Pashupatinath temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo from Adobe Stock

Kathmandu Valley is Nepal’s tourism trifecta. Comprised of Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur) and Bhaktapur, the three cities put Nepal on the map for its compelling Hindu-Buddhist architecture, the ubiquity of magnificent temples and colourful festivities galore.

Since late 2016 however, another force has been helping to drive tourism within the country–and perhaps most unexpectedly, a superhero film at that. 

With Nepal chosen as its principal filming location to portray the fictional Himalayan highland of Kamar-Taj, Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” which premiered October 2016 sets itself apart. Viewers are treated to a refreshing setting, worlds apart from the usual concrete jungles of its other film counterparts under Marvels’ reach. 

Though much of Kamar-Taj’s streets were replicated in a production studio, two sites in Kathmandu Valley boast the title of filming locale–Pashupatinath Temple and Patan Durbar Square.

Doctor Strange’s arrival in Kathmandu with Pashupatinath Temple in the background. Photo from When in Manila

Pashupatinath Temple is a Hindu temple complex situated in Kathmandu. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it serves as the seat of the Hindu god Shiva and has temples and monuments beautifully embellished with gold-covered spires.

But locals also associate the temple complex with death. Or rather, with the celebration of it. Here is where the devout is cremated, and whose ashes will run down the Bagmati river. Cremations are a daily occurrence here, as it is believed that those who die here will be reborn as a human and not an animal.

Doctor Strange rooftop training scene with sweeping view of the city. Photo from Art of VFX

In the film, sweeping shots from above also reveal Patan Durbar Square in Patan (Lalitpur) as a filming location. The city lies just across from Kathmandu, merely separated by the Bagmati river.

Patan Durbar Square is one of the oldest Buddhist cities in the world. Red tiles span the entirety of its grounds, and the many temples and monuments crammed within its borders are an awe-inspiring display of indigenous Newari architecture. 

From hidden courtyards to ornate stepwells, there seems to be no end to exploration here.

Doctor Strange rooftop training scene with sweeping view of the city. Photo from Art of VFX

Pashupatinath Temple and Patan Durbar Squares might seem apt for the spiritual setting of Kamar-Taj in “Doctor Strange”, but they might not have been the film’s first choice.

Many locations initially scouted by the production team were destroyed by the devastating earthquake which ravaged Nepal in April 2015. 

In the wake of the calamity just seven months prior, the production team was adamant that Nepal remains the primary filming location to help boost the country’s tourism. 

Pashupatinath Temple usually forbids non-Hindus from the main temple, but an exception was made for the film crew given its potential tourism benefits. Considering the film’s success grossing at $677 million worldwide, it’s certainly proven to be the right choice. 

Text by Ng Shen Lee

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