Presided over by snowy mountains, the Kathmandu Valley sits surrounded by verdant agricultural hills scattered with traditional villages and brick houses. Rich in ancient holy temples and shrines for both Buddhists and Hindus, the area reflects the great wealth of culture and tradition in Nepal.
Most of Nepal's ethnic groups are represented in the Valley, particularly in Kathmandu itself. But it is the Newars who are the original inhabitants, responsible for much of the splendid art and architecture in the cities.
The Kathmandu Valley is the cultural, political, and commercial centre of Nepal and encompasses three cities: Kathmandu, the capital; Patan, which has been enveloped by the growing Kathmandu outskirts; and the medieval city of Bhaktapur.
For the unprepared visitor, the capital city of Kathmandu can trigger a sensory overload. It's a heaving city of intriguing but unpleasant smells, incessant noise and pollution, and sights that etch themselves on the memory.
Cows wander the streets of the old city, while narrow alleyways overflow with spices, vegetables, and handicraft shops. Throngs of people thread their way along bustling cobblestone streets lined with structures from an ancient architectural heritage, leading onto open squares surrounded by temples.
The largest city in Nepal and the nation's historical centre, Kathmandu throws together a blend of the country's varied population and boasts a distinctive, age-old religious influence visible in the daily life of its inhabitants.
Many people choose to stay outside Kathmandu in one of the Valley towns or mountain resorts, restricting their visits to day trips. Otherwise, they base themselves in the tourist-orientated Thamel district of the city, offering modern bakeries, smart hotels, and upmarket restaurants.