The modern Nepal emerged only in the 18th century, but divided as small kingdoms its history goes back thousands of years. It has accepted disparate settler groups and over the years developed into a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious country with cities carrying ages of history and culture. Some of these age old cities are:
Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan
Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan were the three capitals of the three ancient cities that make up the Kathmandu Valley. The whole valley was then called “Nepa Desh” (Nepa country). After annexation by the Gorkha Kingdom, the name “Nepal” was extended to all the land they conquered and the valley was named Kathmandu after the Kasthamandap Temple. These cities have important historical, cultural and religious monuments in abundance. Most of them showcase beautiful Newari craftsmanship and culture. Three Durbar Squares (Palace areas), World Heritage Sites, at the three cities were the residence of former kings, in the time they were separate kingdoms. Many Hindu and Buddhist shrines dot the cities among which Pashupatinath, Baudhhanath and Swayambhunath, also World Heritage Sites, are sacred sites of Pilgrimage. The only international airport is here in Kathmandu and thus you will inevitably stay here for a day. This is also the reason why most trekking and tours in Nepal itinerary begin with a trip around these cities.
Sankhu is an ancient Newari town at the northwestern corner of Kathmandu Valley. Its Newari name is Sakwa and is also known as Sankharapur for the Shankha (Shell) shape of the town. It is said to be the first town built in the valley. The identities of Sankhu are two Bajrayogini Temples, four Dhoka (gates), Water of Kalpa- a water basin that never dries and eternal Fire of Kalpa. A nine days Jatra (Festival) takes place every year in which the goddesses of the temples, their main deity, are taken around within the four gates. The four gates have their own significance. One is for the goddesses, one is to bring in daughter in law, third is to send away daughter in marriage and last is to take out the dead ones of the village. Historically, Sankhu was only within the gates but the political division now has extended its boundaries.
Situated between the three capitals of ancient times- Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan, Madhyapur Thimi was originally called just ‘Thee’ which means gem in Newari. Some say Thimi is a corruption of Chhemi (capable people). The town lies on an elevated land surrounded by fields. The people here are expert potters and mask makers. It is known for the spectacular festival Bisket Jatra that is celebrated for four days starting from the new year’s eve of Bikram Sambat and different masked dances. The 32 chariot festival, tongue piercing festival and Chariot Festival of Lokeshwor on Sithi Nakha are celebrated with vigor.
What used to be an outpost to Patan, Kirtipur developed into a separate kingdom and a glorious one at that; Kirtipur means “Glorious City”. Its history dates from 1099 CE. It is an old Newar city with a few monuments of cultural and religious importance. Bag Bhairab and Uma Maheshwor are age old temples. Bag Bhairab, being an Ajudyo (ancestral god), is the most important deity. On every important stages of life like birth, coming of age ceremony, marrieage etc., people visit this temple for ritualistic worshipping. Besides the old city itself, other things to see here are Chilancho Stupa and Shri Kirti Bihar.
Janakpur was the capital city of an ancient kingdom of Mithila which now lies divided between Nepal and India. Janakpur is completely in Nepal though and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. The goddess Sita from the Hindu epic Ramayana was born and married to Lord Ram here. Janaki Mandir, the main attraction of Janakpur, is dedicated to goddess Sita. Maithali people, the natives of Mithila have their own language, script and culture. They are most popular for the Mithhila art. Different historical books like Bishnupuran, Sat Path Brahman, Bhagwat and Ramayan talks of Janakpur as a place for religious penance and meditation.
The inhabitants of Ghorkha are the Gorkhalis known all over the world for their bravery. It is an ancient kingdom also known as Chaubisi Rajya (24 kingdoms). Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified Nepal was the King of Gorkha. However, the Shah dynasty began their rule from 16th century only. They took advantage of the confusion of an annual race held at a place called Liglig where the local Ghale people chose the fastest runner as the king for the year, the same sneaky method used by their descendant Prithvi Narayan Shah to conquer Kirtipur and the Kathmandu Valley. The Gorkha Durbar (Gorkha Palace), Gorakhnath Temple, Manakamana, Ratna Temple are the attractions of Gorkha.
Other notable ancient cities of Nepal are Panauti, Dharan, Bandipur, Jomsom etc. Anywhere you visit, there are notable monuments and old temples or stupas. It seems, ancient cities are one more thing Nepal is rich in.