Nepal, Wander

KATHMANDU: THE UNESCO HERITAGE SITES – As I Was Passing

KATHMANDU: THE UNESCO HERITAGE SITES


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.

Pashupathinath Temple, Kathmandu
A daily scene in the Pashupatinath Temple

Sadhu in Pashupathinath Temple, Nepal

Cremation of Bodies in Pashupathinath Temple, Kathmandu
Cremation of Bodies in Pashupathinath Temple, Kathmandu at the bank of Bagmati River

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.

Wandering Sadhu in Pashupathinath

2.Boudhanath Stupa

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).

Boudhanath-Stupa

Image Credit: Wikimedia

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

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

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. ????

Prayer Preparation, Swayambhunath
Local Nepalis gathering their offerings at an open courtyard within the temple
Swayambhunath Temple
The many smaller stupas on the way down from the steps of Swayambhunath Temple

4.Durbar Square 

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.

Kumari House, one of the must see in Durbar Square
Kumari House is a house in which the Kumari Devi or Living Goddess stays. She is often a young pre-pubescent girl selected for a day and is worhsipped by the Nepalese as  the divine female energy during various festivals like Navarathri or Durga Pooja.
Kumari House, Durbar Square

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.

Gadhi Baitak Palace, Durbar Square
Gaddi Baikthak Palace, the European influenced reception hall which served for foreign dignitaries back in the early days
aju Dega. Narayan Vishnu Temple.,Darbar Square
The white colored Maju Dega temple which once dominated Durbar Square. At the background, three- roofed- Narayan Vishnu Temple
Shiva-Parvathi-Temple
The Shiva Parvathi rectangular shaped temple made from wood and bricks.
Sundari Chowk, Durbar Square
This picture was taken in Sundari Chowk, a courtyard area within Durbar Square
Kal Bairav Stone
One of the largest stone idol in Katmandu which is also a place of worship for the Nepalese
Kal Bairav Stone
This image of Bairav represents Lord Shiva in his destructive manifestation and is carved out of one single rock
Common Area in Durbar Square
The common area in Durbar Square
A local trishaw driver at Patan's Durbar Square
A local trishaw driver at Patan’s Durbar Square
People Watching Durbar Square
People Watching in Durbar Square

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

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