Lost in the Lanes of Kathmandu Durbar Square

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, Nepal | 64

Historically, Kathmandu in Nepal has had three major Durbar Squares (Kingdoms) – Patan, Bhaktapur and the Kathmandu Durbar Square. All three of these are now UNESCO World Heritage sites and are major attractions for any traveler visiting Kathmandu. Rightly so, given the rich heritage and culture that is still preserved within the crumbling yet beautiful walls of its monuments. If you are a history buff like me, then you are sure to feel like a kid in the candy shop – not knowing what to see first. On my previous visit to Nepal, I was fortunate enough to visit Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Square but could not manage Kathmandu Durbar Square. Even in the ones I visited, I seemed to have left some bits unseen. Thanks to my recent trip to Nepal, your Nepali Jones emerged once again – all ready to complete all that was left unseen last time over – starting with the Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square

It seemed to be my destiny that this time I actually, got to stay right in that one Durbar Square that I had missed the last time. This was perfect for me as I managed to thoroughly explore the entire place over 4 days that I was there. It was fun getting lost in those lanes which led to not just the royal enclosures of Kathmandu Durbar Square but also, help discover the homes & hidden stupas around this place. There is plenty which has been lost to the Gorkha Earthquake but what still stands is worth a visit. While it will be impossible for me to add every bit of what I saw here, let me share the key sights of the historical Kathmandu Durbar Square.

History of Kathmandu Durbar Square

Hanuman Dhoka Square in Kathmandu Durbar Square
Hanuman Dhoka Square in Kathmandu Durbar Square

Also known as the Basantpur Durbar Square, this one was first built by the Malla Kings and then, later conquered by the Shah Dynasty. The buildings here trace back to the Licchavi period, as early as the 3rd century. The Malla Kings ruled here till the 1720s, after which they were overthrown by King Prithvi Narayan Shah. The Shahs favored this square right up till 1820s after which they abandoned it as a residential place and moved to the Narayanhiti palace. However, the Kathmandu Durbar Square continued to be an important spot for events like the coronation of Kings – including the famous Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah in 2001. Even today, this is widely used for the annual festival of Indra Jatra. Moreover, the abode of the Living Goddess Kumari still remains as its key attraction.

Shiva Parvati Temple

Shiva Parvati temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square
Shiva Parvati temple in Kathmandu Durbar Square

Right from my hotel room, I could see the tall towers of the temples of Kathmandu Square and I really could not wait to get started on exploring this historical square. As soon as I got out of my Hotel – Dwarika Chenn, all I had to do is take a left to see this gorgeous temple dedicated to Shiva Parvati. The Newari art was evident here with its stunning carvings of doors and windows. Popping out of one of those windows on the top is the heavenly couple – Shiva and Parvati, showering their blessings on the passers-by.

Shiva Parvati statues staring out of the window of the temple
Shiva Parvati statues staring out of the window of the temple

The temple was built by the Shah dynasty and hence, is quite recent compared to the other relics in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. It is still functional for when I visited it, there were some Poojas in progress.

Looking straight at the Kumari Ghar from the Shiva Parvati temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Looking straight at the Kumari Ghar from the Shiva Parvati temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square

Guarding the temple, were huge lion guardian, that faced the rest of the square. If you were to climb up like I did, you would see them looking straight at the epic Kumari Ghar.

Kumari Ghar

Kumari Ghar
Kumari Ghar

This actually, is the landmark icon of the Kathmandu Durbar Square for it houses the living icon – Kumari. I did spend considerable time inspecting this monument for its lovely architecture, all of which I have shared in my earlier post on Kumari. You can click through to take your virtual tour of the Kumari Ghar and while you do so, don’t forget to see the Snake temple right next to the Kumari Ghar. Even if it is closed, you will still be able to glimpse the golden Naga deity through the holes.

Naga deity through the holes of the temple
Naga deity through the holes of the temple

Gaddi Baithak

Gaddi Baithak at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Gaddi Baithak at Kathmandu Durbar Square

In contrast to the dark wooden palace of the Kumari and opposite it, lies this huge white building that seemed quite modern to me. A signboard told me what it looked before the earthquake  – a huge white mansion in a colonial, European style with long columns that take you back to the Greek era. The Gaddi Baithak used to be the powerhouse where the Kings received their foreign delegates and held meetings. The building was built in the 1900s and is currently being renovated to mend the damage of the Gorkha earthquake.

Gaddi Baithak before the earthquake
Gaddi Baithak before the earthquake

I found this site to be quite unique for everywhere around it was the typical heritage styled decor while this one mimicked the west. And while I stood there looking at it, I also, realized that I was at a crossroad where if I went left, it lead to some more of the royal buildings, turning right would be some temples and collapsed structures and if I went straight pass the Gaddi Baithak, I would most likely be lost in the lanes. Wanting to do it all, I marked this building as my home point to return to after visiting each lane.

Basantpur Durbar

Basantpur Durbar in Kathmandu Durbar Square
Basantpur Durbar in Kathmandu Durbar Square

After a quick Ini Mini Mynah Moh, I turned right to first explore what lay behind the Gaddi Baithak. Most of it was out of bounds as there was a lot of restoration work in progress. However, even within the closed ruins, the Basantpur tower stood dominant. This was originally the tallest structure here with 9 different floors. The 9 floors gave it the name Nautalle Durbar (9 towered Durbar). The 9 floors are hidden amidst the 4 roofs.

Close-up of the Basantpur Durbar Roof
Close-up of the Basantpur Durbar Roof

The Basantpur Durbar was built by the Shah dynasty as a pleasure house. The monument is a blend of Newari and Mughal architecture style with its lower floors following the local style. Today there are only two roofs that you see but even in those, I was quite enchanted by the detailing the roof brackets and around. It seemed so beautiful now that it made me wonder how breathtaking it must have been back then – when it was whole.

Stunning roof brackets of the Nautalle Durbar
Stunning roof brackets of the Nautalle Durbar

Kasthamandap

Tracing back my steps to my home marker, I took the other lane from the Gaddi Baithak that led to various temples. Most of these temples had collapsed and all you could see was rubble. One of these temples -the Trilokya Mohan Narayan used to be a huge temple that housed the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. The only identifying part of this temple is a huge Garuda that somehow, still stands facing it in salutation

Garuda facing the collapsed Trilokya Mohan Narayan temple
Garuda facing the collapsed Trilokya Mohan Narayan temple

Right behind the Garuda, is the Kasthamandap. However, right now this is in complete ruins.  This was quite a significant building as it was constructed using wood of a single tree. It is said that Lord Gorakhnath was captured by a Tantric priest when he was on earth in disguise. In return for his freedom, he magically gave the wood of a single tree for the construction of this very temple. They say that the wood carvings with the temple were quite a joy to behold but we will never know as there exists none now to show. All you can see are the stone lion guards of the temple.

The only remaining part of the Kasthamandap at Kathmandu Durbar Square
The only remaining part of the Kasthamandap at Kathmandu Durbar Square

Around the Kasthamandap are some more significant buildings like the Silyan Sattal, rumored to be built from the remains of the same tree used to build the Kasthamandap. Also, don’t miss the Maru Tole, where you will find plenty of temples and a square that used to host many poets, dancers, musicians and artists.

Silyan Sattal near the Kasthamandap
Silyan Sattal near the Kasthamandap

Hanuman Dhoka at Kathmandu Durbar Square

Hanuman Dhoka outside the Royal palace at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Hanuman Dhoka outside the Royal palace at Kathmandu Durbar Square

Circling back to my marker, I finally took the path away from the Gaddi Baithak towards what seemed to be the smaller lanes of Kathmandu Durbar Square. This route takes you past the Shiva Parvati temple to what I fondly term as the cultural square or the Hanuman Dhoka Square. The area is termed as Hanuman Dhoka owing to this statue of Hanuman that was erected by the Malla Kings. It is believed that the statue helped give strength to his army and his home. As you might have already guessed, this was the place where you can visit the palace but besides this, you can also, see some of these –

Taleju Bell

Taleju Bell at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Taleju Bell at Kathmandu Durbar Square

The warning bell that seemed to be omnipresent in all the Durbar Squares. This was also, the grievance bell that the subjects rung to get the attention of their king.

Sweta Bhairava

Sweta Bhairava, Kathmandu Durbar Square
Sweta Bhairava, Kathmandu Durbar Square

The Bhairava statue that during Indra Jatra spewed alcohol and fish.

Jaganatha Temple

Jagannatha temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Jagannatha temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square
A collapsed part of the square
A collapsed part of the square

This is one of the oldest temples here that was set by the Malla Kings. Though the carvings and the designs here are quite noteworthy, it is not just those that bring people here. This is a huge pigeon feeding ground where everyday men, women and kids come by to throw grains for the pigeons and earn their good deed of the day. Over the 4 days that I stayed here, this became my favorite place to capture those blissful smiles.

Pigeon feeding at the Jaganath Temple
Pigeon feeding at the Jaganath Temple
Blissful smiles after Pigeon feeding
Blissful smiles after Pigeon feeding

Nasal Chowk within the Basantpur Palace

Entrance to Nasal Chowk of Basantpur Palace
Entrance to Nasal Chowk of Basantpur Palace

The Basantpur Palace has suffered quite a bit of damage from the Gorakha Earthquake and hence, when I visited it, most of it was out of bounds. Except for the Nasal Chowk – the main courtyard that was used for all important royal functions including the coronation. As you enter, remember to check out the Narasimha statue on your left. The statue has an interesting tale attached to it. The King Pratap Malla was rumored to have the spirit of Lord Vishnu within him and to get rid of the same, he was advised by some priests to build a statue of Lord Narasimha tearing open the demon Hiranyakashyap. Once made, the spirit of Lord Vishnu is said to have transferred itself to the idol and since then, the statue has been kept where it is now.

Narasimha Statue at Basantpur Palace
Narasimha Statue at Basantpur Palace

A large platform in the centre was the main ceremonial platform while around it you can see the Gaddi Baithak and the Basantpur Durbar. All of this is boarded up for restoration but I sure would have wanted to run in and check it out for myself. The only thing that I could get a glimpse of was the golden thrones used by the king, now kept behind a glass display.

Nasal Chowk
Nasal Chowk
Basantpur Durbar from the Nasal Chowk
Basantpur Durbar from the Nasal Chowk

Another eye-catching sight here is this huge tower that is a part of this temple called Panchamukhi Hanuman.This temple is out of bounds for all except the priest. Remember to carry a zoom lens to check out the circular roof of the temple. It has some stunning pieces of art all around it.

Panchamukhi Hanuman
Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple
Close up of the Panchamukhi Hanuman Tower
Close up of the Panchamukhi Hanuman Tower

The palace is also the gateway to the Mul Chowk and Sundari Chowk – the residential courtyards of the Kings but those are now out of bounds for us. There is a small museum that houses the royal relics and you can even get a glimpse of the various royal palanquins in the Nasal Chowk. Don’t miss the ceremonial throne displayed here.

The Royal Corridors of the Palace
The Royal Corridors of the Palace
Ceremonial Throne at Basantpur Palace
Ceremonial Throne at Basantpur Palace
View from the Basantpur Palace Corridors
View from the Basantpur Palace Corridors

Taleju Temple

Taleju Temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square
Taleju Temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square

This is one of the key temples in Hanuman Dhoka Chowk that is dedicated to the clan Goddess Taleju. It opens once a year during a festival and you can see the many-hand Goddess idol here. The Temple seems quite at a height and is widely considered as the most beautiful of all the temples in Kathmandu Durbar Square. For now, I could at best, admire the lovely gates that restricted it.

Close-up of the gate of Taleju Temple
Close-up of the gate of Taleju Temple

Kal Bhairava

Kal Bhairava
Kal Bhairava

The stone Bhairava statue that is said to force people to speak the truth. Also, one of the main Bhairava idols during Indra Jatra.

Akash Bhairava

Akash Bhairava temple
Akash Bhairava temple

As I continued walking past the Taleju Temple along a few lanes that had shops selling beauty wares, I came across this Golden temple that was dedicated to Akash Bhairava. The stunning horses and doors is what first drew my attention followed by the blue faced deity that seemed central to the Indra Jatra proceedings that were going on here. I had just discovered the Akash Bhairava temple.

The beautiful doors of the Akash Bhairava temple
The beautiful doors of the Akash Bhairava temple

Akash means sky and there is a reason for this name given. As per a local, one of the kings during Mahabharata age had disguised himself as a Bhairav and when Lord Krishna found that, he cut off his head. The head turned blue and was sent back to Kathmandu via the sky. It remained buried for sometime till it was found again and since then, it has been worshipped once a year, during the Indra Jatra.

Newari Homes & Hidden Stupas

One of the many Newari homes around Kathmandu Durbar Square
One of the many Newari homes around Kathmandu Durbar Square
A Stupa in one of the lanes around Kathmandu Durbar Square
A Stupa in one of the lanes around Kathmandu Durbar Square

It was fun getting lost deliberately in the lanes of Kathmandu Durbar Square for I found plenty of beautiful homes, sunken baths and hidden stupas. It felt as if every lane and every building had a story to tell and I for one, was definitely not tired of the same. There is so much to see and absorb here that a complete day might not seem enough. I wonder if you too, feel the same way.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

Getting Here

  • Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal and is well connected by road and air to all the major cities of the world.
  • Kathmandu Durbar Square is central to the city and you can reach here by taking a taxi from anywhere in the city.

Travel Tips

  • The entrance tickets to the Kathmandu Durbar Square for a Non-SAARC citizen is Nepali Rupees 1000 and for a SAARC country resident is Nepali Rupees 150. The camera charges are extra.
  • If you want to visit the Nasal Chowk, you will have to purchase a separate ticket. The ticket for the same is Nepali Rupees 100. There is also, an audio tour available for an additional price
  • There are plenty of shops around the place where you can buy Thangka Art, curios, magnets and the other traditional arts. Remember to bargain well.
  • The Kathmandu Durbar Square is a busy area with plenty of crowd. The 4 wheel vehicles are not allowed here but the two-wheelers are.
  • A lot of temples here are functional and hence, please be mindful and respectful of the same.

P.S: I was invited to visit Nepal by Nepal Tourism Board and Explore Himalaya

 

 

 

Share the Thrill of Travel

64 Responses

    • Ami

      Thanks guys. It will take them time to recover but they are well on their way. Thank heavens for that. Cheers

  1. ryanbidd

    Hi Ami,

    Excellent break down. Love the images too.

    We enjoyed our visit to the square back in 2013. I recall feeding those pigeons – which seemed to be everywhere – and enjoying those temple sits.

    Neat seeing some stoned holy men wandering around too. Sober ones as well. These guys were in their own little universe, totally at peace, at ease, quite the chill folks.

    Thanks for sharing Ami.

    Ryan

    • Ami

      Yep, I saw a few of those too but they did not bother anyone. It was chilled out as you said. Glad you enjoyed the piece. Cheers

  2. Kavita Favelle | Kavey Eats

    I never really looked into what are the main attractions in Nepal so I’m really enjoying your enthusiastic introduction for me to Kathmandu Durbar Square, and the photos really appeal – beautiful historical buildings to explore.

    • Ami

      Thanks Kavita. Kathmandu has tons to offer and am pretty sure you will find lots of things that catch your fancy.

  3. Gautam Raj

    I just lived my days of my Kathmandu Trip again. And now seems that the serenity of this place is calling me back again. I visited back in December 2013 and planned to visit back the next year which couldn’t happen. And then the unfortunate natural disaster… Few of your pics are just replicas of what I clicked. The one Shiv Parvati Temple, I feel that I am in that picture standing near the entrance (I got clicked like this) And the Gaddi Baithak, spent a long roaming around this place

    • Ami

      Glad to know that things have not drastically changed. I am pretty sure they are going to bounce back soon. Thanks for stopping by Gautam.

  4. ambujsaxena05

    Thank you Ami for another brilliant and well detailed post! I love the way you associate the historical angle in every post of yours. I had read about the Mallas in Nepal but the Shah dynasty was some news for me. Thanks once again.

  5. Bama

    Your photos and descriptions bring back some fond memories of Kathmandu, Ami! And now I really miss the city and wish to return one day — hopefully when the reconstruction work has all finished. I know it will take years, if not generations, to completely restore those magnificent monuments, but at least they have started it.

    • Ami

      No harm in going now too. For despite the destruction, there is still tons to see. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. Neha Verma

    The architecture of the temple is really very beautiful. And as always, you have captured it’s marvel very well. The temples are so old and yet they have stood the taste of time and the massive earthquake. The doors of the Akash Bhairva Temple look particularly very intricately done and the story behind them is interesting.

    • Ami

      Thank you Neha. There are so many stories within these lanes. I am glad I got the time that I did to capture them. Cheers

  7. raginipuri

    So concur with the title of this post, Ami. The vastness of Basantapur Durbar Square is such that it is so easy to get lost in it’s architectural grandeur. I for one enjoyed every bit of my walks there!

    • Ami

      Totally, and even over 4 days that we were there, I kept finding new stuff everyday. Thanks for stopping by Ragini

  8. travelpadmy

    Kathmandu Durbar Square is indeed a beautiful place. The sights and architecture are amazing. Thanks for sharing to us a detailed view and stunning pictures of Kathmandu Durbar Square. Keep on posting!

  9. Divyakshi Gupta

    Such an in depth exploration!! Loved the details shared here Ami 🙂 You have captured it all even the tiny temples! Loved the architecture of the place. Could go back again!

  10. Joanna

    It’s good to see that Durban Square still stands up and it’s still breathtaking to see, even if some buildings were really damaged by the earthquake and some temples collapsed. The architecture and the statues of each temple are so beautiful!

  11. Cathy Salvador Mendoza

    I like the pigeon feeing. Looks like there are loads of them and they look so lovely birds! I am visiting Kathmandu next year with my boyfriend and this gives me insights on how the city looks like. They have indeed interesting architectures.

    • Ami

      Thanks Cathy. This sure is an interesting place and you will definitely have a blast there. Cheers

  12. Kate Storm

    Those squares look pretty majestic–it will be wonderful when the last of the restorations are finally complete. Earthquakes can cause such havoc to beautiful spots. Glad to see repairs are marching forward in Kathmandu!

    • Ami

      Indeed very heartening to see the restoration. Would have been a shame to lose it all. Thanks for stopping by Kate.

  13. Sabrina

    Such a detailed and precise post. I love to read about Nepal and I’m saving your posts for my future trip there. I love the historic information you share along with beautiful pictures. One off topic question: how do you disable the copy function on your blog? I was trying to copy the name of the temple, but I see I can’t! 🙂 Thanks in advance!

    • Ami

      Thanks Sabrina. I hope you get there soon. Lots to see. On the Left click disable, there is a plugin that works in the backend to stop that. 🙂

  14. Suzanne

    I definitely want to visit Nepal some day. Those temples and buildings look so ancient and filled with historical stories. I would have loved to see the statue that spewed alcohol and fish. Sounds thrilling and a little gross!

    • Ami

      That statue does it only during the Festival. So do make it then. It is actually fun watching it.

  15. Sherrie

    Incredible that there are so many buildings with so much history in such a small space! Restoring them to their ancient glory must be painstaking. Glad there are still quite a few that escaped from the earthquake relatively unscathed.

    • Ami

      Some have been lost Sherrie but the ones which havent completely gone, are being restored. Glad to see that myself. Thanks for stopping by

  16. Yukti

    Kathmandu Durbar Square is really beautiful and have stunning architecture. Even lots of films are shot here. But due to heavy loss of earthquake many buildings were destroyed and it is good that restoration work is going on to preserve this beautiful culture and architecture. Basantpur Palace really looks worth visiting but it is destroyed. I would like to visit Panchmukhi Hanuman temple and also golden corridors of the palace.

    • Ami

      Sadly they dont allow you in to the Panchmukhi temple. I sure would have wanted to go. But well, the rest you can. Thanks for stopping by Yukti.

  17. Sandy N Vyjay

    The Durbar Square seems like a big open air museum. There is so much of history and culture packed in one place.I am sure it must be a challenge on which direction to focus on as there is something invaluable in every direction. It is sad that the earthquake damaged quite a bit of these priceless treasure, but nonetheless the magnificence of the structures have not diminished.

  18. Abigail Sinsona

    Public squares and markets are definitely one of the best places to explore when visiting a new country or city. This Kathmandu square in particular are very interesting. It is good to know that it has remained resilient despite the threat from nature.

    • Ami

      This was the ancient kingdom and hence, historically significant. And if you are in Kathmandu, there is no missing this one. Thanks for stopping by Abigail

  19. yogi sarswat

    Detailed description about the famous Darbar with grand pictures !! I get answers of all the questions raised in my mind after reading your previous post !!

  20. Mimi & Mitch

    Durbar Square is a place we would like to see, but from a few friends information, they unfortunately didn’t like it too much. It’s sad the Earthquake also affected a lot of what it used to be. Amazing photo you took there of the Shiva Parvati statues (the ones hanging out!)

    • Ami

      To each their own – if you are a history buff, most likely you will love the place. Though I am still partial to Patan Durbar Square. Thanks for stopping by.

  21. Kristina

    Oh my gosh this was incredibly detailed and informative! What an absoloutely gorgeous place this is, your photos are absolutely exquisite. I really hope I can see this in person one day; will def come back and use this as a guide.

  22. Backpackways

    Stunning images Amy, Darbar Square looks quite different now. I had been there before the earthquake. There is so much of history and culture in this place.

    • Ami

      Thank you. All the Durbar Squares are amazing and I sure am kicked about having seen them all this trip. Cheers

  23. Kim

    You captured Kathmandu and Durbar Square beautifully! So much art and history, it’s unfortunate to see it in the condition it’s currently in, but it looks like things are being restored and reconstructed. Would love to visit Nepal one day and see all of this for myself.

  24. SindhuMurthy

    Ami, you seem to have covered every inch of the Kathmandu durbar Square- the amount of detail you have provided here is quite overwhelming. But then , what else can I expect from a true Nepali Jones 🙂 The newari architecture really interests me. The intricately carved statues and the lattice windows seen in most of the prominent structures look so beautiful. The red frills attached to the roofs is the cherry on a cake. Thanks for the virtual tour of the durbar square.

    • Ami

      Thank you Sindhu. Honestly, there is so much there that it felt incomplete not to add all this.

Would love to know what you think