Buildings often tell us a lot about a place and its people. As such, Kathmandu’s powerful artistic and architectural fusion is written all over its old rustic buildings. As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered here and resulted in many interesting monuments. The Kathmandu Valley has various monuments that made it to the UNESCO Heritage list.
If you have the time, I suggest you visit all seven because they are all diversely rich in culture and history. Even if time is not on your side, you must see these four monuments.
1.Pasupathinath Shiva Temple
This highly preserved and eccentric temple is Nepal’s most iconic Hindu temple. This architectural gem is one of Lord Shiva’s holy abode around the world which dates back to the 8th century. Brave through the smoke and you will find this place culturally fascinating. Much like India’s Ancient City of Kashi, bodies are burnt here in the open by the Bagmati River Bank.
The temple is packed with pilgrims drenched in spiritual ecstasy, singing Sanskrit Bhajans with their eyes closed. Faint blissful smiles on their faces. Even with so many people in the temple, the massive vibration in the temple can be felt. A strange yet deep peaceful ambiance.
Just like Varanasi, there are ghats along the river bank, buffaloes strolling by, monkeys swinging from the many bells found in the temple and safron clad sadhus inviting devotees for a blessing. An amazing place of worthy substance, knowledge and reflection.
The two tiered pagoda temple houses the unique four faced Linga and some other odd 20-30 periphery deities. Entry into the temple’s main shrine is not permitted for non Hindus, which I found it hard to accept (for in my view, it distorts the receptive view of Hinduism) but I guess most times, it always began from the human themselves. God as usual has nothing to do with it. Perhaps one sour incident years ago between a Western traveller and the temple priest, banned white skinned people from the temple. And the tradition was continued. Just perhaps.
Walking further into the temple, I reached the miniature Shiva Lingas, 125 of them arranged in a maze. The lingas are tiny and are placed at knee length, hence you can touch it as you walk. The entrance leads to the maze of lingas till you reach the exit. Nepali kids go around the maze chanting ” Om Namah Shivaya” and their mothers worshiping the Lingas with deep reverence. Since photography is not allowed inside the temple complex, I couldn’t take any shots but the miniature Lingas to my opinion is the best feature of the temple.
At a towering height of 125ft, the Buddha’s eyes gazing out to the world from the golden dome in Boudhanath Stupa was a reminder that we are constantly looked after. The stupa is best visited early morning or just as the sun goes down. This Tibetan Buddhist temple like others had in its wall cavity, prayer wheels resembling small vertical drums which were engraved with the Sanskrit mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” (Glory to the Jewel in the Lotus).
A mantra so famous in the thousands of mandala found everywhere in Nepal. Hundreds of locals and curious tourists were circling around the periphery of the temple spinning the wheels. Join in and be swept by this calming ritual. It is believed that by spinning the wheel, one receives the same grace as if one recites the mantra.
As it was already getting dark, I couldn’t get a chance to spin the wheels for long. I left the temple feeling a wave of tranquility through the sacred chants and mantra inscribed flags surrounding the temple.
3.Swayambhunath Monkey Temple
Another impressive Buddhist monument is the Swayambhunath Temple better known as the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple. A Tibetan Buddhist temple on a hilltop filled with monkeys much revered after the Lord Buddha. Even if you’re not culturally inclined and buildings don’t quite interest you, this temple is a must visit. It’s just so peaceful and serene. Everywhere you lay your eyes, you’re bound to see something beautiful.
The two giant Buddha eyes greeted me again wisely after climbing a few hundred steps. I remember this scene quite vividly. Nepali women in brightly colored clothes sitting at the temple veranda preparing prayer materials against the backdrop of the beautiful Kathmandu Valley. A breathtaking contrast.
To make your visit here worthwhile, climb the steps all the way to the top and enjoy the view of Kathmandu from there. On your way down the stairs, walk behind the stupa to the world peace pond. There are some handicrafts shop selling local trinkets, singing bowls and amazing paintings. Haggle for a price as this is a popular tourist spot. The monkeys here are known to be notorious to steal food and just about anything from your hands and bags. So beware. ????
Ending my 2 days in Kathmandu, I visited yet another architectural wonder, the ancient kingdom of Nepal. There are two Durbar Squares in Kathamandu. One in Patan/ Kathmandu and the other one is in Bakhtapur. Both are quite similar and filled with Newari handworks. The Newaris are masters of carving and wooden details.
This massive monument zone is home to a collection of 43 different palaces, temples, museums and courtyards. Historically, it is here that kings of Nepal are crowned and their coronations solemnized. At every nook and corner, highly intricate work of arts is apparent and it is a must see here in Kathmandu.
Currently, besides a place of worship with many Hindu and Buddhist temples, (Most notably the Hanuman and the black stoned Bairav), this is a plaza where the locals come and hang out. You can spend a whole day here if you’re really into history, architecture and photography. Even if you’re not into those things, it’s a perfect place to read a book, take a stroll or watch the sun go down from the temple steps. For me it felt like a conscious meditation of people watching and mind wandering.
Recent 2016 Update
At the time I visited Nepal in November 2013, I was fortunate enough to see all of these amazing heritage sites.
In April 2015, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal ferociously. One of the worst in the countrys’ history. Many of Kathmandu Valley’s UNESCO Heritage sites and significant places of worship were completely destroyed or partially damaged.
If you’re planning a trip to Nepal, you might want to check out this useful and updated website on the Nepal scene after the earthquake. Click List of Temples & Building in Kathmandu, Nepal
Travphologue : Nepal, Nov 2013