Heritage Sites In Nepal
Kathmandu Durbar Square
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the seemingly
uncountable monuments in the Kathmandu Durbar
Square. The house of the Living Goddess, 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 offsprings, 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 (who played dice with King Jaya
Prakash Malla), and an image of Shiva and Parbati
sitting together among the many monuments.
The Square is teeming 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 history of the Valley, according to the
legends, begins with Swayambhu, or the "the
self-existent". In times uncharted by history,
Bodhisattva 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
Behind the hilltop is a temple
dedicated to Manjusri of 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 physically disabled or 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 her wish was granted by the King. 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 Boudha 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 roof
top patios provide good food and excellent views
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, the present temple was built
by King Bhupatindra Malla 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
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, Kailash 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 offering puja worship to Shiva, tile Lord
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 loin cloths.
They ask for money in case you want to take
their photos. The main
Pashupatinath courtyard may be
entered by those of Hindu faith only.
Patan Durbar Square
The square boasts of many famous sites and unique
architecture. Krishna Mandir in the Patan Durbar
Square was built to honor an incarnation of
Vishnu. Krishna fought by the side of the Pandavs
in the Mahabharat war to assure that truth would
prevail. He was a favorite among the gopini
cow girls. His temple is the best example of
stone architecture in Nepal. Scenes from the
Mahabharat, Asia's greatest mythological war,
are carved on the temple's walls.
The Bhimsen temple which honors
Bhim great wrestler, brother of the Pandavs,
and a deity to Nepalese businessmen contains
fine samples of metal craft. The best place,
however, to see metal sculpture is the Hiranya
Varna Mahabiliar, the "Golden Temple."
It is a Newar monastery which contains wall
paintings, fourteenth century statues, and scriptures.
Its front facade is mostly covered in bronze.
Note the stone gates and the figures upon them.
These were built by Silakars whose descendants
are active in the woodcarving industry today.
Also interesting are the four metal monkeys
at the corners of the temple. Monkeys have been
featured in the temple decor of Nepal for several
The Sundari Chowk contains exquisite
samples of woodcarvings, stone, and metal sculpture.
A huge stone platform in this chowk is the seat
of a pious king who endured great penance in
search of eternal bliss. It is said that he
slept outside on this chilly stone platform
in the bitter cold of Kathmandu winters and
spent hours in the monsoon rains.
Other sites including the Mahaboudha
Temple and Uku Bahal are only a few minutes
walk away from the square. The streets in this
area are home to inetal sculptors of the present
day. Many more temples dedicated to Ganesh,
the elephant headed god, Shiva, Narsingha, Taleju,
and others are situated in the Patan Durbar
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 wood carvings 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 A.D. 1696, this gate is guarded
on either side by two huge statues of lions.
Alongside, there are two stone images of Bhairav
(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 magnificent palace was built during
the reign of King Yakshya Malla in A.D. 1427
and was subsequently remodelled 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
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.
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 evil-doers. 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
Narsingha 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.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini, in southern
Nepal, twenty five hundred years ago. Lumbini
has since been a holy ground for Buddhists all
over the world. The restored garden and surroundings
of Lumbini have the remains of many of the ancient
stupas and monasteries. A large stone pillar
erected by the Indian Emperor Ashoka in 250
BC bears an inscription about the birth of the
An important part of Lumbini is
the temple of Maya Devi. It has a stone image
of Maya Devi giving birth to Lord Buddha as
she holds onto a branch. It has been well worn
by the strokes of barren women hoping for fertility.
To the south of the temple is a pool where Queen
Maya Devi is said to have bathed and given her
son his first purification bath.
A quiet garden, shaded by the
leafy Bo tree (the type of tree under which
Buddha received enlightenment), and a newly
planted forest nearby lend an air of tranquillity
which bespeaks Buddha's teachings. Lumbini is
now being developed under the Master Plan of
the Lumbini Development Trust, a non governmental
organization dedicated to the restoration of
Lumbini and its development as a pilgrimage
site. The plan, completed in 1978 by the renowned
Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, will transform
three square miles of land into a sacred place
of gardens, pools, buildings, and groves. The
development will include a Monastic Zone, the
circular sacred Garden surrounding the Ashoka
pillar and Maya Devi temple, and Lumbini Village,
where visitors will find lodges, restaurants,
a cultural center and tourist facilities.
An important archeological site
near Lumbini, Kapilvastu evokes the ancient
palace where Lord Buddha spent his formative
years. Scattered foundations of the palace are
abundant, and archeologists have by now discovered
13 successive layers of human habitation dating
back to the eighth century BC. A must for archeological
and historical buffs!
Besides its religious and historical
significance, Lumbini offers cultural insights
into the village life of southern Nepal. If
possible, try to coincide your visit with the
weekly Monday bazaar when villagers come from
miles around to buy grains, spices, pottery,
jewellery, saris and various other items. It
may appear as a scene out of the Arabian Nights,
with colorful merchandise spread out under the
mango trees and the air perfumed with incense.
It's a chance to bargain for souvenirs while
witnessing local life in Lumbini. Wooden ox
carts loaded with hay trundle by. Villagers
dry cow-dung for fuel, and tea stalls serve
sweet milk tea.
Today, Lumbini is beginning to
receive travellers' and archaeologists' attention
after centuries of neglect. Serious preservation
work has only just been started in the latter
half of this century and Lumbini as a slice
of history is worth seeing and worth preserving.
Royal Nepal Airlines and other airlines fly
regularly to Bhairahawa, near Lumbini, and bus
services are available from Pokhara and Kathmandu.