out of place, was added later. It honors the composite deity Dattatreya, a personification of Lord Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. 

Located to the east of Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Temple is a circular (mandala-styled) temple and is renowned for being the lone shrine in Dattatreya Square. The temple is guarded by statues of the two Malla wrestlers, Jayamal and Phattu, who also guard the Nyatapola temple in Taumadhi Square. A stone pillar stands in front of the temple, on top of which is a carving of kneeling Garuda.

Dattatreya Square is not as busy as other squares but has its own unique beauty surrounded by a few other major and minor temples. The walk from Durbar Square is interesting, with many historic features to look at. Old people singing on the temple grounds; children playing in the courtyards; local cuisine; and a relaxed atmosphere bring character and diversity to your photos too.

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