The cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley is illustrated by seven groups of monuments and buildings which display the full range of historic and artistic achievements for which the Kathmandu Valley is world famous. The seven include the Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
The Monumental Zones represent the highly developed architectural expression of religious, political and cultural life of Kathmandu Valley, with a concentration of monuments unique and unparalleled in the world. It is the principal centre of settlement in the hill area of Nepal and one of the prime cultural foci of the Himalayas. Pashupatinath is also Nepal's most renowned Hindu creation site. Changu Narayan Temple is an impressive double-roofed temple which is said to be the most ancient Vishnu temple in Kathmandu Valley.
Kathmandu, the capital, is the political, commercial and cultural hub of Nepal. Kathmandu is an exotic and fascinating showcase of a very rich culture, art and tradition. The valley, roughly an oval bowl, is encircled by a range of green terraced hills and dotted by compact clusters of red tiled-roofed houses. A remarkable legend says that the valley was once covered by a lake until the Bodhisattva Manjushri raised his sword of wisdom and sliced a passage through the mountain walls, draining the water and creating the first settlements.
The valley embraces most of Nepal's ethnic groups, but Newars are the indigenous inhabitants and the creators of the valley's splendid civilization. Kathmandu Valley is composed of seven Monumental Zones with three historical palaces within their essential urban settings (Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur), two Hindu centres (Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan ), and two Buddhist centres (Swayambunathand Boudhanath ).
The city of Kathmandu is a melting pot for the nation's population, not only today but also in times past, which probably explains the rich cultural heritage of the city. Kathmandu with its unique architectural heritage, palaces, temples and courtyards has inspired many writers, artists, and poets, both foreign and Nepalese. It boasts a unique symbiosis of Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism in its culture, which is still as alive today as it was hundreds of years ago. The religious influence can be openly seen in the city. Most of the principal monuments are in Durbar Square , the social, religious and urban focal point of the city, built between the 12th and the 18th centuries by the ancient Malla kings of Nepal. Some of the most interesting are the Taleju Temple, Kal Bhairab, Nautalle Durbar, Coronation Nasal Chowk, and the Gaddi Baithak, the statue of King Pratap Malla, the Big Bell, Big Drum and the Jaganath Temple.
Another intriguing piece here is the 17th-century stone inscription that is set into the wall of the palace, with writings in 15 languages. It is believed that if anybody deciphers this entire inscription, milk would flow from the spout, which lies just below the unscripted stone wall. Some people say that the inscription contains coded directions to a treasure that King Pratap Malla has buried beneath Mohan Chowk of Durbar Square.
Lalitpur or Patan, just across the holy Bagmati River about 14 km east of Kathmandu city, is a fabulous city of great historic and cultural interest. Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) is situated at an altitude of 1,401 m. Shaped liked a conch-shell, Bhaktapur means the 'city of devotees'.
Pashupatinath, 5 km north-east of Kathmandu Valley, is one of the most important Hindu temples. It is Nepal's most sacred Hindu shrines and one of the subcontinent's greatest Shiva sites, a sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions raised over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river.
The Kathmandu Valley has been the politically and culturally dominating part of Nepal. Its legendary and documented histories are so interrelated that these are difficult to separate. A political establishment of the area is dated to the beginning of the Christian era, the Kirati period. This was followed by the Kichchhavi Dynasty from the 3rd to 9th centuries. Patan is believed to have expanded into a consolidated town by the end of the 7th century. The town of Kathmandu was established by a later Lichchhavi king. After the 9th century, there is a dark period until 14th century and the arrival of the Mallas, which is an important period for the flourishing of Nepalese art and architecture. These developed into a growing spiritual orientation towards Tantrism, making it difficult to separate purely Buddhist from purely Hindu art. From the middle of the 13th century, the city of Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur) prospered and became a major training centre. The valley was divided into three rival kingdoms, competing between themselves and bringing the artistic expressions to the highest point by the mid 18th century. In 1769 the valley was conquered and united by a leader coming from the outside, Prithvi Narayan Shah. He made Kathmandu his royal city, and the Hanuman Dhoka Palace his residence. In 1833 and 1934, two catastrophic earthquakes brought destruction, and some of the monuments had to be rebuilt using much of the original elements and decoration.