Nepal’s Cultural Heritage – Exploring Kathmandu Valley

The early morning sun reflects the brilliant white of the spectacular snow-capped Himalayas, as we start out on this day’s adventure. We are in Kathmandu. Today, we go beyond the city to explore the surrounding Kathmandu Valley. We’ve been told this is another world.

Ganesh, our guide, already awaits us this bright early morning. We cross the Baghmati River, bordering the city, and reach charming Patan. A mere twenty minute ride from the city, this is, indeed, another world. Lalitpur, as it is known locally – has an aura of tranquility and peace about it, so unlike that of frenetic Kathmandu. This is a town renowned for its excellent craftsmen and crafts. Walking down the narrow lanes, we come across the exquisite temples, traditional buildings and tiny shops and stalls of metal and wood artisans and stone cutters. We reach Durbar Square in the heart of the city, where we are mesmerized by the palace buildings, artful courtyards and graceful pagodas. The three main courtyards here are punctuated by wood and stone architecture, the crowning jewel being the Tushahiti, the Royal Bath, a masterpiece of stone architecture.

Hindu temples and Buddhist pagodas dot the city throughout, enhancing the peaceful ambience. We stop at Krishna Mandir, considered Nepal’s finest stone structure. Despite its solid stone construction, this Hindu Temple is delicate and light – magnificent in its form, with scones and friezes depicting holy Hindu scenes. We continue to the Mahabouddha Temple, a Buddhist shrine, its architecture in stark contrast to the Hindu temples. This terra-cotta monument, a work of art of 14th Century Nepalese construction, is made of clay bricks engraved with thousands of Buddha images.

On towards Bhaktapur, we stop at the Tibetan Refugee camp, where beautiful Tibetan carpets and other crafts captivate us. We pass through enchanting Newari towns where life continues in ancient traditions much as it did in former times.

Reaching Bhaktapur, we are struck by the bewitching beauty of this remarkable city. Known as Nepal’s cultural gem, a sense of timelessness prevails. More like an open, living museum, its opulence, ancient art and culture transports us to another era. The crowning jewel of the city is its Durbar Square – a UNESCO World Heritage Site where works of art in the form of unique palaces, temples and monasteries are set to the backdrop of the magnificent Himalayas.

Perhaps the most fascinating structure in the square is the 55 Window Palace, originally the seat of Newar royalty, which now houses the National Art Gallery. We admired the elaborately carved windows and doors of the building, and were left gaping at the breathtaking stone artworks and paubha scroll paintings housed in the museum. In Tuamadhi Square, we come across the Nyatapola Temple, a colossal five story pagoda, the country’s tallest Buddhist temple.

Though founded in the 12th Century as the capital of the Malla Kingdom, Bhaktapur really took on its present shape in the 18th Century, when most of its greatest monuments were built. Mostly terra-cotta masterpieces along the rich artistic Newar tradition, the buildings are supported by carved wooden columns, elaborate windows and doors, gilded roofs and spacious, surrounding open courtyards. The fascinating divine images portrayed reflect the religious beliefs and social outlook of their Newari craftsmen. The clusters of monuments that embellish the city’s brick and stone squares reaffirm Nepal’s tradition of social harmony and religious tolerance, where Buddhist temples rub shoulders with Hindu shrines.

Besides the many temples and shrines that preside over the city, Bhaktapur is renowned for its long history of Newari craftsmanship. At the Pottery Square, we encounter Newari potters busily shaping lumps of clay on their wooden wheels and skilled artisans creating everything from indigenous paubha scroll paintings and papier-mâché masks to woven cloths, wood carvings and metal works. Chancing upon the Gai-Jatra festival, however, was the highlight of our day. The tantrically inspired dances include images of the city’s protectress deities and are unique to Bhaktapur. As they were centuries ago, the festivals and dances are enthusiastically observed here. The day was a real treat for us and the younger family members, who were mesmerized by the spectacle.

In the Kathmandu Valley, we were transported to another world – a world of culture, art and heritage- a day where we were afforded easy sightseeing, rest and relaxation after our intensive trekking and rafting adventures.