Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal, is also called Katmandu or Kantipur. Originally known as Manju–Patan, its present name refers to Kastha–Mandap, a wooden temple built from a single tree in 1596. Situated in the country’s central area in the lowland Valley of Nepal in the southern Himalayan mountains, Kathmandu sits 1,372 m (4,500 ft) above sea level at the confluence of the Vishnumati and Baghmati rivers. It is the country’s largest city as well as being its economic, administrative and cultural centre. Historically a major tourist centre, Kathmandu had numerous historical monuments and shrines. However, many of these were severely damaged during the earthquake of April 2015.
Kathmandu was founded in 723 AD by the Licchavi King Gunakamadeva. The Newar people were the original inhabitants of the valley descending from the Mongols. Although Newari Buddhist colonies remain, Hinduism became the dominant religion especially with the arrival of the Malla Kings who ruled from the tenth to eighteenth centuries. Many temples and palaces were built during this period and Kathmandu was the centre of major trade routes through Nepal. In 1769 the Gurkhas, under King Prithvi Narayan Shah (descendant of the current dynasty), invaded, took power and unified Nepal making Kathmandu their capital. Following a war the Treaty of Kathmandu was signed in 1816 allowing territorial concessions to the British. Rule passed to the Ranas in 1846 who became hereditary prime ministers. The borders were closed although the Ranas made trips to Europe. In 1923 Nepal was granted independence. The divide between the rich and poor grew. A huge earthquake in 1934 destroyed many temples and palaces, killing thousands. Internal strife led to a coup in 1950, reinstating the Shah King Tribhuvan as ruler in 1951 when the borders were reopened. After a brief period of democracy political parties were banned and in 1962 the Panchayat system, a form of party–less government was incorporated. Executive power lay with the king. After years of uprisings, King Birendra agreed to legalise political parties and in 1990 a new constitution established a bi–cameral parliament. In 1991 the first democratic election was won by the NCP with the United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) forming the official opposition. Following accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement, the government was brought down by a vote of no confidence in 1994. A coalition government, with the UCPN at its head, was formed in 1994 but internal disputes led to its collapse in 1995. A right–wing coalition government was then formed led by the NCP. In 1997 the NCP lost a vote of no–confidence and a new coalition was formed under the National Democratic Party, NDP. In 1998 a minority government was formed by the NCP joined by the recently formed Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist–Leninist) CPN–ML and the Nepal Sadbhavana Pary (NSP). After further elections in 1999 a new government under the NCP was established. In June 2001 the king, queen and members of the royal family were shot dead by their son and heir, Crown Prince Diprendra, who then shot himself. The king’s younger brother, Gyanendra, was crowned king. These events caused widespread rioting throughout the city. In April 2015 much of the city was devastated during an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude.
The international Tribhuvan airport is to the east of the city. Other than from Bangkok, Dhaka or Frankfurt, visitors usually have to change planes, or even airlines, in India. Domestic airlines fly throughout the country; the most popular route is from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Bus services are inexpensive but crowded. Taxis are reasonably priced but it is advisable to negotiate the price in advance. The same is true of rickshaws.
Major industries within the town include tourism, clothing, handicrafts and cottage industries. The first surfaced road was built in 1956 and a major road construction programme was commenced in 1970. The Tribhuvan University was built in 1959. The Kaiser Library, located in the Ministry of Education, houses valuable, rare books and manuscripts. The city hosts many religious festivals. One of the most celebrated is the Maha Shivarati held every Feb. Thousands of Hindus gather to bathe, fast and visit the temple of Pashupatinath to worship Lord Shiva. Others include Gaijatra (the festival of the cow) in July to Aug. and the week-long Indrajatra (Aug. to Sept.), with cultural and religious events.
Places of Interest
Before the earthquake of April 2015, Kathmandu hosted many historical monuments, shrines and palaces, including the Kasthamandap temple built in 1596 (after which the city is named), Durbar Square (designated a World Heritage Site in 1979) and the Singha Durbar palace which housed the government’s Secretariat. However, many of these were either severely damaged or destroyed during the strongest earthquake to hit Nepal since 1934.