Come along on our journey as we travel Nepal In 2 Weeks – Day 2: Patan and Bhaktapur! On our second day in Nepal, we took a day trip from Kathmandu to visit Patan. A pretty city with a long Buddhist history making for an impressive collection of palaces and temples. Unfortunately our morning was off to rainy start. We got caught in a torrential downpour and the streets around Durbar Square were completely flooded.
Patan was also hit hard by the earthquake and again, my heart ached to see so many temples in ruins. There were signs of hope however, as many sites displayed donation signs with the flag of the supporting country on them.
Patan is known for its metal craftsmanship and many temples were adorned with beautifully detailed metal engravings. We picked up a souvenir metal statue from one of the many metal shops that lined the cobblestone streets.
The rain finally ceased mid-morning and we were able to enter the Patan Museum. The museum was formerly the residence of the Malla kings and houses an impressive history of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal. There are over 200 metal figurines as well as historical photos of Kathmandu. The dark, narrow hallways displayed fascinating relics including a large ceremonial bench covered with magnificent engravings of snakes.
From the museum we moved into the Patan Palace that consisted of three courtyards that were adorned with incredible carvings: Keshav Narayan Chok, Mul Chok and Sundari Chok.
The royal bath in the Bhandarkhal Garden has recently been restored and dates back to the 12th century.
I loved the sunken fountain in Sundari Chok. Just look at the detail on each of the figurines! I’ve never seen a fountain quite like this before and was so impressed. The fountain was commissioned by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in 1647 and each stone alcove is devoted to members of the Hindu pantheon.
Of the three Durbar Squares in the Valley, Patan’s Durbar Square is considered the most harmonious and elegant. Patan was also much less hectic than Kathmandu, and I appreciated the peaceful vibes of the square, despite the rain!
In the afternoon, we headed to Bhaktapur, the third of the medieval city-states in the Valley and a short drive from Patan. Named the “City of Devotees” Bhaktapur is home to some of the finest architecture in Nepal, but was also heavily damaged by the earthquake.
One of the least damaged areas was Naga Poktari, a 17th century water tank that is framed by stone serpents. An impressive serpent towers at the end of the tank, where water poured out of a dhara in the form of a goat being consumed by a makara.
The Vatsala Durga Temple was severely damaged but King Bhupatindra Malla’s Column still stands tall in front of the temple. The bronze statue of King Bhupatindra Malla sits peacefully at the very top, and is similar to statues in the Durbar Squares of Patan and Kathmandu.
The Taleju Bell is also in front of the Vatsala Durga Temple and was erected in 1737 to mark the daily morning and evening prayers at the temple. There was something beautiful about this large bell sitting defiantly over the pile of rubble.
The Siddhi Lakshmi Temple was heavily supported by beams but the guardians of the temple: female and male attendants leading a child and a dog, horses, rhinos, human-faced lions and camels; still stood their guard.
Behind the Siddhi Lakshmi Temple, two large stone lions can be found. Some say they are protecting the palace, while others claim they are watching over the site of a lost temple that disappeared in the earthquake of 1934.
We visited an art school where students with disabilities learn about art and sell their own work, such a wonderful idea! Most impressive was the sand mandala that the students of the Dalai Lama made for the school. The detail on the sand mandala was exquisite. Traditionally after sand mandalas are completed they are swept away to symbolize “impermanence”. Nothing is permanent – I couldn’t agree more. Human nature tries to fight against this in regards to, for example, relationships. We take them for granted and find it hard to let go when it is unrealistic to assume they will last forever.
Dedicated to Bhairab, the incarnation of Shiva in his fearsome state, Bhairabnath Temple was built in the early 17th century and was rebuilt after the 1934 earthquake.
Nyatapola Temple is the most impressive temple in Bhaktapur. This perfectly proportioned five storey temple is the tallest building in all of Nepal and was built in 1702, surviving both the 1934 and 2015 earthquakes. Legendary Rajput wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu line the stairs, which are also guarded by elephants, lions, griffons and two goddesses: Baghini and Singhini.
Bhaktapur is renowned for its woodcarving, and we picked up a fearsome looking Shiva mask from this amazing mask store. Picking one mask was a hard decision!
A couple of goats hung out in front of the Dattatreya Temple, that is also guarded by the same two Malla wrestlers that are found at the Nyatapola Temple. Speaking of woodcarving, this temple was supposedly built using the timber from a single tree!
One of my favourite door shots of the whole trip! These bright sky blue doors may have seen better days, but still added a happy splash of colour to the otherwise brick and wood architectural landscape.
As evening came upon us, the sun finally came out and cast a magical glow over the bustling main street of Bhaktapur. I loved our day trip to these fascinating city-states!
Back in Kathmandu, we ventured out into the winding streets of Thamel to find this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant. As far as dive restaurants go, this one did not disappoint! We devoured the tasty noodles and had our first taste of the famous Himalayan dumpling: the momo. A flavourful, juicy morsel wrapped in a soft, steamed wrapper. We predicted many momos were going to be consumed on this trip! Especially the buffalo momos…
Have you ever tasted a momo? Let me know what you thought of my second day in Nepal!
My boyfriend and I were all set to travel to Nepal in 2015, but a week before departure the earthquake devastated this beautiful country, and we had to postpone. Over a year later, we were rebooked for our Nepal adventure! We had originally booked a tour with Annapurna Foothills Treks and Expedition and we were happy to hear that they would honour our deposit even after so much time had passed. So come along on our much anticipated journey, as we travel Nepal in 2 weeks – Day 1: Kathmandu!
After a fourteen hour layover in Hong Kong, we landed in Kathmandu and were greeted by our lovely guide at the airport. We got our first taste of a third world country before we had even reached our van. We were swarmed by a few locals who wanted to assist with our bags. Tired, with our guard down, we assumed that they worked for our tour company. They immediately asked for a tip and started to harass my boyfriend for more money once his wallet was out. I sensed something was wrong and luckily he only gave away a twenty before I stepped in. While I’ve travelled to poor countries before, Nepal still took me by surprise. Even though I knew to a degree what to expect, reality was still shocking. Despite this one incident though, once I became comfortable with my surroundings I became immersed in the beauty and peace of this country.
The next morning we met Bijay, our awesome guide for Kathmandu. Kathmandu is unlike any city I have ever visited. The narrow streets are packed with motorcycles, cars, carts, people and animals. An intoxicating ever-present smell of incense lingers in the air, along with clouds of dust and exhaust while the constant beeping of car horns keeps you on your toes. Kathmandu was made the capital of Nepal after the invasion of the Kathmandu valley in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah and the creation of the Shah dynasty. For decades, the city’s infrastructure has been struggling to sustain itself. Massive earthquakes destroyed much of the city in 1934 and 2015, and the city was flooded with tens of thousands Nepalis who were escaping political violence in the early 2000s.
We journeyed just outside the city to the hilltop Buddhist temple and Unesco World Heritage Site of Swayambhunath, the “monkey temple”. Covered in holy monkeys with prayer flags strung from every corner, I felt a mystical energy in the air. I took a deep breath of incense and gazed up at the bright white Stupa that sat towering in the centre.
The site is impressive and intoxicating, peaceful yet chaotic with statues and detailed carvings lining every door. We walked among the many shrines, ringing bells, temples and Nepali people chanting mantras. How wonderful it must be to be able to visit a place like this in your daily life.
We observed Nepali people praying and making offerings to statues like Mahakala (above). We spun the prayer wheels and learned the Buddhist mantra “om mani pad me hum” which means, simply to invoke compassion. I love that. I think we could all use a reminder to be more compassionate to each other.
The view of Kathmandu from the Stupa was spectacular, an awesome way to start the day!
The top of the Stupa is topped by a gilded spire painted with the eyes of the Buddha, eyes that we would see all over Kathmandu.
I loved the prayer flags hanging like vines everywhere. They became a comforting, recognizable symbol throughout our trip.
I managed to snap one decent photo of a holy monkey. Even though they were crawling everywhere, they are fast and like to jump along the roofs. I really need to buy a longer lens…
We then headed out to the area hit hardest by the earthquake, Durbar Square. Also designated as a World Heritage Site, Durbar Square is the heart of the old town and was where the city’s kings were once crowned. The restoration process has been slow, and it was heartbreaking to see so many temples in heaps of ruins. Photos at the sites displayed the original structures, some dating as far back as the 18th century or older. The comparison made the damage even more devastating.
When I saw the intricate wooden detailing on the temples that were still standing, my heart felt heavy at the thought of how much work lay ahead. They say that rebuilding Durbar Square will take 5-7 years, which probably means closer to 8-10 years.
The home of the “living goddess”, Kumari Bahal was particularly interesting. A real girl lives in this impressive building and is only permitted to leave once a year for the Indra Jatra festival. Once she reaches puberty, she reverts back to being a mortal and a new goddess is carefully selected.
The detail on the balcony and doors is stunning. I loved learning about the symbolic meaning behind all the various elements, and how everything is connected.
Nasal Chowk in the Hauman Dhoka Palace was one of the few places we could enter. The most famous courtyard of the palace, Nasal Chowk is named after Nasadya, the God of dance. The space was used for performances, rituals and coronations, as recently as 2001.
As you can see the detailed carvings that adorn the chowk are absolutely incredible. Snake imagery is common throughout, symbolizing rebirth, death and mortality in Hinduism.
Degutaleju Temple is also part of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Degutaleju is another manifestation of the goddess Taleju, who embodies the living goddess Kumari. I remember our guide also telling us this was the “love” temple. With Nepali people sleeping and begging among the crumbled ruins, I was struck by the tragic beauty in this scene.
We were getting used to seeing statues covered in offerings and the Kala Bhairab monument in Durbar Square was no exception. Bhairab is the deity Shiva in his terrified state and is the protector of temples and women.
There is a sense of irony when you see how dedicated the local people are to their faith. They make daily offerings for prosperity and health, yet their country is impoverished and the temples that they depend on now lie in ruins. Yet, despite their poverty, you feel a certain peace in this place, and overall Nepal has a low crime rate. There’s something to be said about that.
The Shiva-Parvati Temple was built in the 1700s by Bahadur Shah, and if you look closely you can see white Shiva and his consort peering out from the upstairs window.
After Durbar Square we headed out to Boudhnath, “The Great Boudha Stupa”, that is said to contain the relict of the past Buddha Kashyapa. The stupa is enormous, one of the largest in Nepal and is perfectly proportioned and highly symbolic. I loved the area around the stupa, a bustling market filled with monks, pilgrims, religious shops and monasteries. I could have easily spent a whole day exploring.
For lunch, we had our first taste of momos, and it was everything I dreamed. Soft dumplings filled with juicy buffalo, dipped in a creamy, spiced sauce. I vowed to eat as many momos as possible on this trip!
We also had a daal bhaat tarkari platter, another staple meal of Nepal. Curried vegetables and meat, lentil soup, steamed greens and chapati (unleavened Indian bread) are dipped and poured over rice. Fresh, flavourful with endless refills, I was loving the local cuisine.
Happiness is tasting your first momo!
As the clouds rolled in we managed to visit one monastery in Boudhnath. On the roof of the monastery among rows of glowing candles sat this beautiful wheel of enlightenment or “dharma wheel”. The wheel is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and is used to symbolize Buddhism.
We tried to visit the Pashupatinath Temple but unfortunately the rain poured down and the streets flooded. Luckily we were coming back to Kathmandu at the end of our trip and planned to revisit the temple then.
After a long but awesome day, we returned to our lovely Hotel Shakti in the Thamel area. Clean, safe and cozy, the hotel is conveniently located near plenty of shops and restaurants. The staff are friendly and helpful and a decent breakfast is included.
Stay tuned for Day 2 of our Nepal trip when we visit Patan and Bhaktapur!