It is easy to be overwhelmed by the seemingly uncountable monuments in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. The house of the Living Goddess ( Kumari Ghar ), the ferocious Kal Bhairab, the red monkey god, and hundreds of erotic carvings are a few examples of the sights at the Square! The buildings here are the greatest achievements of the Malla dynasty, and they resulted from the great rivalry between the three palaces of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The Valley was divided among the children of Yaksya Malla. For visitors today, and for the Nepalese, it was serendipitous that they, and later their off springs, began an artistic warfare trying to outdo each other in splendid constructions. Kings copied everything their neighbours built in an even grander style. A visitor who wanders around the Square will see a round temple in the pagoda architectural style, the temple of Goddess Taleju (legend has it that She played dice with King Jaya Prakash Malla), and an image of Shiva and Parbati sitting together among the many monuments.
The Square teems with colorful life. Vendors sell vegetables, curios, flutes, and other crafts around the Kastamandap rest house. This rest house is said to have been built with the wood of a single tree and is the source from which the Kathmandu Valley got its name. Nearby are great drums, which were beaten to announce royal decrees. All woodcarvings, statues, and architecture in this area are exceptionally fine, and Kathmandu Durbar Square is among the most important sights for travellers to see. The complex also houses the Tribhuvan Museum that carries the mementos of different Shah Kings.
Pashupatinath is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage destination in Nepal. There are linga images of Shiva along with statues, shrines, and temples dedicated to other deities in the complex. A temple dedicated to Shiva existed at this site in AD 879. However, King Bhupatindra Malla built the present temple in 1697. A gold-plated roof, silver doors, and woodcarvings of the finest quality decorate the pagoda construction. Guheswari Temple, restored in AD 1653, represents the female "force". It is dedicated to Satidevi, Shiva's first wife, who gave up her life in the flames of her father's fire ritual.
A circuit of the Pashupati area takes visitors past a sixth-century statue of the Buddha, an eighth-century statue of Brahma the creator and numerous other temples. Some other places to visit are Rajrajeswari Temple, built in 1407, Kailas with lingas more than 1,400 years old, Gorakhnath temple, and the courtyard of Biswarup. There are rows of Shiva shrines and Hindu pilgrims from all over South Asia offer worship to Shiva, the Lord of Destruction.
The Bagmati River flows close by and the Arya Ghat cremation grounds are here. We strongly advise photographers not to take photos of cremations and of bereaved families. Sadhus, sages who follow the lifestyle of Shiva, may be seen covered in ashes and loincloths. They ask for money in case you want to take their photos. Those of Hindu faith only may enter the main Pashupatinath courtyard.
The history of the Valley, according to the legends, begins with Swayambhu, or the "the self-existent". In times uncharted by history, Boddhisatwa Manjusri came across a beautiful lake during his travel. He saw a lotus that emitted brilliant light at the lake's center, so he cut a gorge in a southern hill and drained the waters to worship the lotus. Men settled on the bed of the lake and called it the Kathmandu Valley. From then on, the hilltop of the self-existent Lord has been a holy place.
Swayambhu's light was covered in time because few could bear its intensity. By the thirteenth century, after many layers were added to the original structure that enveloped the Lord's power, a dome-like shape had been acquired. The stupas central mast was damaged and replaced at that time. Peripheral sources of power were discovered on the hilltop as well and stupas, temples, and rest houses were built to honour them. Images of important deities, both Buddhist and Hindu, were also installed. Today, age-old statues and shrines dot the stupa complex.
Behind the hilltop is a temple dedicated to Manjusri or Saraswati - the goddess of learning.
Swayambhu is, perhaps, the best place to observe the religious harmony in Nepal. The stupa is among the most ancient in this part of the world, and its worshippers are diverse from Newar nuns, Tibetan monks, and Brahmin priests to lay Buddhists and Hindus. The largest image of the Sakyamuni Buddha in Nepal is in a monastery next to the stupa. Other monasteries here have huge prayer wheels; fine Buddhist paintings, and special butter lamps, which may be lit after presenting monetary offerings.
Swayambhu is a major landmark of the Valley and looks like a beacon below the Nagarjun hill. It provides an excellent view of the Kathmandu Valley. Devotees have climbed the steps on the eastern side for centuries. Statues of the Buddha, mini stupas, monasteries and monkeys make the climb to Swayambhu - which is fairly steep - worthwhile. But for someone who is pressed for time, the western road allows you to get off your transport almost at the base of the stupa.
Bouddhanath is among the largest stupas in South Asia, and it has become the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. The white mound looms thirty-six meters overhead. The stupa is located on the ancient trade route to Tibet, and Tibetan merchants rested and offered prayers here for many centuries. When refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many of them decided to live around Bouddhanath. They established many gompas, and the "Little Tibet" of Nepal was born. This "Little Tibet" is still the best place in the Valley to observe Tibetan lifestyle. Monks walk about in maroon robes. Tibetans walk with prayer wheels in their hands, and the rituals of prostration are presented to the Buddha as worshippers circumambulate the stupa on their hands and knees, bowing down to their lord.
Many people believe that Bouddhanath was constructed in the fifth century, but definite proof is lacking. The stupa is said to entomb the remains of a Kasyap sage who is venerable both to Buddhists and Hindus. One legend has it that a woman requested a Valley king for the donation of ground required to build a stupa. She said she needed land covered by one buffalo's skin and the King granted her wish. She cut a buffalo skin into thin strips and circled off a fairly large clearing. The king had no choice but to give her the land.
The Bouddha area is a visual feast. Colorful thangkas, Tibetan jewellery, hand-woven carpets, masks, and khukuri knives are sold in the surrounding stalls. Smaller stupas are located at the base. Gompa monasteries, curio shops, and restaurants surround Bouddhanath. Conveniently situated restaurants with rooftop patios provide good food and excellent views of Bouddhanath.
The temple is situated at Machhendra Bahal near Indrachowk. This two storeyed temple was built by Yaksha Malla in 1500 AD. The chariot festival of white Mahchendranath (the god of mercy) is annually celebrated in Kathmandu Valley. The traditional music is always played in the evening at this temple, which is also open to westerners.
Thamel area has recently emerged as the most popular tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a 15 to 20 minute walk from the center of Kathmandu. Thamel has clean narrow streets full of mushrooming lodges, hotels for budget travellers. Restaurants, bars and other tourists oriented shops can be seen bustling with activities.
Patan Durbar Square
This whole square is a cluster of fine pagoda temples and stone statues; it is at the same time the business hub of the city. At every step one comes across a piece of art or an image of a deity, testifying to the consummate skill of Patan's anonymous artists. The ancient palace of the Malla kings and the stone baths associated with various legends and episodes of history are especially interesting to visitors. The stone temple of Lord Krishna and the Royal Bath (Tushahity) with its intricate stone and bronze carvings are two other masterpieces in the same vicinity.
The Jagat Narayan temple is a tall shikhara-style temple consecrated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is built of red bricks on the bank of the Bagmati at Sankhamul and enshrines many stone images. The fine metal statue of Garuda placed on a stone monolith is quite eye-catching and is accompanied by similarly placed images of Ganesh and Hanuman.
The temple of Lord Krishna holds a commanding position in Patan's Palace complex. Though its style is not wholly native, it is one of the most perfect specimens of Nepalese temple craft. The three-storey stone temple continues to elicit high praise from lovers of art and beauty. It was built by King Siddhi Narasingha Malla in the sixteenth century A. D. Important scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics have been carved in bas-relief. The minute details of this work clearly show the high level that the art of stone carving attained in the sixteenth century.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is a conglomeration of pagoda and shikhara-style temples grouped around a fifty-five window palace of brick and wood. The square is one of the most charming architectural showpieces of the Valley as it highlights the ancient arts of Nepal. The golden effigies of kings perched on the top of stone monoliths, the guardian deities looking out from their sanctuaries, the woodcarvings in every place-struts, lintels, uprights, tympanums, gateways and windows-all seem to form a well-orchestrated symphony. The main items of interest in the Durbar Square are:
The Lion gate
Dating as far back as 1696 A.D., this gate is guarded on either side by two huge statues of lions. Alongside, there are two stone images of Bhairab (the dreadful aspect of Shiva) and Ugrachandi (the consort of Shiva in her fearful manifestation).
The Golden gate
The Golden Gate is said to be the most beautiful and richly moulded specimen of its kind in the entire world. The door is surmounted by a figure of the goddess Kali and Garuda (the mythical man-bird) and attended by two heavenly nymphs. It is also embellished with mythical creatures of marvellous intricacy. In the words of Percy Brown, an eminent English art critic and historian, the Golden Gate is the most lovely piece of art in the whole Kingdom: it is placed like a jewel, flashing innumerable facets in the handsome setting of its surroundings. The gate was erected by King Ranjit Malla and is the entrance of the main courtyard of the Palace of Fifty-five Windows.
The Palace of Fifty-five Windows
This manificent palace was built during the reign of King Yakshya Malla in A.D. 1427 and was subsequently remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla in the seventeenth century. Among the brick walls with their gracious setting and sculptural design, is a balcony with Fifty-five Windows, considered to be a unique masterpiece of woodcarving.
The Art Gallery
The Art Gallery contains ancient paintings belonging to the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of various periods and descriptions. This gallery is open everyday except Tuesday.
The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla
This statue showing King Bhupatindra Malla in the act of worship is set on a column facing the palace. Of the square's many statues, this is considered to be the most magnificent.
The temple of Dattatraya is as old as the Palace of Fifty-five Windows. Consecrated by King Yakshya Malla in 1427 A. D., this temple, according to popular belief, was built out of the trunk of a single tree. It was subsequently repaired and renovated by King Vishwa Malla in 1458 A. D. Just beside the temple is a monastery (Math) with exquisite carvings.
This five-storey pagoda was built by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1702 A. D. It stands on five terraces on each of which squat a pair of figures: two famous wrestlers, two elephants, two lions, two griffins and Baghini and Singhini -the tiger and the lion goddesses. Each pair of figures is considered ten times stronger than the ones immediately below, while the lowest pair, the two strong men Jaya Malla and Phatta Malla, was reputedly ten times stronger than any other men. This is one of the tallest pagoda temples in Kathmandu Valley and is famous for its massive structure and subtle workmanship.
This is another pagoda style temple dedicated to Lord Bhairab, the dreadful aspect of Shiva. It stands a short distance away from the temple of Nyatapola and was originally constructed by King Jagat Jyoti Malla on a modest scale. It was later remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla, a zealous lover of the arts, into what is now a three-storey temple.
Narayan, or Vishnu, is the preserver of creation to Hindus. His temple near Changu village is often described as the most ancient temple in the Kathmandu Valley. A fifth century stone inscription, the oldest to be discovered in Nepal, is located in the temple compound and it tells of the victorious King Mandev. The temple now covers sixteen hundred years of Nepalese art history. The temple, built around the third century, is decorated by some of the best samples of stone, wood, and metal craft in the Valley. In the words of one tourist guide, "When you look upon Changu Narayan, you observe the complete cultural development of the Valley."
On the struts of the two-tiered Changu Narayan Temple, are the ten incarnations in which Narayan destroyed evildoers. A sixth-century stone statue shows the cosmic form of Vishnu, while another statue recalls his dwarf incarnation when he crushed the evil king Bali. Vishnu as Narasingha disemboweling a demon is particularly stunning. The western bronze doors sparkle in the evening sunlight, dragons decorate the bells, and handsome devas stare from the walls. Garuda, half man and half bird, is the steed of Vishnu, and his life-sized statue kneels before the temple. The favourite of many tourists is the statue of Vishnu sitting astride his steed.
Nagarkot, located 32 kilometers east of Kathmandu, is one of the most scenic spots in Bhaktapur district and is renowned for its spectacular sunrise view of the Himalaya when the weather is clear. Visitors often travel to Nagarkot from Kathmandu to spend the night so that they can be there for the breathtaking sunrise. Nagarkot has become famous as one of the best spots to view Mount Everest as well as other snow-topped peaks of the Himalayan range of eastern Nepal. It also offers an excellent view of the Indrawati river valley to the east. With an elevation of 2,195 meters, Nagarkot also offers a panoramic view of the Valley and is described by visitors as a place whose beauty endures year round.
Many visitors prefer to visit Nagarkot in the spring when surrounding valleys break out in a rich kaleidoscope of different coloured flowers. The flowers are beautiful against the serene backdrop of the snow-covered mountains. Ever popular among the tourists are the short treks and picnics, which Nagarkot offers. Treks from Nagarkot are unique and delightful. For anyone who wants to have an adventure without exerting much effort, a hike to Nagarkot's surrounding areas would be a good option. One can traverse short distances on trekking trails and come close to nature's wonders such as the outer of verdant forests, flower-covered meadows and unusual rock formations.