I bet you’re thinking: “Wait, she’s already posted this”, but actually it’s good to know that there are several Durbar Squares in Nepal. Not at all confusing, is it?
Essentially, Durbar Square is the generic term to refer to a plaza located in front of a Palace complex. The 3 most notable ones in Kathmandu are :
- in Bhaktapur (pictures in this post over here),
- in Kathmandu (pictured above),
- in Patan (no pictures, as I didn’t get around to going there).
All of them are UN World Heritage Sites.
Basantapur is home to number of temples, open courts and street vendors selling all sorts of things. It’s a place truly bustling with life.
We decided to walk there from our hotel (in the Thamel area). The concierge gave us a map and told us it was an easy 15-minute walk.
Although easy, it took us more like 30 minutes to get there since the streets have no names and are so narrow you often find yourself plastered against walls as all manner of motorized vehicles squeeze by. Then there are all the distractions: the stupas in the squares, the unexpected shrines in random holes in the wall, the countless stores selling countless goods… It truly is a marvelous maze of colors, scents and sights.
The next thing we knew, we were in the heart of Durbar Square – no ticket and no questions asked.
The entrance fee for Durbar Square is about $7.50. However, as we later found out after a cup of chai at a rooftop café, the limits of Durbar Square are far from being clearly marked and you can walk out as easily as we walked in and the authorities will not hesitate to charge you again. To avoid this issue, bring your passport and a passport photo to the Site Office after having paid your entrance fee, they will stick your photo to your ticket and stamp it, letting you wander in and out of the square for the duration of your visa. All for the same $7.50.
This is worth doing even if you are only staying in Kathmandu for a day as it is worthwhile visiting the Square at different times of the day: in the morning, the devotee flock there to make offerings; in the day time, the views from the top of the temples or surrounding rooftop cafés is breath-taking,; in the evening, the night market (from 5PM to 8 or 9PM) comes to life and lights up the temples spectacularly. It’s also just more convenient if you are walking around exploring so you don’t have to make unnecessary detours around the square.
Basantapur Durbar Square is relatively compact but there are a whole lot of temples in that relatively small space. It can be divided into two areas: the outer complex – which includes sights such as Taleju Temple, Jagannath Temple, Shiva-Parvati Temple, Big Bell and the Kumari Bahal; and the inner complex – comprising the old palace courtyards, Basantapur Palace and Hanuman Dhoka.
THE OUTER COMPLEX
1. Kumari Chowk – Home of the Living Goddess
This building houses the Raj Kumari – a girl considered to be a Living Goddess. She is thought to be the reincarnation of Durga, the Hindu mother goddess. She is chosen after a strict selection process at the age of 5 and lives in this building until puberty when another girl is chosen to replace her. She rarely comes out on the inner balcony for public appearances other than religious festivals but try your luck early in the morning or late in the afternoon – or try paying her guards.
If you are lucky enough to see her, photos are prohibited!
2. Trilokya Mohan Narayan Temple
This is the tallest building on the compound. It is dedicated to Vishnu and encloses incarnations of him and a figure of Garuda (a vehicle of Vishnu). Another Garuda statue can be found in Singha Sattal.
3. Kasthamandap – The Wood Pavillion
This is a 3-roofed building and one of the oldest in Durbar Square. Legend states that it was entirely built with the wood of a single tree. The name of the city – Kathmandu – derives from the name of this temple. The building enshrines images of the God Ganesh. In the evenings, groups of Hindus will gather to chant Holy texts.
Entry is permitted, but photos are not.
4. Ashok Bihayak Shrine
Dedicated to Lord Ganesha. There is a stone image below a golden replica of an Ashok tree that used to shelter the shrine. Try to visit at 6AM as people go there to make offerings and pray for luck for travel and business and get a red spot on their head. On the other side of the street, keep an eye out for a little rat statue. Rats are the vehicle of the elephant God Ganesh.
5. Shiva- Parvati Temple/ Mahendreshwor Temple/ Shiva Temple and Manju Deval Temple
All are dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Maju Deval enshrines a Shiva lingham
Shiva-Parvati temple holds shrines for both Shiva and his partner Parvati. Take a look at Shiva’s left hand in the carving above main door. (remember Pashupatinath?)
6. Kal Bhairav
Don’t miss the massive stone statue of Lord Shiva
7. Jagannath Temple
Look out for the exquisite wooden carvings on this temple.
8. Taleju Temple
This is one of the most beautiful temples in the square. Access is restricted but enjoy viewing it from a distance.
THE INNER COMPLEX
The Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex
At the entrance of the complex, look for the statue of the Monkey God Hanuman anointed with mustard oil and vermillion. He wards off evil spirits and disease. As you walk around, admire the elaborately carved wooden windows and panels.
This inner courtyard houses the statue of the Dancing Krishna on the East side of the courtyard.
Located behind the Dancing Krishna, this building is barred to visitors but is a beautiful example of Nepali temples.
Supposedly the palaces traditional pleasure quarters, this tower has beautiful carvings and Mughal-style details.