Nepal is a landlocked country located between India to the east, south, and west and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north. It is located in the Himalayas and contains eight of the world’s ten highest peaks. Nepal is also known for its natural beauty, culture, dense pilgrimage sites, and its extraordinary history which make Nepal a unique country. These are the reasons why Nepal is considered a top tourist destination. And no tour of Nepal is complete without paying a visit to a museum of the city that reflects the culture and history of ancient Nepal in a most beautiful way. There are many popular museums in Nepal that unfold lots of unheard truths of a bygone era.
Museums in Kathmandu
The National Museum of Nepal
One of the oldest and the most popular museum in Nepal was established in 1928 as an arsenal museum. The National Museum is located on the way to Swayambhunath hill. The museum showcases a historic structure designed by General Bhimsen Thapa in the early 19th century. The museum was initially named “Chhauni Silkhana”, literally meaning ‘the stone house of arms and ammunitions, and still popular by the name “Chhauni Museum”. The museum has marvelous historical collections and is divided into the main three and each housed in separate buildings. These collections let the visitors revisit the history of Nepal. The museum was opened to the public by the late Prime Minister Juddha Sumsher in 1938.
The Taragaon Museum
The Taragaon Museum is located inside the premises of Hyatt Regency, Kathmandu. The building of museum was built in the 1970s by Carl Pruscha and was reopened in March 2014. The Taragaon Museum seeks to document the 50 years of research and cultural heritage conservation efforts of foreign artists, photographers, architects, and anthropologists in the Kathmandu Valley during the second half of the 20th century. The Museum showcases the restoration and rehabilitation efforts to preserve the artistic and architectural heritage of Kathmandu.
The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum of Nepal is located on the lap of Swayambhu stupa, a world heritage site in the west hillock of Kathmandu valley that was established in 1975. Since then, the museum has collected 50,000 specimens of Nepal’s flora and fauna. The first plant hunter or collector in Nepal was Sir Buchanan Hamilton (1802-3), a British resident in India, who collected many plants in Nepal from Swayambhu, Narayanhiti, and Gosaikunda. Though many of these plants have already disappeared from this hillock, this needs attention so as to conserve the natural environment and its indigenous plants. The Natural History Museum takes immediate measures for the conservation of this area.
The Narayanhiti Palace Museum
The Narayanhiti Palace Museum is a public museum in Kathmandu, located east of the Kaiser Mahal and next to Thamel. The museum was established in 2008 in the complex of the former Narayanhiti Palace (or Narayanhiti Durbar) following the revolution that uprooted 250 years old Monarchy in Nepal. Before 2006, it was a residence and principal workplace of the Monarchs of the Kingdom Nepal and hosted occasions of the state. The last king, Gyanendra gave up his royal palace on 11 June 2008 which now houses the modern-day Narayanhiti Palace Museum where the royal crown jewels were put on display in October 2018.
The Aviation Museum
Aircraft Museum Kathmandu is an aviation museum located in Sinamangal, Kathmandu valley, which was established or was officially opened on 28 November 2017. The museum is inside an Airbus A330-300 of the Turkish Airlines that only flew for about eight months before suffering a runway excursion at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu in March 2015.
It was established under a joint initiative by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and pilot Bed Upreti and his trust. The museum’s exhibits include the aircraft’s original cockpit setting, model and miniature aircraft, and items documenting the history of Nepalese aviation.
The Tribhuwan Museum
Tribhuwan museum was constructed by the Ranas in the middle to late part of the 19th century. It contains personal artifacts that belonged to King Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah. King Tribhuwan is known as the “Father of the Nation”, as he threw over the 204-year-old Rana regime and reinstated the Shah Monarchs.
The Mahendra Museum
Together with the Tribhuvan Museum and the Birendra Museum, the Mahendra Museum is the three kings’ Museum located inside the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Here in this place, visitors will spectacle stunning architecture of the Shah era and learn about the lives of three Nepalese kings too.
The King Mahendra Museum features replicas of his office and cabinet rooms, where he made important political decisions and ruled the country. The visitors will also witness his wide collection of coins and stamps among his personal possessions and belongings that are on display. His poems and writings, handwritten messages, and awards he acquired during his reign. Other items include unique decorations and a variety of presents he received.
The Birendra Museum
The Birendra Museum is located in Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathmandu, and alongside the museums of his father Mahendra and grandfather Tribhuwan. The museum contains personal artifacts that belonged to King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, one of the most loved Kings of Nepal, who with all his family members lost life on June 1, 2001’s Royal Massacre.
The Museum of Nepali Arts (MoNA)
Nepal’s first private art museum was founded by Rajan Sakya and opened in February 2020, located in Kathmandu. It houses 500 pieces of contemporary and traditional art by living Nepali artists, around 85% of which are from Sakya’s private collection.
MoNA occupies a unique position in the art world because of its focus on Nepali artistic practices and traditions. Nepali art is a reflection of the country’s culture and soul, with an art history spanning over two decades. The museum houses a collection of Nepali arts that covers both its religious traditions and the recent secular manifestations. Through regular exhibitions, it explores the historic and cultural influences on Nepali art practices to encourage a better understanding, appreciation, and promotion of Nepali art and artists.
The Udaaya Museum
Udaaya Museum an ethnic museum of history and culture was established in the year 2014 in the Udaaya Chhen, which is centrally located in Asan Tole, just a short stroll from Basantapur Durbar Square to Thamel. Asan Tole is the heart of an old business center which is a great shopping center for the inhabitants as well as for the tourists. As this is the old town of Newar’s, there are still houses built in Newari style from the Malla period.
Museum in Patan
The Patan museum
The Patan Museum is located at the Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur and was established in 1997 by Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah. The Patan Museum displays the traditional sacred arts of Nepal in an iconic architectural setting. Its home is an old residential court of Patan Durbar, one of the royal palaces of former Malla Kings of Kathmandu Valley. The museum courtyard is known as Keshav Narayan Chowk.
Museums in Bhaktapur
The Changu Museum
The Changu museum which is known for its collection of ancient Newari tools from the medieval period was established in 2000 AD. It is the first private museum in Nepal. The museum houses an excellent collection of ancient, historical, artistic, religious, archaeological, cultural, and other rare objects. After a leisurely tour of the Changu Museum, any visitor will surely be left in wonder at Nepal’s remarkable history, which has been so well-preserved by this Museum.
The Dattatraya Museum
This building was built in 1763 and now is the museum of the square area. The museum has some great examples of Bhaktapur’s wood carvings on display over the three floors.
Museums in Pokhara
The International Mountain Museum
Established on 5 February 2004 the International Mountain museum contains three main exhibition halls: Hall of Great Himalayas, Hall of Fame, and Hall of World Mountains. There are exhibits on famous peaks, descriptions of famous mountaineers, the culture and lifestyle of mountain people, flora subset, and fauna including geology, in an attempt to represent the traditional culture and values of the Nepalese people.
There is also an exhibition about the mythical mountain animal Yeti, the outdoor “living museum” dedicated to Nepal’s indigenous tribes, and a 31-foot replica of Mt. Manaslu.
The Annapurna Museum
The Annapurna Museum was established in 1965 by an American Peace Corps Volunteer, Late Dorothy within the Prithivi Narayan Campus premises for the campus’s use and the people of Pokhara and its surrounding area. This museum is also known as the Butterfly Museum. It consists of 660 common, rare, and endemic species of butterflies. The collection is preserved in a way to illustrate their mimicry and camouflage. Several charts comparing these species with others found in parts of the Palearctic region are also showcased.
There are displays in the ACAP (Annapurna Conservations Area Project) room explaining the tectonic block theory of moving continents and rising mountains. The formation of Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic rocks is explained with examples of each. A total of about 70 plants and 150 birds of the region are pictured on plywood strips and charts on the walls.
The Gurkha Memorial Museum
The living Gurkha Victoria Cross winners was held in Nepal in 1994 and when it ended, it was decided to create the Gurkha Memorial Trust and was registered on 21 January 1994 with the primary aim of maintaining records of Gurkha bravery. In order to achieve this, the Gurkha Memorial Museum funded by the Gurkha Memorial Trust was set up in a rented room in Lainchaur or Kathmandu. In Aug 2001, the museum was moved to Pokhara in a rented house at Hotel Nature Land, Pardi.
The Gurkha Museum has preserved and demonstrates the documents regarding the service of Gurkha soldiers to the British Crown, since 1815.
Upon entering the museum one can hear the sound of Nepali music and the first section demonstrates the background of the Gurkha soldiers who live mostly in the hills and lead a harsh life that makes them one of the best soldiers in the world. One can hear the sound of horses galloping, troops marching, artillery pounding with single-shot rounds in the background, as one tour by 1815 history displays, 1857 Indian Mutiny, Campaigns in northwest Frontier of India followed by the First World War.
There are displays of uniforms, medals, khukuri (Gurkha knife), photographs and military items. As you come into a larger opening, you hear the tanks rumbling in the Second World War section, where one can see the citations of 10 Gurkhas who won the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for bravery. Then comes the Malayan Emergency, Anti-Illegal Operations in Hong Kong. You also see the emotional withdrawal from Hong Kong where Gurkhas were based for over 47 years.
The last section consists of a display of the Nepalese Army who helped the British Army at Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. Then the Nepalese Army manned the military camps in India during WW2 while the Gurkha soldiers went overseas to the frontlines.
Museums in Gorkha
The Gurkha Palace
The Gorkha Palace, located in the Gorkha district of Nepal, is a historic landmark built in the 16th century by Ram Shah. Standing tall on a hillock in the middle of Gorkha bazaar, this historical 18th-century palace was known as the Gorkha palace (Durbar) even much before the Shah Dynasty kings occupied it during their rule of Gorkha.
It is also famous as Tallo Durbar, the lower palace amongst the local community. The palace can either be reached by climbing 1,700 stone steps from the main road which approximately takes about 40 minutes to reach the base to the palace top or directly by road. Once on top, visitors can have an inclusive view of mountain peaks.
The museum consists of Historical artifacts such as the weapons used during Nepal’s unification process, utensils used during that period, mannequins with clothes worn by various indigenous people, oil paintings and musical instruments are some of the collection’s visitors can see. There are also portraits of kings of the Shah Dynasty from Drabya Shah, Prithivi Narayan to the last king of Nepal Gyanendra Shah.
Museum in Dhankuta
Dhankuta a provincial museum which was established in 2039 BS as a regional museum by the Nepal Government’s Department of Archeology, was open to common people since 2052 BS. It has been renamed a provincial museum after Nepal adopted federalism. Located within just a 5-minute drive from Dhankuta bus park, the museum is adjacent to the Dhankuta Municipality Office located at Mathlo Kopche of Dhankuta-5. Dhankuta’s museum showcases all attires, ornaments, instruments and other ethnic heritages of indigenous ethnic communities of Province 1 which include Sherpa, Rai, Limbu, Lepchha, Tharu, Bantar, Rajbanshi etc. The museum has two different galleries and a collection of 241 old coins from the East India Company dating from 1835 to 1891.
Museums in Lumbini
The Lumbini Museum
The museum is located at the entrance to the Sacred Garden Area of Lumbini, Nepal’s most iconic archaeological, cultural, and spiritual site. The exhibition about the life of Gautama Buddha is spread throughout several rooms, including artifacts, statues, photos, and other significant Buddha iconography. One section of the museum displays traditional dress and ceremonial wear which have been influenced by Lumbini culture.
Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Kenzo Tange when planning the entire site of Lumbini placed the museum at the entrance because he wanted the pilgrim’s personal journey in Lumbini to be an expression of the Buddha’s own journey for Lumbini is Nepal’s most iconic archaeological, cultural, and spiritual site.
Museums in Palpa
The Palpa Durbar Museum
The Palpa Durbar Museum which is also famously known as the Tansen Durbar or the Palpa Durbar & Museum was established in 1927 by Pratap Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana and is located on the highway between Butwal and Pokhara, on the crest of the Mahabharat range or Lesser Himalaya overlooking the valley of the Kaligandaki River to the north.
The Durbar is a grand palace in the town of Tansen the headquarter of Palpa district. It was the seat of the Rana governors which was later rebuilt and opened for the public in 2008.
Museum in Kapilvastu
The Kapilvastu Museum
The Kapilvastu Museum was established in 1962 located on the right bank of the Banaganga river and the western site of the Tilaurākoṭ mound. Kapilavastu is the ancient city of the Shakyas, Sakyamuni Buddha son of Shuddhodhan.
There are more than 136 archaeological sites in the territory of ancient Kapilavastu. Tilaurākoṭ, Niglihawa, Gotihawa, Arorakot, Sisahaniyakot, Chhetradehi etc. are enriched with ancient art remains and monuments. Archaeological findings of Tilaurākoṭ and of other sites are kept in the Kapilavastu museum.
There are terracotta human figurines, animal figurines, birds, seal and sealing, beads, bangles, dabber, flesh rubber, coins, musical instruments, and chalcolithic objects of Mustang’s Chhokhopani cave. Copper rings, weapons, painted gray ware pieces, conch and bone balls, teeth of hair, shoulder bone, finger bone, and leg bone are also displayed here.