Surrounded by the world's highest mountain - the Himalaya to the north, and the Mahabharat range to south, the once forbidden Kathmandu Valley has long intrigued intrepid travellers.
Despite its remoteness, this Valley situated between Tibet and India has been an age-old center of culture, trade and learning, between the two great cultures of Aryan/India and that of the Tibetan/Mongolians.
The Newar, the inhabitants of the valley, are a perfect example of what this kind of ethnics blending : This ethnic group represents 600 000 people (5.5 % of the total Nepal population), do speak newari, a language distinct from Tibetan, Hindi or Nepali, and their religion based on Hinduism do include a lot of Buddhism aspects.
The Kathmandu Valley, at an altitude of 1,500 m, is traversed by the Bagmati River and its affluents, around which a number of sites have been developed, including the durbars (urban squares) of Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambu and Bodnath, and the Hindu temple of Pashupati.
Before having a look to each of these unique medieval cities and religious center, let's make a short review of the history of the region :
During the first centuries A.D., the practice of Indian Buddhism, then of Hinduism, was widespread in Nepal. From this time on, architecture and urban morphology could not be dissociated from religion.
Under the Malla Dynasty, Nepal's architecture distinguished itself in the 11th century. It developed first in the three main cities of the Kathmandu Valley.
At the beginning of the 14th century, Nepal was divided : Bhaktapur and Patan were rivals. On top of that, the country was subjected to a number of invasions, including that of the Muslims from Bengal in 1349.
The valley was reunited under the Malla Dynasty between 1380 and 1395, and reached its golden era around the 15th century; Bhaktapur, Patan and Kathmandu flourished during this period of prosperity.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the three cities were capitals of three kingdoms. A series of fruitless battles ensued. In 1768, the Rajputs, who came from Gurkha, conquered the country, and unified Nepal.
Morning mist on the foothills of the Kathmandu Valley