The locals might call it Dustmandu because of all the post-earthquake roadworks and reconstruction since 2015 (scheduled to be completed next year), but Nepal's capital is still an intriguing place.
Nestled in the Kathmandu Valley at an altitude of 1400 metres, it's Nepal's gateway to the Himalayas, the Everest region and the Annapurnas which are just a 30-minute flight away. But don't rush off too soon. There's much to see in this post-hippie city (population 1.5 million) where you're just as likely to cross paths with a vegan hipster as a Hindu sadhu or mountaineering guru.
Plus, the 2015 earthquakes brought a few improvements, including 24-hour electricity (blackouts used to be a regular occurrence) and more pedestrian paths. Thamel, where most tourists stay, eat and shop, is much more peaceful since it became car-free late last year.
Kathmandu has more World Heritage-listed sites (seven) than any other city in the world, many of which survived the 2015 earthquakes. The two main ones are Pashupatinath and and Boudhanath Stupa. Pashupatinath is a mini-Varanasi where you can see those sadhus (be prepared to pay for photos) and cremations on the banks of a river that flows into the Ganges. In the late afternoon, a river of maroon-robed Buddhist monks and nuns flows clockwise around Boudhanath Stupa, the largest Buddhist stupa in Asia and the hub of Nepal's Tibetan community.
Skip Durbar Square for now: once a lively temple complex frequented by rickshaw drivers and spice sellers, it's still being rebuilt and will be for a while yet.
A short walk from Thamel is Narayanhiti Palace Museum, a 52-room monument to mid-century architecture and, until 2008, when the country became a republic, home to Nepal's royal family. It's also the site of the royal assassinations of 2001 in which Prince Dipendra killed eight members of his family. That building has been demolished. Afterwards, walk around the corner into the Garden of Dreams, a walled enclave of neoclassical calm where you can lounge on the lawns beside a pond or have lunch at the garden's classy Kaiser Café.
Shopping in Thamel is another must and not just for yak wool pashminas and "genuine" The North Face down jackets; bookshops such as Pilgrims and Nepal Book Depot have a huge range of titles for a fraction of the RRP they'd be at home.
You can see Everest before breakfast, without needing bottled oxygen, on a scenic flight run by Buddha Air. The 50-minute Everest Experience ($US195) takes off from Kathmandu's domestic airport around 6am every clear day and cruises alongside the eastern Himalayas and back, the two flight attendants pointing out which peaks are which. Best of all, everyone gets a window seat. See buddhaair.com
Wander Thamel's maze-like lanes and you'll stumble upon plenty of hip cafés, restaurants and bars, but try these for starters: Roadhouse Café (there are four in Kathmandu now, with great wood-fired pizzas), OR2K (an Israeli-run, shoes-off vegetarian place with cushions on the floor and retro rock music) and Café with No Name (a social enterprise that supports street children). Or do a cooking class at Seven Women, established by a young Australian social entrepreneur in 2006, which trains marginalised Nepalese women. See sevenwomen.org
Kathmandu Guest House, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is hard to beat. Situated in the heart of Thamel, it's now a 103-room hotel and has hosted everyone from mountaineer Reinhold Messner to Ricky Martin. Hotel life revolves around its sunny, spacious garden where you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner (with live music) and rooms start at $US45 a night including breakfast. See ktmgh.com/kathmandu-guest-house
If you want to blend in, buy a dust mask; many Kathmandu-ites wear them. And give yourself a day to adjust to the altitude if you fly in from sea level. Shops stay open until about 9pm every night and haggling is expected – except at Boudhanath Stupa where most vendors have fixed prices.
Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel.