The journey through Nepal’s fascinating Kathmandu Valley continues… After visitng the sacred spaces of Kathmandu (part 1), the next stop is Patan. Although today Patan is basically a suburb of Kathmandu located just south across the Bagmati river, it once was an independent city-state fiercely competing with the two other major cities in the valley – Kathmandu and Bhaktapur – over prestige and influence. Also known as Lalitpur, meaning the City of Beauty, or by its old Newari name, Yala, Patan was originally designed in a Buddhist tradition with four mounds on its perimeter known as Asoka Stupas. According to legend, Emperor Asoka of India visited Patan in 250 BC and built the stupas. But the heart of Patan, just like its sister cities in the Kathmandu Valley, is its magnificent Durbar (or Palace) Square.
The Malla kings ruled the Kathmandu Valley’s city-kingdoms through the medieval period until the ascension to power of the Shah dynasty and unification of Nepal in 1768. Much of Patan’s stunning architecture dates back to the Malla period. In some ways, Patan’s Durbar is even more eye-poppingly beautiful than Kathmandu’s simply because it’s more compact. While Durbar in Kathmandu consists of three loosely connected squares – all magnificent in their own right – here all the amazing temples fit into one very much postcard-like square.
The Patan Royal Palace, built in the 17th century by King Siddhinarasimha Malla, dominates the square. (By the way just like in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur you can’t just wander into the square – at each entry point there are ticket booths so don’t loose your ticket if you explore a side street and then want to come back.) Located in the palace complex is Patan Museum, arguably the best in the country.
Then there is the impressive Krishna Mandir, the most important temple in the square. This three-story stone temple was built in a style imported from India and its elaborate carvings portray scenes from the two famous Sanskrit epics: Mahabharata and Ramayana.
I love elephants, both in nature and in art. Not surprisingly then my favorite temple on Patan’s Durbar Square is the imposing Vishwanath Temple guarded by two stone elephant statues. Dedicated to god Shiva, Vishwanath provides a prime spot for endless people watching. Just climb the stairs and enjoy the view…
Opposite Vishnawath stands Bhimsen Temple devoted to the Newari god Bhimsen who watches over traders and artisans – the two professions that were the lifeblood of Nepal for centuries. In fact, an image of Bhimsen used to be carried to Lhasa in Tibet every 12 years to protect the key trade routes crossing the Himalayas. That centuries-old trade, which was the source of Kathmandu Valley’s and Patan’s opulence, ended when Tibet fell to China in 1959.
Then step beyond Durbar to experience more of Nepal’s daily life where artisans, shopkeepers, worshippers, and tourists mingle in the narrow streets…
For a deeper taste of daily life in the city watch this beautifully short film made by a traveler/film maker Alexander Rose after he had spent six months in Patan.