Once-proud KIRTIPUR (“City of Glory”) occupies a long, low battleship of a ridge 5km southwest of Kathmandu. Commanding a panoramic – not to mention strategic – view of the valley, the well-preserved old town is vehicle-free and great for a morning or afternoon’s wandering. It also conceals, deep within its miniature maze of brick and stone streets, one of the best Newari restaurants in the valley.
In modern times, Kirtipur’s hilltop position has proved more of a handicap than an asset. The commerce all takes place at the foot of the hill, in Naya Bazaar, the “New Market “ (with its Thai-style Theravada Buddhist temple). It’s here, too, that you’ll notice the throngs of resident students from the adjacent Tribhuwan University – Nepal’s chief centre of higher education, and a hotbed of political activism in recent years. The old, upper town is splendidly preserved, thanks to a conservation project that furnished the streets with fine stone paving and restored many of its temples. Despite the clean-up, it preserves an authentically old-world atmosphere: many residents of the old town are Jyapus, from the Newari farming subcaste, and they still work the fields surrounding town. In spring and autumn, the streets are full of sheaves being threshed and grain being stored. In a typically Newari arrangement, the northwestern end of town is predominantly Hindu, the southeastern Buddhist, but everyone shares the same festivals.
Established as a western outpost of Patan in the twelfth century, Kirtipur had gained nominal independence by the time Prithvi Narayan Shah began his final conquest of the Kathmandu Valley in 1767. The Gorkha king considered the town to be the military linchpin of the valley and made its capture his first priority. After two separate attacks and a six-month siege, with no help forthcoming from Patan, Kirtipur surrendered on the understanding it would receive a total amnesty. Instead, in an atrocity intended to demoralize the remaining opposition in the valley, Prithvi Shah ordered his troops to cut off the noses and lips of every man and boy in Kirtipur. Supposedly, only men skilled in the playing of wind instruments were spared. The rest of the valley fell within a year.