Situated along an elongated ridge in the southwest corner of Kathmandu Valley is Kirtipur, but it tends to feel faraway even for the inhabitants of the capital. People talk about it as if it is in the boondocks somewhere. This perception of isolation is what has kept the 12th century hilltop town largely untouched, even though it is only a 15 minute bus ride from the Ring Road.
The sense of pride and fierce independence is in the DNA of Kirtipurans because this was where Prithvi Narayan Shah’s conquests came to a grinding halt in 1767, as he faced fierce resistance in his plan to take over Kathmandu Valley.
Today, the town of 66,000 is still not actively promoted by tour operators who prefer the traditional Bhaktapur-Patan-Swayambhu loop. If they do come, tourists tend to visit just the main temples, have lunch and then head back to their homestays in Thamel or Patan.
But Kirtipur is worth lingering in. Life progresses in slow motion with relatively clean and well-preserved streets and relaxed residents. The old city with its ancient neighbourhoods are nearly car free, and the place has the aura of an open museum – much the same as Kathmandu or Patan used to be 40 years ago. There is only one hotel and two easy-to-find homestays.
“Normally visitors stay only two to three hours here in Kirtipur,” says guide Shristy Maharjan at the Tourist Information Centre. “Now the situation is better, but the government should promote Kirtipur more. Only one in ten tourists visiting Nepal in 2015 came here.”
Babu Maharjan started his homestay in 2004, after being a trekking guide for a Swedish company. “Kirtipur is only 5km away from Kathmandu, but very few know about it. When people come to my place, they are astonished how stunning it is.” He gets about 200 guests a year in his four rooms.
Nepal’s Vision 2020 seeks to increase tourist arrivals to 2 million, and tourism-related employment to one million. After the earthquake in 2015, tourism has rebounded (see graph) with half the visitors from five countries: India (16%), China (14%), Sri Lanka (8%), USA (7%), and United Kingdom (6%).
Saroj Tuladhar, 27, is a hotel management graduate and sees a bright future in tourism in Kirtipur. His restaurant, Ka:shi, overcame the slump after the earthquake and Blockade, and is now running well. Unlike many of his friends who have gone abroad, Tuladhar has decided to make a living in his native town and has no regrets. “My only problem is finding good staff for the kitchen,” he says.
Pradeep Khadgi is a Kirtipur-based film-maker and is shooting a movie on Kirti Laxmi, based on a book by Basu Pasa about the woman who kept on fighting with her bow and arrows even after Prithvi Narayan finally captured the town in 1767, and took her own life after being arrested. He hopes to revive awareness among Nepalis about Kirtipur’s history, and correct some of the misconceptions.
The pagoda-style three-storied temple is at the highest point (1,414 m) of Kirtipur. Two stone elephants stand guard at the shrine originally built in 1673 with four-tiered roof, but one was lost in the earthquake of 1934. Wood carvings show tantric and fertility rituals.
Dedicated to Bhairab in the form of a tiger. Local people call it as Ajudeu (Grandfather God) and worship it as the guardian deity of Kirtipur. The three-storied temple (pictured below) was built in the early 16th century.
Kirtipur Ashoka Stupa (Chilancho Vihar)
Chilan (immortal) and Cho (hill) is a stupa thought to be built by Emperor Ashoka, and was turned into a monastery in 1515.
Sri Kirti Vihar
Nagar Mandap Sri Kirti Vihar is a Theravada Buddhist monastery built 1975 in traditional Thai architectural style.
Kirtipur Hill Side Resort
Single and double rooms facing north, with views of the Valley and the mountains beyond. Attached bathrooms, and wifi.
Price per day: $15-30
Four rooms, wifi, comfortable beds, hot water and western style bathrooms
$17-$25.00 per night per person
+977 1 4336257
Ka:shi Cafe, Lounge & Bar
Rustic ambience, menu includes Nepali, Indian, Chinese and Continental
Mon – Sun, 7:00 am – 9:30 pm
+977 1 4333636
Newari traditional food and beverage
Mon – Sun,10:00 am – 09:30 pm
Sasa Newari Restaurant
Traditional Newari menu
+977 1 4336770
Opening hours: Mon – Sun, 09:30 am – 08:00 pm
Newari and international menu, beer terrace
Mon – Sun, 10:00 am – 09:30 pm
Wide variety of good coffee