The Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Valley, where there are far more pedestrians than vehicles, cows roam at will, women dress in amazingly graceful coloured saris and men walk on the streets hand in hand, and besides all the Valley has dedicated worshippers and it is also known as a city of old palaces, temples, golden pagodas and monuments.
The Valley comprises of three ancient cities, namely Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Yes, there also lies even UNESCO World Heritage Sites namely Kathmandu Durbar Square, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath in Kathmandu whereas Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Changu Narayan Temple in Bhaktapur and Patan Durbar Square in Patan. These seven World Heritage Sites are all amazing man-made wonders still standing majestically.
While roaming around Kathmandu heritages, most of the tourists do not forget to catch a glimpse of The Living Goddess “Kumari” who lives in a 300-year old house at the Durbar Square premises. The inner parts of the city follows traffic everywhere, the packed narrow alleys with small cars, bicycle rickshaws, and people. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal for nearly two and a half century, has gained its name by ‘Thamel’ too which is quite a different city-point than other places which has also thrived to be known as a tourist ‘Hot-Spot’ where everyone would love to visit pizza restaurants, internet cafes, massage parlours and so on…
During meaning ‘palace’, be it in Kathmandu or nearby Patan and Bhaktapur, is dense with stunning architecture, wood carvings, stone carves – one thing should be very clear, the square is not a square, it is actually an irregular shape. In fact all three Durbar Squares consist of several squares inside. The maze of squares and streets, alleys and quiet corners all make for a great destination to just wander around and explore. All of these three Durbar Squares, protected as World Heritage Sites, are the social, religious and urban focal point of the cities. There are also museums inside the palace buildings.
Let’s roam around Swayambhunath, also known as “Monkey Temple”, a Buddhist site perched high on a hill just west of the Kathmandu city. One of the oldest and glorious Buddhist shrines in the world said to be two thousand years has its own legend of the origin:
“…once upon a time, there was a huge lake in Kathmandu (of which scientists have also found the proof). Out of this lake grew a huge lotus. Bodhisattwa Manjushree, a disciple of Lord Buddha, had a vision of the lotus and the lake, and travelled here to worship it. Since the lake was not easily accessible by human pilgrims, he wanted to drain the lake: he cut a gorge through the surrounding mountains (the gorge can be viewed at a place called ‘Chovar’). After that, the lake dried up and created Kathamndu Valley: the lotus turned into a hill where Swayambhunath emerged…”
Now, let’s move to Pashupatinath Temple established in the 5th century, one of the biggest Hindu pilgrimages on the banks of the Bagmati river, the holy river of Kathmandu Valley, on a par with the Ganges in India. The temple served as the seat of national deity, Lord Pashupatinath – the sacred linga of Lord Shiva, until Nepal was secularized in 2008. Only believers in Pashupatinath, mainly Hindus, are allowed to enter the temple premises whereas non-Hindu visitors are allowed to have a look at the temple from the other bank of Bagmati river but that does not at all detract from a very interesting visit. The temple is of pagoda style of architecture although you can see many a temple of ‘shikhara’ style too. Along with the temple complex are six square cremation sites – ‘the ghats’ along the bank of the river. The smiley Sadhus are very friendly with the visitors whereas the monkeys of Pashupatinath are not as friendly as in Swayambhunath.
Another World Heritage site is the Changu Narayan Temple, one of the finest and oldest specimens of pagoda architecture, is embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings and said to be the oldest pagoda-style temple in Nepal built sometime back in 323AD.
Let’s have some glimpses of Boudhanath Stupa, an impressive Buddhist site in the familiar layout of a white dome, gold tower, colorful prayer flags and countless prayer wheels. It is considered as the largest Stupa in the Valley and one of the largest ones in the world. The Stupa site has accommodated more than 45 Buddhist monasteries in its area. You can find these monasteries generally squared-off, rectangular structures adorned in colorful, detailed, religious images such as the popular ‘Wheel of Life’, which depicts the cycle of birth, death and rebirth that Buddhists seek release from. Few unforgettable moments that you can experience within the premises of Boudhanath Stupa are the prayer flags flying above your head, the friendly eyes of the omnipresent God that never even blink looking down on you – a peaceful experience, whether you are a Buddhist or not.