Exotic Durbar Squares. Nepal
Fringed by fabulous landscapes of the Himalayan mountain ranges, Nepal has some equally exciting medieval city squares. Located in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, these centuries old Durbar Squares comprise of royal palaces and courtyards, stupas and monasteries, and historical value , decorated in the most intricate woodwork and temple art imaginable.
Although most of these places suffered considerable damage after the 2015 earthquake, there is a sense of relief and gratitude that all was not lost.
I drive over to Patan City in Lalitpur to see its ancient royal palace. It is dusty and hot but thankfully not too crowded. There is a big ‘do’ happening this evening and the outside courtyard is being ‘set up’ with sounds and lights. Some people have already taken their seats along the parapet walls, in the hopes of getting a better view, I guess.
The city is surrounded by four stupas at the four corners, which are said to have been built by Emperor Ashoka. This is one of the most elegant architectural treasures of which Patan is very proud.
I step in to the square. Built during the Malla period (14th to 18th centuries), this square is considered to be the oldest of the three and probably the oldest Buddhist city in the world.
There are three main courtyards in the palace: Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Keshav Narayan Chowk.
Mul Chowk being the oldest is at the centre of the Patan square and holds the masterwork of stone architecture, the royal bath called Tusha Hity. Two stone serpents guard it on both sides while a small flight of stone steps leads down a few feet into the pool. At the top, and to the front, are two tall pillars that face a massive rectangular shaped stone platform on which the king is said to have meditated daily. While most of the surrounding structures are made of wood, the bath and its immediate vicinity are all in stone. It’s a stunning piece of classical beauty!
The Square is well known for its artistic heritage and stunning displays of Newari architecture.
This Patan museum, inside the durbar square, specializes in bronze statues and religious objects. It is considered to be one of the best museums in Asia and has a fabulous collection of bronze and wooden artifacts and treasures.
The Hiraṇyavarṇa Mahāvihāra, or Kwa Bahal (Golden Temple) is a three- story golden pagoda of Lord Buddha which was built in the 12th century by King Bhaskar Verma. Inside the upper story of the pagoda are the golden images of Lord Buddha and a large prayer wheel. Apparently this place was famous for feeding rats.
The Golden Window was specially built for King Siddhi Narasingh Malla , one of Patan’s greatest kings. His devotion to Lord Krishna as well as the Buddhist god of compassion Karunamaya Lokeshwar is a famous episode in Nepalese history of religion.
The Mahabouddha Temple is dedicated to the Lord Buddha and is built in the Hindu Shikara style with with five golden pinnacles. It is referred to as the “Temple of a Thousand Buddhas” because a Buddha image is engraved on every brick. The temple is modeled on the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, India.
The Krishna Temple was built in the 17th century and is the only temple in Nepal to have 21 shrines. Made completely of stone, this temple of Lord Krishna holds a commanding position in the palace complex of Patan and has engravings from some of the most important scenes from the ancient Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
There is a giant bell here that dates back to 1737 and is still rung once a year.
After spending almost half a day here, it is time to move on.
My next stop is Bhaktapur, the third of Nepal’s medieval Newari cities.
This city was also badly damaged by the 2015 earthquake and many of its ancient structures are still supported by beams as reconstruction is being slowly carried out. Also a UNESCO Heritage Site, Bhaktapur is like a living museum with Newari architecture in every doorway, façade, building and beam.
One of the most striking examples of architecture in Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square is the Nyatapola Temple. With five storeys towering 30m above the square, this is the tallest temple in all of Nepal and one of the tallest buildings in the Kathmandu Valley. Built in 1702 during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla, the construction was so sturdy that the 1934 and 2015 earthquakes caused only minor damage.
The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur is an incredibly detailed entryway that opens to the courtyard of the royal palace.
Built in the 15th century, the Palace of the 55 Windows is the main architectural structure dominating the entire Durbar Square. Seated on top of a huge column in a position of prayer to God is King Bhupatindra Malla who built this during his rule from 1696 to 1722 AD. However, it was completed in 1754 AD during the reign of his son Ranjit Malla.
I have lunch at one of the many restaurants in this square before topping it off with the famous local yoghurt, Juju Dhau, also known as King Curd. This delicious yoghurt is served in small clay pots at shops around the city. Made from buffalo milk, it has a thick and creamy taste. Much like the buffalo curd I find back home!
As is to be expected, the narrow street leading into the square is also a bustling shopping enticement and I manage to pick up plenty of souvenirs before heading back to the hotel.
BTW, I didn’t have time to visit the Kathmandu Durbar Square but hopefully, I will when I visit Nepal the next time!