Air pollution in Kathmandu – a guide to braving the smog

You might have heard about the high pollution levels in Kathmandu, often ranking among the worst in the world for air quality. If you’re planning to visit or move to Kathmandu, you’re likely curious about the truth of these claims and how you can protect yourself when the pollution levels are extremely high.

I’ve been living in Kathmandu for the past four years, and I can’t deny that the air pollution is a serious issue. It’s actually one of the reasons why my family and I chose to move to Greece, to escape the worsening air quality.

However, it’s important to note that Kathmandu is only heavily polluted for a few months each year. And there there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family when the pollution is bad.

I’ll cover all of this in the following article.

How to check the current air pollution in Kathmandu

One of the first things you might want to know is how to check the current air quality index for your area. Fortunately, there are several websites you can use, such as or

These sites have readings from all the stations they have access to. However, I should mention that some stations tend to report higher readings than actual, while there are others that report a bit lower. I know the one at my husband’s work reports higher while the one at Pulchowk is definately reporting lower.

I would recommend you establish your own standards of what is okay air quality to go out in.  For my family and me, we avoid taking our baby outside if any of the local air quality sensors have readings above 150.

Sure, in Western countries, a reading of 150 on the air quality index would set off alarm bells, as these are very unhealthy air conditions. However, in Kathmandu, the range is quite broad, good air quality is typically between 60 and 100. The air quality starts to worsen at 120 and is considered bad at 150. 

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What causes the pollution in Kathmandu?

So you might be wondering why Kathmandu is such a polluted city.

One of the main reasons are vehicle emissions. Sure, many rich people in Kathmandu are switching to electric vehicles, most people are still driving poorly maintained, highly polluting cars. There’s no equivalent to an MOT, so cars aren’t inspected for pollution, and no one seems to mind if a car is polluting or not. 

Industrial activities, particularly brick kilns, are also a big reason why the city is so polluted. The current mayor of Kathmandu has been trying to relocate these kilns outside the Kathmandu Valley, but progress has been slow. If you look at a map of Bhaktapur and Madhya Thimi, you’ll notice that the pollution levels can be extremely high, often exceeding 250 on the air quality index. That’s because there are actually quite a lot of brick kilns and stonework ovens in the area.

Waste burning is another issue. Many people burn garden waste in their yards – even rich people! When you walk by, you can actually often smell the acrid scent of burning plastic. This is because people tend to throw anything they want to dispose of into the fire. Not great for the air quality. Even the gouvernment is doing it. I live next to an army base and they burn stuff almost on a weekly basis.

Geographical factors also play a role as to why Kathmandu is so polluted. The Kathmandu Valley is shaped like a large bowl, making it difficult for pollution to be blown away by the wind. On one side, pollution is blown in from India and the Terai, and on the other side, the large Himalayan mountains stop it from exiting the valley, creating a trap for particulate matter and worsening the air quality.

Finally, you also have seasonal factors that contribute to the pollution. Kathmandu has a pollution season, which I’ll talk about more later. When it has been hot for a long time, forest fires are pretty common and can lead to a massive spike in pollution levels, to the point where planes are being cancelled! 

What is the effect of pollition in Kathmandu

What’s the impact of air pollution in Kathmandu on its residents and the city itself? Over these past 4 years, I’ve noticed that on particularly polluted days, I wake up with a severe headache, feeling as if I’ve smoked 50 packs of cigarettes. And yes, we do have an air purifier in our bedroom.

Clearly, the pollution has a massive impact on the health of people in the Kathmandu valley, significantly affecting public health. Many people suffer from respiratory issues, including respiratory infections, bronchitis, asthma, and lung diseases. You’ll often hear people, particularly older men, clearing their throats in the city before spitting some phleghm on the street. It’s gross but having lived here I know it’s a side-effect of the pollution.

The pollution also reduces visibility. On a clear, sunny day, you can see the Himalayan mountain range (Langtang) from the city. But when there is a lot of pollution, the mountains are hidden by smog.

Is the pollution in Kathmandu really that bad?


Can you feel its effects as a resident?

Without a doubt.

As I sit here writing this during pollution season, I have a massive headache that even paracetamol can’t touch. It’s frustrating, but it’s a reality of living in Kathmandu. There’s not much you can do about it bar from living in less polluted areas like Sanepa and investing in air filters. 

What are the most polluted areas in Kathmandu?

Which places in Kathmandu or the Kathmandu Valley are the most polluted?

Well, the most polluted place is Bhaktapur. It’s a wonderful city that I absolutely love. It’s famous for its amazing culture and temples, yet it is threatened by worsening air quality. However, it’s also heavily polluted because of all the brick kilns located on its outskirts. This means that when the pollution levels in Kathmandu are high, they’re even higher in Bhaktapur.

Next, we have Ratna Park. This area in Kathmandu is extremely crowded and is known for being a massive hub for busses going all over the country. Many of these buses are super polluting. When they leave, you can actually see a cloud of soot coming out of the exhaust. It’s super gross

Finally, we have Kalimati and Balku. These areas have busy markets, which means there’s a lot of vehicles coming and going which leads to a lot of pollution. Kalimati, in particular is quite bad. It is a wholesale vegetable market with many diesel trucks idling nearby, contributing to unhealthy air conditions due to particulate matter. 

Is there a pollution season in Kathmandu and when is it?

In this article, I’ve previously talked about a pollution season in Kathmandu, and yes, it’s a real thing.

So, when is it pollution season?

Typically, it starts towards the end of January and lasts until the start of March. However, in some years, if there are severe forest fires, it can even run until April or the beginning of May, sometimes even until the start of the monsoon.

Do Cloth or Surgical masks help against pollution?

When you visit Nepal, you’ll notice many people wearing cloth and surgical masks to protect against pollution.

But do these masks really work?

Is it necessary to wear a cloth or surgical mask when the air quality in Kathmandu is bad?

The truth is that they actually don’t provide much protection.

These masks aren’t effective against PM 2.5 which is the fine matter found in pollution.

So, which mask should you use?

The best option is an N95 mask. It has a higher certification and can actually protect you from heavily polluted air.

If you’re planning a trip to Nepal during the pollution season, or if you find out that the air in Kathmandu is heavily polluted just before you are set to leave for Kathmandu, I strongly suggest you pack a set of N95 masks. You never know how pollution affects you until you encounter the harsh reality of unhealthy air quality indices. Some people get headaches, others lose their voice. It is a good idea to take measures before you leave. 

What to do when there is pollution in Kathmandu

If you notice that Kathmandu is heavily polluted, the best thing you can do is to put on an N95 mask.

This mask is great against pollution as it can filter out PM2.5, a common pollutant in many cities.

If you’re staying in a hotel and the pollution is bothering you, you might be able to request an air purifier for your room, particularly if you’re in a high-end hotel.

It’s very important to remember not to open your room windows if it’s the pollution season or if the pollution levels are high.

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