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At a height of around 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) up in the Himalaya Mountains, the capital of Nepal (pop. 2.5 million) remains an exotic magnet for travelers from all over the world looking to quench their wanderlust, whether they visit independently or with Kathmandu tour packages. And for very good reason this is dubbed "the city of temples" - most of them of the 80-percent-majority Hindu religion but also sites very important to Buddhism, especially as this region is held by tradition to be the birthplace of Gautama Buddha himself. And here are the top sites to look for when visiting the Kathmandu Valley:
One of the world's largest Buddhist stupas (top), dating as far back - depending on the source - as the 6th century, it's a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists in Nepal, India, and elsewhere, and said to house the tomb of the Kassapa Buddha, who preceded the better known Gautama Buddha. Located some 11 kilometers from the center of the city, You can often see the devout standing and walking around the platforms surrounding the stupa chanting their devotionals.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the municipality of Siddharthanagar, just under five hours' drive from Kathmandu, Lumbini is widely considered one of the world's most spiritual places, and at the top of the list for Buddhists, since it's said to be the site of Gautama Buddha's birth in the 6th century BCE. In addition to the main temple, Maya Devi, dating back to the 3rd to 6th century BCE, there are a number of more recent temples, monuments, monasteries, and a museum for visitors to experience.
Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu "the preserver," this white-brick, pagoda-style temple of modest size is considered a place for attaining ultimate salvation or liberation (moksha) from worldly affairs, and it's also also sacred to Buddhists as the site where the 8th-century master Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava once meditated, and a place of dakinis, sacred female spirits. It's best done as an overnight from Kathmandu.
Located on the bank of Bagmati River just five kilometers northeast of the city, this more elaborate 5th-century complex of 518 temples and monuments is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva "the destroyer"; and is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its main temple is also constructed in pagoda style, and there are many religious festivals held here throughout the year.
One of Nepal's oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites was built in the 5th century BCE and is nestled at the top of a wooded hill in the Kathmandu Valley west of the city. Swayambhunath has a special place in Buddhist mythology in part because it's central to the tale of the creation of this valley..It's revered by Hindus as well, and has also been dubbed "the monkey temple" because of the monkeys inhabiting its northern section.
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