World Heritage Sites (Cultural)
- Kathmandu Durbar Square
- Patan Durbar Square
World Heritage Sites (Natural)
- Chitwan national Park
- Sagarmatha National Park
Kathmandu Durbar Squar
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the seemingly uncountable monuments in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. The house of the Living Goddess ( Kumari Ghar ), 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 (legend has it that She played dice with King Jaya Prakash Malla), and an image of Shiva and Parbati sitting together among the many monuments.
The Square teems 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 complex also houses the Tribhuvan Museum that carries the mementoes of different Shah Kings.
The history of the Valley, according to the legends, begins with Swayambhu, or the “the self-existent”. In times uncharted by history, Boddhisatwa 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.
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.
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 ritual.
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, Kailas 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 offer worship to Shiva, the Lord of Destruction.
Patan Durbar Square
This whole square is a cluster of fine pagoda temples and stone statues; it is at the same time the business hub of the city. At every step one comes across a piece of art or an image of a deity, testifying to the consummate skill of Patan’s anonymous artists. The ancient palace of the Malla kings and the stone baths associated with various legends and episodes of history are especially interesting to visitors. The stone temple of Lord Krishna and the Royal Bath (Tushahity) with its intricate stone and bronze carvings are two other masterpieces in the same vicinity.
The temple of Lord Krishna holds a commanding position in Patan’s Palace complex. Though its style is not wholly native, it is one of the most perfect specimens of Nepalese templecraft. The three-storey stone temple continues to elicit high praise from lovers of art and beauty. It was built by King Siddhi Narasingha Malla in the sixteenth century A. D. Important scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics have been carved in bas-relief. The minute details of this work clearly show the high level that the art of stone carving attained in the sixteenth century.
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 1696 A.D., this gate is guarded on either side by two huge statues of lions.
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
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.
The five-storey pagoda styled Nyatapola temple was built by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1702 A. D. It stands on five terraces on each of which squat a pair of figures: two famous wrestlers, two elephants, two lions, two griffins and Baghini and Singhini -the tiger and the lion goddesses. Each pair of figures is considered ten times stronger than the ones immediately below, while the lowest pair, the two strong men Jaya Malla and Phatta Malla, were reputedly ten times stronger than any other men.
The temple of Dattatraya is as old as the Palace of Fifty-five Windows. Consecrated by King Yakshya Malla in 1427 A. D. , this temple, according to popular belief, was built out of the trunk of a single tree. It was subsequently repaired and renovated by King Vishwa Malla in 1458 A. D. Just beside the temple is a monastery (Math) with exquisite carvings.
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.
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 Buddha.
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.
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.
Nepal is not only blessed with unparallel scenic beauty, arcane valleys, sublime temples and majestic Himalayas but it’s also the birthplace of Lord Buddha, an apostle of peace. Born in 623 BC, in a garden at Lumbini close to the Shakya capital of Kapilavastu, a small kingdom in the Terai region of Nepal, Prince Siddhartha rejecting his regal life took an amazing journey that would transform the deeply troubled prince into the great Buddha, the Enlightened one.
As a reminder of his difficult journey and its ultimate goal, Buddha prevailed upon his disciples to visit the four important places that were the cornerstones of his great journey – Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar.
Lumbini in southern Nepal is where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha. It is just a short distance from the Shakya capital of Kapilavastu. Pilgrimages focus on the sacred garden which contains the site of the birth, the Mayadevi temple, the Pashkarni pond and the Ashoka pillar. Designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the sacred garden of Lumbini is a World Heritage Site with monasteries from many Buddhist nations. It is recognised as a supreme pilgrimage site and symbol of world peace.
In recent times, the Lumbini Development Trust has made plots of land available to foreign governments and Buddhist associations to build monasteries in native styles. So far monasteries are built at the Monastic Zone by Tara Foundation Duesseldorf, Germany Buddhist Association of China, Vietnam Phat Quoc Tu, Karma Kagyo Dachverband, Germany, W.Linh Son. Buddhist, France, Korean Mahabodhi Society of Korean Buddhist Chogye Order S. Korea, Yong Do Society, South Korea, Sokyo Organization, Japan, Garden International Austria, Government of Thailand, Mahabodhi Society of India, Calcutta, Government of Myanmar, Government of Sri Lanka and Royal Government of Bhutan. There are two meditation centres in Lumbini namely Panditarama Meditation Center, Myanmar and Nepal Vipasana Center, Nepal. Similarly Nipponjan Myohoji (World Peace Stupa) built by Japan is also erected in the Monastic Zone.
Around Lumbini in Nepal are seven other pilgrimage sites. The first thirty years of Buddha’s life were spent at Tilaurakot in Kapilavastu in his father’s home, 27 km west of Lumbini in Nepal. The well-preserved city foundations are evocative of former times, and the casket recovered from the original stupa is preserved in the nearby museum. About 34 km northeast of Lumbini is Devdaha whose Koliya people are considered to be the maternal tribesmen of the Buddha. The forest of Sagarhawa lies northwest of Niglihawa. Another important site is the stupa at Kudan, 5 km from Tilaurakot, where Buddha’s father King Suddhodhana met him after his enlightenment.
Kathmandu Valley is an important Buddhist pilgrimage circuit with 15 major sites. It is a living center of Buddhist learning with many new monasteries and schools that attract visitors from all over the world. The most important Living Buddhism sites are Swayambhunath and Bodhnath stupas, both with strong links to Tibet. Protected as World Heritage Sites, they are the most revered spiritual sites in the country, attracting thousands of pilgrims. Many of the indigenous Newar people of Kathmandu practice a unique form of Buddhism, unrelated to Tibet.
Nepal is a gateway to the Buddhist world. Other Buddhist sites in South Asia and Tibet can be easily accessed through Nepal. Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar can be visited by land after visiting Lumbini. A package tour is available in Nepal for Buddhist Circuit in Nepal and India. There is a regular flight connection from Kathmandu to Paro(Bhutan), Lhasa(Tibet) and Vanarashi(India).