Kathmandu Swayambhunath Temple
Kathmandu Boudhanath Stupa
Annapurna Peak from Pokhara
Kathmandu city, the abode of gods, has long been the favorite of Kings, invaders, Tibetan and Chinese refugees. The city has encouraged the development of cultural ethics, legends, stories, myths, architecture and beliefs which have thrived and prospered in its lap through centuries. Kathmandu is the self-created cultural capital of Nepal. There is no rival to challenge its long standing history and culture. It shines like a star among the other cultural capitals of the world.
In the past, the city of Kathmandu, located at an elevation of 1400 meters, was a trade link connecting India to Tibet via China. This happened with the flourishing of Newari culture and rising popularity of Newari artists during Licchavi era which encouraged the exchange of products and temporary employment of Newari artists in different regions of Himalayas. However, the glory was yet to be achieved and the masterpieces were yet to be created. Kathmandu and the neighboring region reached the zenith of its glory during Malla era. It was then that the present architecture of Kathmandu and the agglomeration took its shape. Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur were added to Kathmandu in Malla era. Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square are some architectural wonders from this era. Urban Kathmandu is hub of pilgrims and visitors who wish to experience the past glory and bag the blessings of god and goddess of Kathmandu for better future.
The best time to visit Kathmandu
The best time to visit Kathmandu is from September to November (The festival season) and February to April (spring season). Winter can be quite cold and considered the low season, but the visibility is at its best and the mountain views are at its brightest during these months. The Monsoon months of July and August witness heavy to very heavy rainfall and landslides are not uncommon. These two months are not the best time to visit Kathmandu.
Kathmandu the City of Gods
Kathmandu is an important pilgrimage destination of Hindus and Buddhists. It is home of the famous Hindu temple Pashupatinath which is located at the banks of River Bagmati.The temple is one of the sacred Shiva temples and is assigned on UNESCO World Heritage Site list.Swayambhunath and Boudhnath are two important pilgrimage sites of Buddhists in Kathmandu. Both the stupas are known for their excellent architecture and wall paintings apart from being a pilgrimage site. Boudhnath is one of the oldest stupa in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The origins of all three temples are disputed however there are many myths and legends describing their genesis.
Festivals in Kathmandu
Since Kathmandu is the abode of gods, there must be some festivities and celebrations to please the Almighty to attain spiritual uplift. The Hindu and Buddhist monuments in Kathmandu are the sites of celebration of some important festivals associated with the deities residing at these places. Hindu festivals holding great prominence among the people of Kathmandu and Nepal are- Maha Shivaratri, Maghe Sankranti, Nag Panchami, Ram Navmi, Panch Dan Teej / Rishi Panchari, Basant Panchami, Phagun Purnima and Machendranath Rath Yatra. The important festivals of Buddhists in Kathmandu are - Chait Dasain, Losar, Buddha Jayanti, Tihaar and Tamu Lhosar. However, the harmony is established when people coming together to celebrate all the major festivals of Kathmandu with pomp and happiness. The whole scene is dominated by crowds of people offering prayer and services to gods in a beautifully decorated Kathmandu city.
How to Reach Kathmandu
Kathmandu has an international airport named Tribhuvan International Airport (IATA: KTM,ICAO:VNKT). It receives direct flights from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Dhaka, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.
Patan, Kirtipur, Bhaktapur and Thimi are some cities close to Kathmandu. Other includes Dhulikhel, Nagarkot, Panauti, Changu Narayan and Daman.
Kathmandu is known for its iconic landmark temple Pashupatinath which is one of the most scared Shiva temple in the sub-continent. The temple is located to the eastern side of Kathmandu on the banks of Bagmati River. Pashupatinath temple has an obscure origin as different legends relate different stories of its emergence. However in 17th century A.D. the temple was newly erected by Bhupatindra Malla after the previous temple was destroyed by termites. Present shape of the temple is pagoda style building with two-tiered roofs. The whole building seems to be glimmering with gold, copper and silver. The roofs are plated in gold and copper and the four doors shine in silver. The temple houses a one-meter high linga which is one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams of Asia. The beauty of this temple has landed it to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.Balachaturdasi, Janaipurnima and Shivaratri are important festivals of Pashupatinath Temple. Puja(ritual and worship) in the temple is presided over by Bhatts and chief priest.
Pashupatinath Temple complex is housed by many other temples like Guhyeshwari Temple, Vaishnav Temple, Vasuki Temple, Chadeshwar and Ram Temple. Bagmati River is a sacred river of Kathmandu. Thousands of pilgrims take a holy dip in the river on the bank of Pashupatinath Temple to drive away their bad karmas (wrong doings).
Boudanath stupa located in the northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu is the most important site of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a uniquely beautiful building with an interesting myth surrounding its emergence. The huge semi-circle mandala dominates the architecture of the stupa.It is topped by a square slab bearing the omnipresent eyes of Buddha on four sides. The omnipresent eyes are believed to be noticing the activities of people. It also symbolizes wisdom and compassion. Whereas, the three-dimensional dome is pictogram of Buddhist cosmology. While looking at the architecture, one is astonished by its alignment to Buddhist philosophies and sacred numbers. The complete stupa is 36 meters tall and one of the largest in the world. Its distinctive and impressive structure has won it a name in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as early as 1979.
Boudhanath is highly popular among Buddhist monks and pilgrims.’Om Mani Padme Hum’ is the mantra of the monks. They visit this place for meditation and enlightenment. The great stupa has also seen the emergence of 29 Tibetan Gompas in surrounding region.Losar (Tibetan New Year) is the biggest festival of Boudhanath.
Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple
Swayambhunath Stupa is the second most popular stupa of Kathmandu Valley after Boudhanath. The temple is located on a conical hill west of Kathmandu city. The significance of the temple is derived from Bodhisattva Manjusri legend of Swayambhu Purana. According to the legend, the entire valley of Kathmandu was covered with a lake, out of which grew a beautiful lotus. Bodhisattva Manjusri had a vision of lotus present in Swayambhu and travelled there all the way from Tibet to worship this place. He realized that the valley should be good site for worship and settlement therefore, he drained the water of the lake from Chovar gorge. The lotus then transformed into a hill and the flower became Swayambhunath Stupa. Historically too, the foundation of Swayambhunath can be traced back to 5th Century C.E. Swayambhyunath is not only worshipped by Buddhists but also by Hindus, as a result of strengthened alliance between the people of two religions after the contribution of Hindu King Pratap Malla to construct the stairway to the stupa.
Marvelous architecture of Swayambhunath is also a driving factor for the Buddhist aesthetics and believers. The huge white dome topped by a cubical platform with eyes of Buddha painted on all four sides symbolizes that when we wake from the bondings of world then only can we reach to the path of enlightenment and transcendence. The thirteen gold pinnacles signify thirteen stages of self-realization and practices to achieve moksha or enlightenment.
Statues of Panch Buddhas named Akshobhya, Ratna Sambhava, Amitabha and Amoghsiddi can be found on the four sides of stupa, with Vairochana in the center.
Swayambhunath Stupa is not alone in the complex. It is accompanied by many chaityas, temples, painted images of deities and religious objects. Some popular temples are Harati Devi temple and Shantipru Stupa. Some tourists also prefer to call Swayambhunath Monkey temple because of the quantity of monkeys present in the temple.
Garden of Dreams
Kaiser Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana of Kathmandu was deeply inspired by European architecture. He hired Kishore Narshingh to create an enchanting garden in Kathmandu which would later be called the Garden of Dreams or Garden of Six Seasons. Inspired by Edwardian style, the 6,895 square meters garden consists of pavilions, fountains, Europe-inspired verandas, pergolas balustrades urns and birdhouses within the walls. All the six pavilions are dedicated to the six seasons of Nepal, hence the name. The garden after years of neglect was restored to its original beauty to attract visitors.
Everyone wants to travel light and wish to spend less. Thamel is the place for the backpacking international travelers. It is a hub of budget hotels, restaurants and eatables without compromising with quality of services. The location itself is a cluster of busy lanes embroided by street hawkers buzzing their sales. A visit to Thamel for shopping and street food is not a bad option. Thamel is also the first full Wi-Fi zone of Nepal.
The architectural skill of Newari artists is best exhibited in their hometown Kathmandu. Infact, they have left the mark of the artistry throughout the valley in the name of Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. All the three sites are recognized for their distinctive architecture and are listed under the name of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of the three squares, Kathmandu or Basantanpur Durbar Square is located in Kathmandu city.
Kathmandu Durbar Square is a conglomeration of palaces, temples, courtyards, fountains and statues located in the heart of Kathmandu city. It the most important tourist sites of Kathmandu. The preference for the construction of the royal palaces in this site date back to third century .Yet the major buildings of the Square date back to the era of Malla and Shah Kingdoms. Impressive palaces, courtyards and temples explain longstanding indulgence of kings and visitors to this site. Kathmandu Durbar Square was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site for its spectacular beauty and depiction of the religious beliefs and cultural life of the people past. Kathmandu Durbar Square is divided into two sections –the outer section and the inner section. The outer complex consists of Kumari Ghar, Kasthamandap, Shiv-Parbati Temple, Jagannath Temple, and Big Bele. While the inner complex comprises of Hanuman dhoka and its courtyards like Nasal Chowk, Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk, Basantanpur Durbar and many more.
Some of the important attractions of Kathmandu Durbar Square are:
• Kasthamandapa – Kathmandu Square is dominated by a spacious hall temple name Kasthamandapa. The wooden building is distinguished by its beauty and compactness. Initially a monastery, it was used as a meeting house by kings in 11th century. Kathmandu derives its name from the Kasthamandapa.
• Hanuman Dhoka- Hanuman Dhoka is inner complex of Kathmandu Square which is named after the statue of monkey god Hanuman placed in the entrance of Dhoka.
• Kumari Bahal – Kumari Bahal is located on the eastern side of Basantpur Square. It is the residence of living goddess. The goddess is a young girl or Kumari who is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga.
• Shiv-Parvati Temple- Shiv-Parvati Temple is an alluring temple of Shiv and Parvati in the northern side of Durbar Square. Both the figures seem to be gazing down at the onlookers from an upper window of the building like a happy couple. The temple suspected to be constructed by Bahadur Shah.
• Ashok Binayak Temple- Ashok Binayak Shrine is 10th century temple constructed by Gundakama. It is devoted to Hindu god Ganesha. The most notable feature of the temple is stone figure of Ganesha beneath a man-made replica of Ashok tree which one shaded the temple.
• Jagannath Temple- Jagannath Temple of Hanuman Dhoka is dedicated to god Jagannath. It is popular for its beautiful wood-carvings on doors, windows and roof struts.
• Taleju Temple- Taleju Temple is one of the oldest and most important temples of Durbar Square. It was constructed in 1564 by King Mahendra Malla, who received a vision from Goddess Taleju to construct a temple for her in Kathmandu Durbar Square. The temple is the first two-tiered roof temple of Durbar Square constructed on an elevated platform.
• Lohan Chowk- Lohan Chowk was built by Prithvi Narayan Shah after he had united Nepal and declared Kathmandu as his capital. The four towers in four corners of Lohan Chowk symbolize the city- kingdoms of Nepal. The north-western tower is Kirtipur Tower, the north-eastern tower is Bhaktapur Tower. Lalitpur (Patan) tower is in the south-eastern corner while the tallest tower symbolizing Kathmandu, Basantpur Tower, is located in the south-western corner.
• Mul Chowk- Mul Chowk is among the oldest surviving wing of Durbar Square. Yet the beautiful carvings embellish the beauty of the chowk. One section of chowk is dedicated to goddess Taleju which in opened only once in a year on Dasain festival.
• Sikhamu Bahal-Sikhamu Bahal is a courtyard next to Royal Kumari which contains a number of votive stupas. The priests of Sikhamu Bahal played an important role in producing Buddhist texts from 16th to 19th century.