Lying on a single piece of a rocky hill on the southwestern side of the Kathmandu valley, Kirtipur stands stoically and does justice to the literal meaning of its name – Kirti (glorious) pur (city). Despite its many architectural beauties and a charmingly ancient atmosphere still present in the city, perhaps a single piece in time, marking a crucial event in the history of Nepal, is what Kirtipurians are the ‘most’ proud of. As per the telling of the people and the very few historical records dating from around that time, the King Prithvi Narayan Shah – the unifier of Nepal, had quite a hard time of conquering Kirtipur – a Newar city and at that time a part of Patan. After 23 attempts, he finally got a hold of the city but not without a loss. In the conquest, he lost his favorite general and his own brother.
The battle for Kirtipur is so famous among the inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley that a famous story, a kind of story that grandmothers and grandfathers tell to their grandchildren in order to eat, has been circulating among the inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley for a long period of time. King Prithvi Narayan Shah, tired after the 22nd attempt of seizing the city, stopped by a household to eat a warm plate of jaulo. Jaulo is a famous dish consisting of yellow lentils and rice mixed together in a single strew. The king’s jaulo was fresh and hot and whenever he tried eating a spoon from the middle, he would burn his tongue. For that reason, he proceeded to eat from the sides of the plate, allowing for the dish to gradually cool off. That’s when it dawned on him – in order to successfully conquer Kirtipur he needed to take control of all its sides first. Then the rest is history.
Even though there is nobody left from the generation of people who defended Kirtipur, the city still remembers its heroes and the hung swords of its warriors on the Bagh Bhairab temple, remind its citizens of their history. The city, in good times, remained a center of Newari culture, history, and succeed to preserve Newari principles against the passing time. The small and narrow alleys of Kirtipur are still charmingly silent and enchant with their ancient atmosphere. For a visitor walking up those steep, red brick paved lanes, it appears as if the time has stopped. Elderly people relax on the doorsteps of the old brick houses built in traditional Newari style. Children are running up and down the narrow streets, trying to fly their kites higher than their houses’ rooftops. The vegetable market is filled with fresh greenery. With this kind of lifestyle, Kirtipur is the perfect location for a visitor, interested in experiencing the ancient ways of life of Nepal, as it the showcases the traditional way of life of the Newars from the Kathmandu valley.
Apart from being an open air museum filled with magic in the air, with every smallest of street having a temple, a shrine, a statue or a stone with some historical value, Kirtipur has a quite a few straightforward tourist attractions. One of them is definitely the presence of the many Hindu and Buddhist temples, and stupas found spread out all over the city. Another is the splendid landscapes and views that it offers of Kathmandu and its surroundings. From the top of the hill, you can see the whole of Kathmandu bathed in yellow and gold coming from the setting sun, surrounded by lush green hills and well-maintained terraced paddy fields. A definite must for adventurous visitors and lovers of food is a visit of the traditional Newari restaurant Newa Lahana. Here you can taste a huge variety of delicious Newari dishes (along with a cup of aila – a strong Newari liqueur or chyang – a type of Newari beer) while looking at the sun setting behind the hills opposite of the restaurant’s terrace.
Despite being easily reachable by bus and taxi due to its relative proximity to Kathmandu (only 6 kilometers away), Kirtipur still lacks the attention it deserves from foreign visitors. If you are anywhere near Kathmandu and want to experience something extraordinary, Kirtipur will be well worth your time!