For many first time visitors, a walk around Durbar Square in Kathmandu feels like stepping back in time. The plaza is a legacy of architectural wonders enveloped by pagodas, 14th century palaces, discreet courtyards, and statues dedicated to Hindu deities. Here you can sit on temple steps and watch life tick by as it has done for centuries. Traders haul overladen carts with fruit and vegetables, saffron-robed monks perform prayers, Hindu sadhus on pilgrimage rest on terraced platforms. You won't be surprised to learn that Durbar is the spiritual heart of Kathmandu. If it weren't for the motorbike couriers and honking rickshaws jostling past the tourists, it could still be the early 18th century.
In contrast, the modern Nepali capital is a thriving, pulsating metropolis with high-rise apartment blocks, hotels, malls, bars, restaurants, and Seattle-style coffee shops catering to hikers and adventurers drawn to the mighty Himalayas. The snow-crested ridges of the mountain chain are an omnipresent, constantly beckoning you from beyond the city skyline as a reminder that, if you want it, there's an abundance of fresh air out there. You just need to go and chase it.