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Kathmandu Valley
 

Kathmandu Valley comprises the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, which were once independent states ruled by the Malla kings from the 12th to the 18th centuries. These three cities house seven UNESCO World Heritage shrines, which are together listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture). Besides, the valley is also home to hundreds of other exquisite monuments, sculptures, artistic temples and magnificent art that reminds of the golden era in Nepal’s architectural history. 

According to the legend, the valley was once a primeval lake ringed by green mountains.  In this pristine lake lived giant serpents until one fine day, saint Manjushree, the Bodhisatva, raised a mighty sword and in one fell swoop, cut open the side of a mountain at a place now known as Chobar. The voluminous waters of the lake gushed out, leaving behind a fertile valley capable of supporting large urban settlements over the millennia. The Gopal and Kirati dynasties were the earliest rulers here followed by the Licchavi (300-879 A.D.), under whom trade and crafts flourished.
 
The ornate palaces of the valley, the superbly crafted pagodas and the monumental Stupas are testimony of the artistic genius of the Newar craftsmen, the original inhabitants of the valley, whose skills were championed by the Malla kings and appreciated even by the Mongol rulers of 18th century China.

Like any big city, Kathmandu has seen rapid expansion in the last decade, but despite the hustle and bustle so typical of metropolitan cities, its people remain as refreshingly friendly as ever. Retaining its ancient traditions, Kathmandu is blessed by a Living Goddess and is enriched by endless ceremonial processions and events that take to the streets every now and then with throngs of devotees seeking blessings. These religious festivals are steeped in legend and are quite a spectacle with chariot processions and masked dancers often possessed by the spirits of deities.

i) KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Situated in the heart of old Kathmandu city at Basantapur, Kathmandu Durbar Square never fails to impress first time visitors with its ensemble of palaces, courtyards and temples built during the Malla period. The Durbar Square includes the Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace, the historic seat of the royalty; the magnificent Taleju Temple towering more than 40 meters; Kumari Ghar, the residence of the Living Goddess, Kumari; Ashok Vinayak, also called Kathmandu Ganesh, a temple without a filial; and Kal Bhairav, the God of Wrath. The capital takes its name from the giant pagoda of Kasthamandap, which is said to have been built out of a single tree. Since the time of the Malla kings, the Durbar Square has been the city's social, religious and political focal point.

ii) HANUMAN DHOKA PALACE MUSEUM
There are three museums housed in the sprawling historical Hanuman Dhoka Palace at Kathmandu Durbar Square dedicated to three Shah Kings: Tribhuvan, Mahendra and Birendra. They showcase the lifestyle of the three generations of the Shah Kings and include gifts, decorations, the clothes they wore and their hobbies. One of the highlights of visiting the old palace is the nine-storied durbar with its exquisitely carved giant windows that lean out of the building.

iii) NATIONAL MUSEUM
Located at Chauni, at the foot of the Swayambhu hill, the building that houses the National Museum was once the residence of Nepal's Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa who built the Dharahara. It has a fine collection of bronze images and paubha scroll paintings. It also has a splendid collection of firearms from ancient, medieval and modern Nepal as well as a sword gifted by Napoleon.

iv) AKASH BHAIRAV TEMPLE
Believed to have been built in the 12th century, the temple enshrines Akash Bhairav, a ferocious manifestation of Lord Shiva. The three-storey temple with tiled roofs, a hanging balcony, gilded and latticed windows and an artistic doorway lies in the main market avenue called Indra Chowk.

v) ASAN
Once the center of old Kathmandu, the Asan market square is located about midway on the only diagonal thoroughfare in Kathmandu that links Durbar Square with Durbarmarg (Kingsway). At Asan, there are six roads radiating in all directions. The three-storied pagoda style Annapurna Temple of Annapurna, the Goddess of Grains, presides over the ever-lively bazaar. Asan is still an important shopping center and one of the busiest market places with shops selling anything from imported spices to kitchenware, fresh vegetables, Chinese goods, hardware and clothes.

vi) SWAYAMBHUNATH STUPA (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Resting on a hillock 3 km west of Kathmandu, it is one of the holiest Buddhist monasteries in Nepal. It is said to have evolved spontaneously when the valley was created out of a primordial lake more than 2,000 years ago. This Stupa is the oldest of its kind in Nepal and has numerous other shrines and monasteries on its premises.

vii) PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Situated 5 km east of Kathmandu, the temple of Lord Shiva is considered one of the most sacred Hindu shrines in the world. The two-tiered pagoda with golden roofs and silver doors houses the sacred Linga, or phallic symbol, of Lord Shiva. Chronicles indicate the temple existed before 400 A.D. Near the Pashupatinath Temple on the banks of the Bagmati River lies Guheswari, where, according to mythology, a portion of Sati Devi, Lord Shiva's consort, fell when a grief-stricken Shiva wandered aimlessly across the earth carrying her dead body on his shoulders following her self-immolation.

viii) BOUDDHANATH STUPA (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Situated 8 km to the east of downtown Kathmandu, Bouddhanath is one of the most imposing landmarks in Kathmandu, visible as soon as you land at the Tribhuvan International Airport. It is the largest Stupa in the Kathmandu Valley and is the center of Tibetan Buddhism.

ix) THAMEL
As the tourist district of Kathmandu, Thamel bustles with activity late into the night. It is mere 10-minutes walk from the center of Kathmandu, yet completely different from the rest of the city. Thamel caters entirely to tourists with its scores of hotels, rows of restaurants and bars, bookshops, inviting souvenir shops, cyber cafes and travel agencies. All that a tourist needs can be found here, even friends and traveling companions.

x) DHARAHARA
The soaring landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is 50.5 m high and was built by then Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in 1832. It is open to anyone who can go up after paying the entrance fee. The 360 degree astounding view of the Kathmandu Valley is well worth the long climb up the spiraling staircase.

xi) GARDEN OF DREAMS
At the entrance of Thamel, the Garden of Dreams within the Kaiser Mahal complex has now been renovated and restored to its former glory. Major attractions in this 24-acre garden include neo-classical pavilions, fountains, decorative garden furniture, Chinese Moon Gate and European inspired features such as pergolas, balustrades, urns and birdhouses. Today it is open to the public with a restaurant and bar.

xii) BUDHANILKANTHA
The largest of Vishnu's stone statues, Budhanikantha lies at the foothills of the Shivapuri hills, 8 km north of the Kathmandu city center. The large granite figure of Lord Vishnu, reclining on a bed of serpents known as 'Nagas', seems to float in a pond. This shrine dates back to the 5th century.

xiii) KIRTIPUR
It is situated on a ridge 8 km southwest of Kathmandu. The ancient Newar township - with its brick-paved streets lined with typical red brick houses and tiled roofs, and temple squares - is a natural fortress. The Chilamchu Stupa and the temple of Bagh Bhairav are major attractions here. Tribhuvan University, Nepal's premier seat of education, is located at the foothills of Kirtipur.

xiv) PHARPING
Lying 18 km south of Kathmandu on the valley rim, Pharping is perched on a hilltop with a Buddhist monastery. Pharping's main attraction is an elaborate 17thcentury temple that houses a glided image of Goddess Bajra Jogini. Other fascinating sights here include a cave and a hand-imprint of the Buddhist saint Padmasambhav on the rock face over its entrance.

xv) DAKSHINKALI
Four kilometers further south of Pharping on the valley rim is the temple of Dakshinkali dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. The shrine is especially crowded on Tuesdays and Saturdays when animal sacrifices are offered to the deity. On the way lies Chobhar gorge. The Bodhisatva Manjushree is said to have cut an incision here to drain out the lake which once covered the valley. There is a small but picturesque temple of Adinath on the top of a hill from where one can have a panoramic view of the snow-capped mountains.

xvi) SHESHA NARAYAN
Situated between Chobhar and Dakshinkali, the temple of Shesha Narayan represents one of the four Narayans of the Kathmandu Valley. The other three Narayans are Changu Narayan of Bhaktapur, Visankhu Narayan of Patan and Ichangu Narayan of Kathmandu..

Patan, also known as 'Lalitpur', the city of artisans, lies 5 km southeast of Kathmandu, and is home to the valley's finest craftsmen who have preserved such ancient techniques as the repoussé and lost wax process used to produce exquisite sculptures. The city retains much of the old charm with its narrow alleys, brick houses and multitude of well-preserved Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries (vihars) and monuments. The predominant sound in Patan is that of the tinkering of craftsmen bent over the statuettes they are shaping. As in Kathmandu, Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed here for ages, influencing each other, and the religious harmony is exemplary.

i) PATAN DURBAR SQUARE (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Like its counterpart in Kathmandu, Patan Durbar Square is located in the heart of the city and was once the palace of the kings of Patan. The square is an enchanting mélange of palace buildings, artistic courtyards and graceful pagoda temples – a display of Newari architecture that had reached its pinnacle during the reign of the Malla kings. Among its numerous courtyards, the renovated Keshav Narayan Chowk has been converted into a bronze artifact museum. The Sundari Chowk with the sunken bath of Tusha Hiti is a showcase of exquisite woodcarvings, and stone and metal sculptures. The magnificent Krishna Temple with its 21 gilded spires, built in 1637, and the Manga Hiti, the sunken stone waterspout, found in the palace complex are but a few examples of its prosperity. The Krishna Temple, built entirely of stone, is said to be the first specimen of Shikhara-style architecture in Nepal.

ii) PATAN MUSEUM
The museum in Patan Durbar Square specializes in bronze statues and religious objects. There are nearly 200 items on display. Some of the art dates from the 11th century. Most of the statues are of the Buddha, Vishnu, Lokeswar and Devi, covering both the Hindu and the Buddhist iconology.

iii) MAHABOUDDHA
To the east of Patan Durbar Square is Mahabouddha, an exceptional Buddhist monument of exquisite terra cotta art form. On this 14thcentury architectural masterpiece are engraved thousands of images of Lord Buddha.

iv) RUDRA VARNA MAHAVIHAR
Also known as UkuBahal, it is situated a few steps past Mahabouddha and contains an amazing collection of images and statues in metal, stone and wood. A two-story building with gilded roofs encloses the stone-paved courtyard. The kings in ancient times were believed to have been crowned in this monastery. Many of the treasures offered by devotees can be seen here even today.

v) HIRANYA VARNA MAHABIHAR
Dating from the 12th century, the three-storied shrine, also known as the Golden Temple, houses an image of the Buddha inside the courtyard or KwaBahal. The monastery is known for its exceptionally fine woodcarvings and repousse work. It is a five-minute walk west and north from the northern end of Durbar Square.

vi) KUMBHESHWAR
The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the only five-storied pagoda in Patan and one of the only three surviving five-storey temples in the country. A natural spring within the courtyard of this temple built in 1392 is said to have its source in the glacial lake of Gosainkunda in northern Kathmandu. A large gathering of devotees arrive here for a ritual bath on the day of Janai Poornima in August.

vii) ASHOKA STUPAS
There are four stupas, supposed to have been built by Emperor Ashoka of India in 250 BC, marking the four corners of Patan. They are situated at Pulchowk, Lagankhel, Ibahi and in Teta (way to Sano Gaon) respectively. At the time they were built, Buddhism was flourishing in the Kathmandu Valley.

viii) TIBETAN REFUGEE CAMP
The camp on the outskirts of Patan is a tourist attraction with its souvenir shops that sell hand-woven woolen carpets and handicrafts such as prayer wheels, an assortment of belt buckles, wooden bowls and jewelry. The camp also houses a Stupa and a number of shrines.

ix) PATAN INDUSTRIAL ESTATE
Situated at Lagankhel near Sat Dobato, it is known for handicrafts such as wood carvings, metal craft, hand-woven woolen carpets and thanka paintings. There is a shopping arcade where handicrafts are on exhibition.

Perched on a hill at an altitude of 1,401m, Bhaktapur or Bhadgaon, literally the City of Devotees is a major tourist destination that takes visitors back in time. Bhaktapur lies 12 km to the east of Kathmandu on the Arniko Highway that leads to the Chinese border. Covering an area of 6.4 sq. km, Bhaktapur is still untouched by rapid urbanization and has managed to retain its brick paved roads, charming red brick houses and a way of life that goes back to medieval times. This ancient city is also famous for pottery and woodcarving amply displayed on the squares and windows respectively.

i) BHAKTAPUR DURBAR SQUARE (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Among the three durbar squares, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square is by far the most elegant with its large open space facing south. The 15th century Palace of 55 Carved Windows and the palace entrance, the Golden Gate - a masterpiece in repousse art - have added splendor to this palace square which consists of buildings dating from the 13th century to the 18th century. The extraordinary Durbar Square with its extraordinary monuments reflects the glory days of the Malla dynasty when art and architecture thrived in the three cities of the valley. In front of the palace building are innumerable temples and architectural showpieces like the Lion Gate, the statue of King Bhupatindra Malla mounted on a giant stone pillar and the Batsala Temple. The stone temple of Batsala Devi is full of intricate carvings and is a beautiful example of Shikhara style architecture. There is a bronze bell on the terrace of the temple, which is also known as the Bell of Barking Dogs. Erected by King Ranjit Malla in 1737, its sounding announced the beginning and end of a daily curfew.

ii) NYATAPOLA TEMPLE
The unique temple of Bhaktapur, the Nyatapola literally means 'five storied' and rises above the city's landscape as a remarkable landmark. It also has the distinction of having withstood the devastating earthquake of 1933. Dedicated to a tantric goddess, the steps leading up to the temple are flanked by stone sculptures of deities and mythical beasts, each 10 times more powerful than the one immediately below.

iii) BHAIRAVNATH TEMPLE
Dedicated to Bhairav, the God of Terror, the three-storied temple of Bhairavnath has only the head of Bhairav in the inner sanctum. Legend has it that the Bhairav's head was cut off by a tantric expert in order to keep him in Bhaktapur. Built in pagoda style, the temple is noted for its artistic grandeur and stands adjacent to the famous five-storied Nyatapola Temple.

iv) DATTATREYA SQUARE
It takes its name from the Dattatreya Temple dedicated to a three-headed combination of the Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This temple is said to have been built from the trunk of a single tree. Near this temple is a monastery with exquisitely carved peacock windows.

v) THE NATIONAL ART GALLERY
The museum in Bhaktapur is housed in the old Malla Palace of 55 Windows in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The gallery has a rich collection of paubha scroll paintings, bronze, brass, stone and wooden images.

vi) THE NATIONAL WOODWORKING MUSEUM
The museum in Dattatreya Square is in the restored 15th-century Pujari Math building. The Pujari Math is a museum in itself, with the very finest of Newar woodcarving including the famous Peacock Window. It has ancient and medieval paintings belonging to the Hindu and Buddhist schools.

vii) THE BRONZE AND BRASS MUSEUM
It is in a 15th-century building opposite the Pujari Math at Tachapal Tol, Bhaktapur. A rich collection of domestic and ceremonial metal-ware is exhibited in the museum.

 

viii) SIDDHA POKHARI (Pond)
For a small city, Bhaktapur has the largest number of public water tanks built within the city limits. Siddha Pokhari, which dates back to the Lichhavi period, is situated at the bus stop. This large rectangular pond teems with fish and has stone images of different Hindu and Buddhist gods on the walls surrounding it.

ix) THIMI
It is a Newar town situated about 8 km east of Kathmandu on the way to Bhaktapur. Besides farming, most of the households here are engaged in pottery. This laid-back town not only supplies Kathmandu its pottery but also its vegetables. The two important deities here are those of Balkumari Temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess, and Karunamaya, the Buddha of Compassion.

x) SURYA BINAYAK
Situated in a thick forest to the south of Bhaktapur, it is a 20-minute walk from the bus stop. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesh and is crowded with devotees especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays.


xi) CHANGU NARAYAN TEMPLE (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
It is situated on a ridge overlooking Bhaktapur, about 12 km to the east of Kathmandu. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it is one of the oldest specimens of pagoda architecture in the valley. The temple dating from the Licchavi period is embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings.

 

 

 
 
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