Kathmandu, Nepal, is a grey city. Dust swirls from under wheels, fumes billow out of exhaust pipes, clogging the nostrils, prickling the eyes, and smearing the skin. The highest snow-capped peaks in the world are just there, so close behind the grey-green hills of the Kathmandu Valley, but are rarely glimpsed through the pall of smog that hangs over the city. The river no longer deserves that name, a stinking, thick, poisonous flow of sewage and city waste. Power cuts are imposed on Kathmandu year round, but are worst in winter, when for up to sixteen hours a day not only is the outside world grey, but the inside world dark, too.

Like any human settlement with a history of two thousand years, there are pockets of man-made beauty, in the form of ochre and bronze-hued Hindu temples, bright white stupas painted with the curly, watchful eyes of the Buddha and adorned with red, yellow, blue, green and white Tibetan prayer flags. But these patches of beauty need to be sought out, and, unless you are a local (or look and sound like one), come with a hefty entrance fee.

Unexpected brightness comes for free, however, through an eclectic and inspiring range of street art, decorating what would otherwise have been bare walls. An organized project named ‘Kolor Kathmandu’ came to a close in 2013, but not before seventy-five murals from Nepali and international artists had been splashed, dotted, and scribbled around town. Most adorn quiet residential streets or small alleyways, rather than major thoroughfares. Some have had advertisements pasted very near, others have been damaged or have had moss and mildew grow over them, but these blemishes make the murals feel like the organic fabric of the city rather than something pasted on. As well as the many Kolor Kathmandu murals, other smaller-scale and individual mural projects can be found.

There are a few unofficial maps listing the Kathmandu mural locations, but the best, and most exciting, way to find them is just to walk around the less touristed areas. Patan, on the south side of the river, is particularly rich in murals, especially Jamsikhel (Restaurant Road), Kupondole (both the main road leading up to Patan Dhoka and the side streets) and Sanepa. Once the Himalayas have been trekked, and Kathmandu’s temple circuit completed, treasure-hunting Kathmandu’s murals is a simple and delightful pleasure.

Kathmandu Murals

Kathmandu Mural photos courtesty of Elen Turner. View more photos from her travels in Kathmandu on Flickr.