Boudhanath is only three and half miles from Kathmandu, and is a busy suburb of the capital. The Boudhanath temple, or Boudhanath Stupa, is the main reason visitors head toward the town. It is the main focus of tourism in the area because of it is the largest stupa found in Nepal and the holiest of all Buddhist temples outside of Tibet. The stupa in Boudhanath is the focal point of Tibetan culture inside of Kathmandu and all major holy Buddhist events and festivals are celebrated there. If you're lucky enough to be in Boudhanath during the Tibetan New Year, or Losar festival, you'll be treated to one of the most distinctive Boudhanath sights and the largest celebration in the country.
Boudhanath was a largely unknown, and infrequently visited town until the mid-1980s. Up until the 1980s, there was little infrastructure or tourist development here. The history of Boudhanath dates back to the fourteenth century, proceeding the infiltration of the Mughal people. No historian truly knows the reasons for its establishment but there are several theories. One is that the area was settled by Tibetan Buddhists after the invasion by the Chinese in 1959 with the Bodnath Stupa being the leading attraction as a place of holy pilgrimage. The Boudhanath temple eventually put the town on the map and the number of visitors have steadily increased.
One of the notable Boudhanath sights is the simple yet strong presence of both mountain Sherpas and Tibetans. The clearest evidence of these cultural groups is in the large number of eateries selling thukpa and momos—two Tibetan favorites—along with a wide variety of other Tibetan food that has come to be an attraction in itself. For those who haven't traveled through a country with strong Buddhist ties, seeing the endless stream of monks and nuns is an experience to remember. Watching an early morning procession is one of the top things to do. Though evidence of these respected figures might sway one to believe Boudhanath is a tranquil place ideal for finding quiet, don't be fooled. Boudhanath is noisy and congested and the only way to find true quiet is to pop in some ear plugs. Most suburbs of Kathmandu still experience the congestion the capital does, although to a much lesser degree due to size differences. Boudhanath is mostly choked by traffic and crowded with people.
The Boudhanath temple appears as a huge mandala, an illustration of the Buddhist macrocosm. The five Buddhas adorning the mandala are found on all Buddhist mandalas the world over. They are the four Dhyani Buddhas which mark the pivotal points, with Vairocana (the fifth Buddha) eulogized in the middle. These five distinct Buddhas represent water, earth, air, fire, and ether which are all evident in the architecture of the stupa. There are endless symbolic carvings and adornments to discover when visiting the Boudhanath temple.
Other top Boudhanath sights include the colorful Shechen Monastery situated in the back alley near the main stupa. Monastery tours are another popular way to explore this important Nepali city. Tours explain the history of the stupa and surrounding temples with guides present to answer any questions. There are a handful of good hotels to choose from for anyone wanting to stay overnight in Boudhanath. There are also several good dining options, from street vendors to small restaurants. Anyone interested in Buddhist temples should make a point to visit the Boudhanath Stupa, even if just during a day trip from Kathmandu.