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Tour Around Kathmandu

Kasthamandap

In the south - western corner of the square the Kasthamandap, or House of Wood, is the building which gave Kathmandu its name. Although its history is uncertain, it was possibly constructed around the 12th century. A legend relates that the whole building was made with the wood from a single sal tree. At first it was a community center where visitors gathered before major ceremonies, but later it was converted to a temple to Gorakhnath. A small wooden enclosure in the centre of the building houses the image of the god. Images of Ganesh can be found at each corner of the building and there are also shrines to a number of other gods. Bronze lions guard the entrance, and Hindu epics are illustrated around the 1st-floor cornices of the three - storey building.

The squat, medieval-looking building is busy in the early-morning hours when porters sit here waiting for customers.

Ashok Binayak

On the northern side of the Kasthamandap, at the top of Maru Tole (the laneway down to the river), stands the tiny Ashok Binayak, or Maru Ganesh Shrine. The small size of this shrine belies its importance, as this is one of the four most important Ganesh shrines in the valley. Ganesh is a much-loved god and there is a constant stream of visitors here. A visit to this shrine is highly recommended by Hindus to ensure safety on a forthcoming journey. It's uncertain how old the temple is, although its gilded roof was added in the 19th century.


 

Shiva Temple

The Shiva Temple near the Kasthamandap and the Ashok Binayak is used by vegetable sellers, and occasionally by barbers who can generally be seen squatting on the temple platform, administering 'short back and sides'.

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Maru Tole

Maru Tole leads down to the Vishnumati River where a footbridge meets the pathway to Swayambhunath on the other side. This was a busy street in the days of hippies and flower power, but today there's little sign of why it should have been called either Pie or Pig Alley -not only are the pie shops gone but it's also much cleaner. One thing Maru Tole does have is Maru Hiti, one of the finest sunken water conduits in the city.

Maju Deval

A pleasant hour can easily be spent sitting on the platform steps of the Shiva temple known as the Maju Deval. From here you can watch the constant activity of fruit and vegetable hawkers, the comings and goings of taxis and rickshaws, and the flute and other souvenir sellers importuning tourists. The nine stage platform of the Maju Deval is probably the most popular meeting place in the city. The large, triple roofed temple has erotic carvings on its roof struts and offers great views over the square and across the roofs of the city.

The temple dates from 1690 and was built by the mother of Bhaktapur's King Bhupatindra Malla. Although the temple has a well known Shiva Iingam inside, the roof is topped by a pinnacle shaped like a Buddhist stupa. At the bottom of the temple stairway is a small temple to Kam Dev, a 'companion' of Shiva. It was built in the Indian shikhara style, with a tall corncob-like spire.

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Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

The other temple standing in the open area of the square is the smaller five tiered, three roofed Trailokya Mohan Narayan. The temple was built by Prithvibendra Malla in 1680 and is easily identified as a temple to Narayan or Vishnu by the fine Garuda kneeling before it. The Garuda figure was a later addition, erected by the king's widow soon after his death. Look for the Vaishnavite images on the carved roof struts and the window screens with their decoratively carved metallions.

 


 

Kumari Chowk ( Living God )Kumari Bahal

At the junction of Durbar and Basantapur squares is a white three storey building with intricately carved windows. The Kumari Bahal (House of the Living Goddess) faces Durbar Square, its door guarded by stone lions. The building, in the style of the courtyarded Buddhist viharas (abodes) of the valley, was built in 1757 by Jaya Prakash Malla. Inside lives the young girl (the Kumari) who is selected to be the town's living goddess, until she reaches puberty and reverts to being a normal mortal! Inside the building the three storey courtyard, or Kumari Chowk, is enclosed by magnificently carved wooden balconies and windows. Photographing the goddess is forbidden, but you are quite free to photograph the courtyard when she is not present. Westerners are not allowed to go beyond this area. The courtyard contains a miniature stupa carrying the symbols of Saraswati, the goddess of learning.

The big gate beside the Kumari Bahal conceals the huge chariot which takes the Kumari around the city of Kathmandu once a year, a festival begun during the rule of Jaya Prakash Malla.

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Gaddi Baithak ( Basantapur )Gaddi Baithak

The eastern side of Durbar Square is closed off by this white neoclassical building. The Gaddi Baithak with its imported European style was built as part of the palace during the Rana period and makes a strange contrast to the traditional Nepali architecture that dominates the square.


 

Bhagwati Temple

Next to the Gaddi Baithak, this triple storey, triple roofed temple is easily missed since it surmounts the building below it, which has thangka (religious Tibetan painting in cloth) shops along its front. The best view of the temple with its golden roofs is probably from the Maju Deval across the square. The temple was built by Jagat Jaya Malla and originally had an image of Narayan. This image was stolen in 1766, so when Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley two years later he simply substituted it with an image of the goddess Bhagwati, which he just happened to be toting around with him. In April each year the image of the goddess is conveyed to the village of Nuwakot, 65km to the north, then returned a few days later.

A succession of interesting buildings and statues stand to the northeast of the Bhagwati Temple.

Big  BellBig Bell ( Durbar Square )

On your left as you leave the main square along Makhan Tole is the Great Bell erected by Rana Bahadur Shah (son of Prithvi Narayan Shah) in 1797. During the Malla era a novel addition to one of the valley's Durbar squares would almost immediately be imitated in another. Curiously, Patan and Bhaktapur got their bells in 1736, while the Kathmandu version did not follow until long after the fall of the Mallas. The bell's ring will drive off evil spirits, but it is only rung during puja (worship) at the Degutaleju Temple.

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Stone Vishnu Temple

Next to the bell is a small stone Vishnu Temple about which very little is known. It was badly damaged by the earthquake of 1934 and has only recently been restored.

 

 

 

 


Saraswati Temple

Next is the Saraswati Temple which also suffered badly from the great earthquake. Prior to the quake it was over 14m high, but now is only half that height. Like the adjoining Vishnu Temple, little is known about its history.

Krishna Temple

Krishna Temple ( Durbar Square )

The history of the octagonal Krishna Temple is well documented. It was built in 1648 by Pratap Malla, perhaps as a reply to Siddhinarsingh's magnificent Krishna Mandir in Patan. Inside there are images of Krishna and two goddesses which, according to a Sanskrit inscription, are modelled on the king and his two wives! The temple also has a Newari inscription but this neglects to mention the king's little act of vanity.

Just beyond the temple are the Great Drums to which a goat and a buffalo must be sacrificed twice a year. Then there is the police headquarters building, beyond which is Kot Square. It was here that Jung Bahadur Rana perpetrated the famous 1846 massacre which led to a hundred years of Rana rule. Kot means "armoury" or "fort". During the Durga Puja festival each year, blood again flows in Kot Square as hundreds of buffaloes and goats are sacrificed. Young soldiers are supposed to lop each head off with a single blow.

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King Pratap Malla's Column

Across from the Krishna Temple is a host of smaller temples and other structures, all standing on a huge raised platform in front of the old Royal Palace and the towering Taleju Temple. The square stone pillar, known as the Pratap Dhvaja, is topped by a statue of the famous King Pratap Malla, seated with folded hands and surrounded by his two wives, his four sons and another, infant, son. He looks towards his private prayer room on the 3rd floor of the Degutaleju Temple. The column was erected in 1670 by Pratap Malla and preceded the similar columns in Patan and Bhaktapur.

This area and its monuments are usually covered in hundreds if not thousands of pigeons, and you can buy packets of grain to feed them.

Seto Bhairab

Seto (White) Bhairab's horrible face is hidden away behind a grille opposite the Pratap MaIla column. The huge mask dates from 1794 during the reign of Rana Bahadur Shah, the third Shah dynasty king. Each September during the lndra Jatra festival the gates are swung back to reveal the mask for a few days. At that time the face is covered in flowers and rice and at the start of the festivities beer is poured through the horrific mouth. Crowds of men fight to get a drink of this blessed beer! At other times of year you can peek through the lattice to see the mask, which is used as the symbol of Royal Nepal Airlines.

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Jagannath Temple

This temple, noted for the erotic carvings on its roof struts, is the oldest structure in this part of the square. Pratap Malla claimed to have constructed the temple during his reign but it may actually be much older, dating back to 1563 during the rule of Mahendra Malla. The temple has a three tiered platform and two storeys. There are three doors on each side of the temple but only the center door opens.

 

Kal Bhairab

Behind the Jagannath Temple is the large figure of Kal (Black) Bhairab. Bhairab is Shiva in his most fearsome aspect and this huge stone image of the terrifying Kal Bhairab has six arms, wears a garland of skulls and tramples a corpse, symbolic of mankind's ignorance. The figure was said to have been brought here by Pratap Malla, having been found in a field to the north of the city. The image was originally cut from a single stone although the upper right-hand side has been repaired with another stone, and the sun and moon to the left and the lions at the top are later additions. It is said that telling a lie while standing before Kal Bhairab will bring instant death and it was once used as a form of trial by ordeal!


 

Indrapur Temple

Immediately to the east of horrific Bhairab stands the mysterious Indrapur Temple. This curious temple may be of great antiquity but little is known of its history. Even the god to which it is dedicated is controversial - inside there is a lingam indicating that it is a Shiva temple. But half-buried on the southern side of the temple is a Garuda image, indicating that the temple is to Vishnu. And to compound the puzzle the temple's name clearly indicates it is dedicated to Indra !. The temple's simple design and plain roof struts together with the lack of an identifying torana (the space above temple doors indicating the deity to which the temple is dedicated) give no further clues.

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Vishnu Temple

Little is known about the adjoining Vishnu Temple either. This triple roofed temple stands on a four-level base. The roof strut carvings and the golden image of Vishnu inside show that it is a Vishnu temple, but it is not known how old it is, although it was in existence during Pratap Malla's reign.

 

 


 

 

Kakeshwar Temple

North of the Vishnu Temple, this temple was originally built in 1681 but rebuilt after it was badly damaged in the 1934 earthquake. It may have been considerably altered at that time as the temple is a strange combination of styles, starting with a two level base from which rises a lower floor in typical Nepali style. Above the 1st floor, however, the temple is in Indian shikhara style, topped by a spire shaped like a water vase or kalasa, indicative of a female deity.

Stone Inscription

On the outside of the palace wall, opposite the Vishnu Temple is a stone inscription to the goddess Kalika written in 15 languages, including French. King Pratap Malla, renowned for his scholastic abilities, set up this inscription in 1664 and a Nepali legend relates that milk will flow from the spout in the middle if somebody is able to read all the languages!

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Kotilingeshwar Mahadev Temple

This early Malla temple dates from the reign of Mahendra Malla in the 16th century. The three stage plinth is topped by a temple in the gumbhaj style, which basically means a square structure topped by a dome. The bull facing the temple indicates that it is a Shiva temple.


 

Mahavishnu Temple

Built by Jagat Jaya Malla, this double roofed temple on a four level plinth was badly damaged in the 1934 earthquake and was not restored. Only the golden spire on the roof, topped by a golden umbrella, hints at its prior appearance.

 

 

Mahendreshwar Temple

At the extreme northern end of the square, this temple dates from 1561, during Mahendra Malla's reign. The temple was restored in 1963 and is dedicated to Shiva. A small image of Shiva's bull Nandi fronts the temple and at the north-eastern corner there is an image of Kam Dev. The temple has a wide, two level plinth and a spire topped by a golden umbrella.

 

Taleju Temple

The square's most magnificent temple stands at its north - eastern extremity but is not open to the public. Even Nepalese can only visit the temple during the annual Dasain festival.

The Taleju Temple was built in 1564 by Mahendra Malla. Taleju Bhawani was originally a goddess from the south of India, but she became the titular deity or royal goddess of the Malla kings in the 14th century. Taleju temples were erected in her honour in Patan and Bhaktapur as well as in Kathmandu.

The temple stands on a 12 stage plinth and reaches over 35m high, dominating the Durbar Square area. The eighth stage of the plinth has a wall around the temple, in front of which are 12 miniature temples; four more miniature temples stand inside the wall which has four wide and beautifully carved gates. If entry to the temple were permitted it could be reached from within the palace or from the Singh Dhoka (Lion Gate) from the square.

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Hanuman Dhoka (Old Royal Palace)

Hanuman's brave assistance to noble Rama during the exciting events of the Ramayana has led to the monkey god's appearance guarding many important entrances. Here, cloaked in red and sheltered by an umbrella, a Hanuman statue marks the entrance, or dhoka, to Kathmandu's old Royal Palace and has even given the palace its name. The statue dates from 1672, but the face has disappeared under a coating of red paste applied by faithful visitors.

Standards bearing the double-triangle flag of Nepal flank the statue while on each side of the palace gate are stone lions, one ridden by Shiva, the other by his wife Parvati. Above the gate a brightly painted niche is illustrated, with a figure of a ferocious Tantric version of Krishna in the center. On one side is the gentler Hindu Krishna in his traditional blue colour accompanied by two of his comely gopis (milk-maids). On the other side is King Pratap Malla and his queen.

The palace was originally founded during the Licchavi period, but as it stands today most of it was constructed by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. The palace was renovated many times in later years. The oldest part are the smaller Sundari Chowk and Mohan Chowk at the northern part of the palace (both closed). From here construction moved south arid in all there are 10 courtyards, or chowks, in the palace.

Entrance to the palace costs Rs. 250 and it is open daily (except Tuesday) from 10.30 am to 3 pm (4 pm in summer).

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Nasal Chowk

From the entrance gate you immediately enter the most famous chowk. Nasal means 'dancing one', and the courtyard takes its name from a small figure of the Dancing Shiva inside the whitewashed chamber on the eastern side of the square. Although the courtyard was constructed in the Malla period many of the buildings around the square were Rana constructions. During that time the Nasal Chowk became the square used for coronations, a practice which continues to this day. King Birendra was crowned in the 1975 ceremony on the platform in the center of the courtyard. The nine storey Basantapur Tower looms over the southern end of the courtyard.

The rectangular courtyard is aligned north - south and the entrance is at the north-western corner. Near the entrance there is a surprisingly small but beautifully carved doorway which once led to the Malla kings' private quarters. The panels have images of four gods.

Beyond the door is a large statue of Narsingha, Vishnu in his man-lion incarnation in the act of killing a demon. The stone image was erected by Pratap Malla in 1673 and the inscription on the pedestal explains that he placed it here in fear that he had offended Vishnu by dancing in a Narsingha costume. The Kabindrapur Temple in Durbar Square was built for the same reason.

Next there is the Audience Chamber of the Malla kings. The open veranda houses the Malla throne and portraits of the Shah kings. A golden image of Mahavishnu is set into an open veranda on the eastern wall. This image was originally in the Mahavishnu Temple in the square, but was moved here after the 1934 earthquake.

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Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple

At the north - eastern corner of the Nasal Chowk stands the Panch Mukhi Hanuman with its five circular roofs. Each of the valley towns has a five storey temple, although it is the great Nyatapola Temple of Bhaktapur which is by far the best known. Hanuman is worshipped in the temple in Kathmandu but only the priests of the temple may enter it.

 

Basantapur Tower

King Prithvi Narayan Shah was involved in the construction of the four red-coloured towers around the Lohan Chowk. The towers represent the four ancient cities of the valley: the Kathmandu or Basantapur Tower, the Kirtipur Tower, the Bhaktapur Tower or Lakshmi Bilas and the Patan or Lalitpur Tower.

The dominant nine storey Basantapur Tower was extensively restored prior to King Birendra's coronation. A series of steep stairways climbs to the top from where there are superb views over the palace and the city. The struts along the facade of the Basantapur Tower, particularly those facing out to Basantapur Square, are decorated with erotic carvings.

Mul Chowk

This courtyard was completely dedicated to religious functions within the palace and is configured like a vihara (a dwelling place for Buddhist monks), with a two storey building surrounding the courtyard. Mul Chowk is dedicated to Taleju Bhawani, the royal goddess of the Mallas, and sacrifices are made to her in the center of the courtyard during the Dasain festival. A smaller Taleju temple stands in the southern wing of the square and the image of the goddess is moved here from the main Taleju Temple during the Dasain festival. Images of the river goddesses Ganga and Jamuna guard the golden temple doorway which is topped by a golden torana. Unfortunately, from the Bhaktapur Tower, where visitors normally observe the courtyard, the view is less than inspiring and the temple itself cannot be seen at all.

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Degutaleju Temple

Degutaleju is another manifestation of the Mallas personal goddess Taleju and this temple was built by Shiva Singh Malla and is integrated into the palace structure itself. The triple roofed temple actually starts from above the common buildings it surmounts.

 

 

 

 

Mohan Chowk

North of the Nasal Chowk is the residential courtyard of the Malla kings. It dates from 1649 and at one time a Malla king had to be born here to be eligible to wear the crown. The last Malla king, Jaya Prakash Malla, had great difficulties during his reign, even though he was the legitimate heir, because he was born elsewhere. The golden waterspout, known as Sun Dhara, in the center of the courtyard delivers water from Budhanilkantha in the north of the valley. The richly sculptured spout is actually several meters below the courtyard level. The Malla kings would ritually bathe here each morning.

The courtyard is surrounded by towers at its four corners and north of the Mohan Chowk is the small Sundari Chowk.

Rana Additions & Tribhuvan Museum

The part of the palace west of Nasal Chowk, overlooking the main Durbar Square area, was principally constructed by the Ranas in the mid to late part of the 19th century. Ironically, it is now home to an interesting museum that celebrates King Tribhuvan's successful revolt against their regime. If you are interested in Nepal's modern history a visit is a must. There are some fascinating re-creations of the king's bedroom and study with genuine personal effects that give quite an eerie insight into his life. There are also lots of photos and newspaper clippings that catch the drama of his escape and triumphant return. And there are several magnificent thrones, some superb stone carvings and, oddly, a coin collection.

Entry is from Nasal Chowk, and cameras have to be deposited in lockers at the door.

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