Think of Nepal and the first thing that comes to your mind is the snow-clad Himalayas. If you force yourself to think beyond this glory of Nepal, you think of Casinos that attract a lot of tourists to this country. Followed by our Nepali security guards, who are synonymous with security agencies in our country. If forced to think about the cultural heritage of Nepal, you may say ok, there is Pashupatinath temple, holy for all Hindus. The cultural places are the Kathmandu Durbar Squares.
Kathmandu Durbar Squares – UNESCO World Heritage
Not many have heard of the Kathmandu Durbar Squares of Nepal. Those to me are the cultural high point of Nepal, a living heritage. Kathmandu Durbar Square’s are in fact a UNESCO world heritage site. There are three of them, all are quite similar and yet have individuality. Traditionally a durbar square used to be the residence of the king and also the center of the town. It had the king’s palace, the deity of the clan and other temples in an open space. Followed by the residences of the important people and then by those of citizens. The roads coming out of the Durbar Square’s had the markets and the open spaces had the long corridors. Temples had elaborate steps, all the spaces available to the people to roam around. To sit and chat and to mingle with others.
These were social spaces just on the outskirts of the Royal Family’s Palace. You have to spend some time in these squares to feel the intimacy that people would have shared with the royal family. Though there is a distinct difference in the social hierarchy that is highlighted by the state of buildings, they are physically and hence I assume psychologically close enough to each other. Even today all these durbar squares are living spaces with no restriction on locals to enter and use them. However, tourists have to pay a fee and paste the ticket on them to say that they have paid the entrance fees. As there are no formal entry and exit gates. You can see the durbar square fading into ordinary houses as you move away from the center.
Some places have now been converted into art centers where Thangka paintings and other local arts are promoted. Some palace parts have been converted into museums housing the artifacts of royal families and excavated articles from the region. Most temples are still practicing and are fiercely guarded. Some allow only Hindus to go and most do not allow photography.
Kathmandu Durbar Squares – Bhaktapur, Basantapur & Patan Durbar Square
Basantapur Durbar Square
The Basantapur Durbar Square is more popularly known as Hanuman Dhoka because of a large number of monkeys in this complex. Till very late this was the place where the king’s coronation used to take place. This square also houses the Kumari Ghar, the house of Nepal’s principal living Goddess. If there are enough tourists, the guide will signal and the Kumari will come out to give you a glimpse of her. There is one building in this square with a colonial architecture, which stands out in the cluster of otherwise traditional Nepali architecture.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Old town Bhaktapur is considered the cultural capital of the region. This square actually has three squares. You see the first one as you enter from the main gate called Durbar Square. The Past this is Taumadhi Square, which has the magnificent five-storied Nyatapola temple dedicated to Siddhi Laxmi along with a three-storied Bhairav temple. The steps leading to the temple have huge figurines of animals on both sides. From the top-story of the temple, you can get a bird’s eye view of the town. Behind this square is a potter’s square. Where you will see rows of pottery lying in a square and potter’s wheels around it.
Patan Durbar Square
Patan Durbar Square is famous for it’s Krishna temple. It is built in grey stone in Nagar or North Indian temple architectural style and is a practicing temple. There is a shining brass image of Lord Krishna on the first floor of the temple. And has carvings of usual Hindu themes on the outer walls. Another attraction of this square is the Golden temple dedicated to Buddha. You can walk across the square and it’s by lanes. You will see so many big and small temples, stupas, Lingas that beauty is the life that exists around them. They are not monuments that have to be preserved for tourists. But they are a part of everyday life of the people living in and around them.
The architecture of Monuments at Durbar Squares
The architecture of buildings in these heritage monuments is typically Nepali that borrows a lot from the Pagoda style. Finely carved wooden windows adorn the walls of most buildings. In fact, Kathmandu was originally called KashthaMandap or a hall made of wood. The carved wood can be seen all over the durbar squares. And in curio shops where the miniature versions of the Nepal windows are sold. The dark-colored carved wood looks beautiful against the red palace and temple walls. While you can read about the history of Kathmandu Durbar Squares and Nepal, see the living heritage. As people use it today as they would have used it in the past.
See the locals selling their art and craft to the tourists, small vendors selling food. Look at them interacting amongst themselves as the tourists sprinkled between them move around. The chaos, the sound of children playing on the steps of closed temples. Sights of brick, wood, metal, and stone all come together to create a cultural identity for the place. You have to sit at these places and soak yourself in it, to feel it & to absorb it.
If you are visiting Nepal, recommend you to explore these prime heritage places in the capital.