Visitors to the Kathmandu Valley know about the three splendid Durbar Squares—in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur—and make a point of visiting at least one, if not all three. But lesser-known are some old and important sites situated in small towns at the edges of the Valley. If you have a few spare days in Kathmandu and would like to see some heritage sites that aren’t thronging with tourists, Changu Narayan or Sankhu are worth visiting.
Sankhu is an ancient Newari town in the north-east of the Valley, which was established between the 2nd and 9th centuries. It used to be on the main trade route to Tibet. Entrance to the village is marked with a blue gate adorned with auspicious symbols. While badly damaged in the earthquake of 2015, some exquisite traditional Newari carving can still be seen on many homes. Sankhu is quiet and worth strolling through leisurely, before heading up the forested hill behind the town. The many steps lead up to the 17th century Bajra Yogini Temple, a beautiful structure surrounded by all of the statues and embellishments that you will see at temples elsewhere in Kathmandu, but without the crowds. Although at present Sankhu and Bajra Yogini are not part of UNESCO’s Kathmandu Valley Heritage Site, it is possible that they will be added in the future.
Changu Narayan, however, is on UNESCO’s list, although it is possibly one of the least visited such heritage sites in Nepal. It is also in the north-east of the Valley, and best accessed from Bhaktapur. It is said to be the oldest temple in Nepal, dating from around 300 AD. It represents a milestone in Nepali temple architecture, and also houses several important masterpieces of Nepali art. There are a couple of museums on the way up to the temple and within the complex itself. Unfortunately, Changu Narayan was also badly affected by the 2015 earthquake, but a visit to the small town that reaches uphill towards the temple is still worthwhile. On a clear day, views across rice fields and brick factories towards Kathmandu make for a lesser-seen view of the city.