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Kathmandu

The City of Temples


The capital and most populous city in the small mountainous nation of Nepal, which is wedged between India and China in the Himalaya mountain range, Kathmandu is one of Asia’s most visited cities.

With its unique culture and status as a religious center for Hinduism and Buddhism and as the capital of the ancient royal Kingdom of Nepal, as well as acting as the gateway to the Himalayas for many trekkers and mountain climbers, the city is a major global tourist destination.

Kathmandu

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Etymology

The name Kathmandu is thought to come from a derivation of the name of the Kasthamandap temple, which until 2015 when it was damaged due to a major earthquake had stood as one of the city’s major religious sights since at least the 7th century CE. The temple’s name translates from the Sanskrit language as "wooden covered shelter".


A Brief History of Kathmandu

  • Archeological evidence demonstrates that Kathmandu was the site of many ancient civilizations, with the oldest finding so far, a statue found in the Maligaon neighborhood of the city, dating back to at least 185 CE.

    The ancient history of the city features in many myths and legends, including one from the Buddhist text Swayambhu Manjusri which claims that present-day Kathmandu was once a deep lake full of snakes, which was drained and made into a city by the Bodhisattva (enlightened being) Manjusri.
  • After defeating the Kirata dynasty around the 4th century CE, Kathmandu became a center of power for the Licchavi dynasty, who migrated north from the plains of the River Ganges in modern-day Northern India.

    It was during this period that the belief system of Newar Buddhism became established in the region. The city flourished as a major trading center between India and Tibet, with the Newar traditions of religious art and architecture becoming especially admired.
  • The Malla dynasty ruled Kathmandu from 1201 to 1769. During this period, the Kathmandu Valley accommodated four separate fortified cities: Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Kirtipur.

    The competition between cities in terms of architecture, commerce, and art resulted in great development, with many of Kathmandu’s surviving artistic and architectural treasures such as the Durbar Square dating back to this period.
  • After 1768 the region passed into the hands of the Gorkha Kingdom, becoming the capital of the Gorkha Empire, which was named Nepal.

    After a series of wars with the British Empire (who controlled nearby India), the British-backed Rana faction became increasingly powerful from the mid-19th century until 1950, by which time Nepalese politics was dominated by struggles between different factions including Communists (backed by nearby China).

    Although the city has experienced protests, demonstrations and political violence in its recent history, as well as being struck by a major earthquake in 2015 which caused serious destruction, it has continued to attract tourists from around the world, who marvel at its cultural heritage and its astonishing location in the Himalayas.


Swayambhunath

This ancient religious site at the top of a hill in the Kathmandu valley just to the west of the city is one of the most sacred sites in the Newar Buddhist tradition and a major site of pilgrimage. The complex consists of a stupa (a tall structure which holds relics and is used as a place of worship) and a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back as far as the Licchavi dynasty period.

Swayambhunath is sometimes also known as the Monkey Temple, because monkeys live in the north-western parts of the complex, who are treated as sacred due to a story that when the temple’s stupa was first created by the Bodhisattva Manjushri, the lice which lived in his long hair transformed into monkeys, which took up residence in the temple and whose successors still call the site home.


Thamel

At the heart of Kathmandu's tourist industry for decades, since the 1960s when the city became an important stop on the so-called "hippie trail" which many Western travelers followed across Asia, the neighborhood of Thamel is distinguished by its narrow streets, teeming with shops and street vendors.

As well as being the perfect place to buy Nepalese handicrafts, souvenirs, and clothing, not to mention offering many delightful examples of Nepalese cuisine, Thamel also acts as a preparatory base camp for mountaineers while they plan their routes across the peaks of the Himalayas.

Here mountaineering equipment can be bought or rented, and guides known as sherpas with expert knowledge of the mountains can be hired to assist climbers or trekkers to reach their destinations.


Kopan Monastery

Located on the northeastern outskirts of the city near the Boudhanath stupa, the Monastery at Kopan is one of the major sites of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, and organizations founded primarily to teach Buddhism to visiting Western foreigners.


Hanuman Dhoka

The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex, located on Kathmandu's Durbar Square, is one of the city's most historic sites.

Acting as the royal Nepalese residence of the Malla and Shah dynasty kings until the 19th century and named after the Hindu god Hanuman, whose statue sits near the main entryway, the palace complex has hosted important ceremonies such as the coronation of the Nepalese monarch.

The palace is decorated with many elaborate wooden carvings and architectural details, and visitors are able to tour the state rooms of the palace, as well as visit the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum and Mahendra Museum which are hosted within the complex.

Many of the city's most beautiful temples, including the Taleju Temple and the nine-story Basantapur Tower, are also located within the Hanuman Dhoka compound.


An Authentic Kathmandu Dish

Eaten by many Nepalese twice a day, Dal bhat terkari is considered the national dish of Nepal, and is widely available from food stalls and restaurants across Kathmandu. Although the dish varies between restaurants, the basic ingredients are rice, lentil soup, and some form of curried vegetables.



Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "teeming" mean?
    1. scratching or carving
    2. overflowing or in large amounts
    3. snapping or breaking in half

  2. What does "lice" mean?
    1. needles or pins
    2. birds with yellow wings
    3. small insects that live on larger creatures' skin

  3. What does "handicrafts" mean?
    1. sweets or desserts
    2. miners or those who work underground
    3. artworks or small decorative items

  4. What does "worship" mean?
    1. helping other people
    2. religious practices
    3. fighting wars

  5. What does "informal" mean?
    1. relaxed and casual
    2. unimportant or trivial
    3. dull or boring


Collocation Questions

  1. Many of those who wish to hike or trek in the Himalayas begin their ___________ in Kathmandu.
    1. travel
    2. sojourn
    3. journey

  2. Nepal is located in ___________ China and India in the middle of the Himalaya mountain range.
    1. betwixt
    2. through
    3. between

  3. ___________ to the Swayambhu Manjusri, Kathmandu was once a deep lake filled with snakes.
    1. Due
    2. Apparent
    3. According

  4. The Licchavi ___________ brought the belief system of Newar Buddhism to Nepal from the 4th century CE onward.
    1. Family
    2. Dynasty
    3. Collective

  1. The Kathmandu Valley was the location of four separate and competing ___________ during the Malla dynasty period.
    1. cities
    2. villages
    3. hamlets

  1. Kathmandu became the ___________ city of the Gorkha Empire in 1768.
    1. prime
    2. main
    3. capital

  1. The city faced prolonged and sometimes violent political ___________ during the 20th century as a result of factional struggles between royalists, democrats, and communists.
    1. discomfort
    2. unease
    3. unrest

  2. The monkeys which live at Swayambhunath are considered ___________ by Buddhists who travel to the site on pilgrimages.
    1. worshipful
    2. sacred
    3. revered

  3. Most western ___________ will visit or stay in the Thamel neighborhood during their time in Kathmandu.
    1. tourists
    2. trippers
    3. troopers

  4. Vegetarianism is an important ___________ of life at the Kopan Monastery.
    1. slope
    2. aspect
    3. face


Wh Questions

  1. What is the meaning of the name Kathmandu in Sanskrit?
    1. wooden covered shelter
    2. stone fountain
    3. iron fortress

  2. Why was 2015 an especially difficult year for Kathmandu?
    1. because it was struck by a major earthquake
    2. B. because of an economic crash
    3. C. because of a war between Nepal and China

  3. Where were Nepalese monarchs crowned during the Malla and Shah Dynasties until the 19th century?
    1. Kopan Monastery
    2. Hanuman Dhoka
    3. Swayambhunath

  4. How long did the Malla Dynasty rule for?
    1. 856 years
    2. 658 years
    3. 568 years

  1. When did Gorkhas establish their rule over Kathmandu?
    1. 1768
    2. 1687
    3. 1950


Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. Kathmandu is an important site for the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
    2. Kathmandu is an important site for the Hindu and Jewish religions.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. The "hippie trail" was a popular tourist route across Asia during the 1960s.
    2. The "hippie trail" was a popular tourist route across Asia during the 1860s.


True or False?

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "Sherpas are local guides who help climbers navigate through the Himalayas."
    1. True
    2. False

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "There is usually no meat in dal bhat terkari".
    1. True
    2. False


Answer Key

1. B | 2. C | 3. C | 4. B | 5. A | 6. C | 7. C | 8. C | 9. B | 10. A | 11. C | 12. C | 13. B |14. A | 15. B | 16. A | 17. A | 18. B | 19. C | 20. A | 21. A | 22. B | 23. A | 24. A


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