Located at the banks of the Bagmati River on the immediate eastern outskirts of Kathmandu, this temple is one of the most revered Hindu temples in the world and Hindu pilgrims ( especially from neighboring India ) throng the temple complex literally throughout the year. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is one of the three major Hindu deities and is considered the ‘Creator’, ‘Transformer’, ‘Preserver’, and ‘Destroyer’. It is situated on the western banks of the Bagmati and the main temple complex is a golden, pagoda-style spire one striking feature of the temple when one enters it is the golden Nandi or Shiva’s bull.
Though only Hindus are permitted entrance into the main temple complex, the temple is amply visible from the eastern banks of the river. The eastern side also has single-storied stone constructions that are dedicated to Lord Shiva and hold the iconic symbol of Lord Shiva – the Shiva ‘Lingam’ or the erect phallus.
Also, situated on the premises is the ‘Panch Deval’ ( Five Temple ) Complex which provides shelter for the destitute. It may be noted here that many Hindus choose to spend their final days in the temple complex.
The architecture, holy ambiance, and the multitude of monkeys and ‘sadhus’ or ascetic priests with ashes smeared on their bodies are not the only features that captivate visitors to the temple premises, but the funeral pyres that reduce mortal human remains to ashes will surely take your undivided attention. The sharp stench of burning wood combined with human flesh may be overpowering to your senses – the fragrant incense does very little to mask this smell. As you walk along the eastern bank of the Bagmati River, you can witness rows of funeral pyres on the other side laden with bodies that make their final passage here. Hindus firmly believe that if one is cremated here, he or she will be reborn as a human again. As a further consolation to the grieving families, the Bagmati River eventually merges with the holy Ganga to the south and finally to the Bay of Bengal – so, the ashes make an epic journey.
Another shocking, yet interesting, sight for your eyes to feast on is the multitude of women washing their clothes and utensils ( or even taking a dip ) immediately downstream from the cremation site. The fat and ashes in the river are supposed to act as some form of detergent according to popular belief.
Just as Pashupatinath Temple draws thousands of Hindu pilgrims, Boudhanath has been the ultimate pilgrimage and prayer site for Buddhists ( of course Hindus also revere this site ). Located only 11 km from central Kathmandu, the stupa dates back to the 14th Century and is supposed to have taken seven years to complete. It is the largest single chorten ( stupa ) in the world and the largest spherical stupa in Nepal. Apart from the soil, bricks, and stone used for the construction of this massive dome-like structure with the gilded spire on the top, many kilograms of gold were used for its decoration. Known as ‘Khasti’ in Nepali and ‘Jyarung’ in Tibetan, it has been incorporated into the World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1979. The remains of Kassapa Buddha are said to be entombed in the stupa.
Tibetans have been doing trade for centuries with Nepal and Boudha has always been a place of rest and prayer for Tibetans once they entered Kathmandu via the trade route from Sankhu. In addition, there was a substantial influx of Tibetan refugees in the t1950s0 when they fled persecution in Tibet and since then have chosen to settle in Boudha. As a consequence, now there are fifty or so odd Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the surrounding area – with more being established.
Despite urbanization and the mushrooming of businesses and tourist interests, Boudha still retains that spiritual and mystical aspect of the day’s gone saffron-clad lad monks, sweet burning incense, butter oil lamps, Buddhist devotees who turn the prayers wheels as part of their karma and curio and traditional handicraft shops that line the fringes of the stupa is a test of your senses which gives you an insight into the bygone days.
Boudha has over the years become a thriving tourist hub with its selection of cafes and restaurants and numerous lodges and hotels.
Unfortunately, the catastrophic earthquake of April 25 2015 did some damage to the golden spire and the stupa has been restored since November 2015 and is nearing completion.
Durbar Square or Basantapur
Durbar Square, also known as Basantapur Durbar square, is in front of the old Royal Palace of the former Kathmandu Kingdom and is one of the three major palace squares in Kathmandu. It is one of the numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nepal. Sadly, the April 25 2015 earthquake did substantial damage to the square and its various monuments and temples; various local and international artists, architects, and historians have been given the intricate task of restoring the treasures of the buildings and artifacts.
The historically and culturally rich square with its ancient structures and monuments reflects Newari craftsmanship at its best. The complex is dotted with quadrangles, courtyards, and temples.
The Royal Palace which was originally in Dattaraya Square was moved to Durbar Square. Established in the Lichavi period in the 3rd century, the Palaces in Durbar Square served as the seat of the monarchy for the Malla Kings when Kathmandu became independent under the rule of King Ratna Malla ( 1484-1520 ). Even King Prithivi Narayan Shah who invaded Kathmandu Valley in 1769 preferred the Palace in Kathmandu Durbar Square and for a certain period, Shah Kings ruled from here.
More recently, the coronation of the Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah ( 1975 ) and King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah ( 2001 ) took place in this square.
Durbar Square is also popularly referred to as ‘Hanuman Dhoka’; Hanuman is the monkey devotee of Lord Ram.
A walking distance from the major tourist hubs like Thamel, one can easily walk out from one’s hotel or lodge and explore the wonders of the seat of ancient kingdoms of Nepal. The cobbled streets and squares intermingled with interesting tourist attractions offer pleasant and relaxing surroundings.
A 20 km drive east of Kathmandu takes you to Bhaktapur one of the three royal cities of the valley ( the two others being Kathmandu and Patan ). Bhaktapur has rightfully earned titles like ‘City of Devotees’, ‘The City of Culture’, ‘The Living Heritage’, and ‘Nepal’s Cultural Gem‘ and one will surely understand why when one sets foot in the ancient courtyards of the bejeweled ancient city.
The city dates back to the 12th century during the reign of King Ananda Malla and was the capital of the Greater Malla Kingdom until the 15th century. The majority of the inhabitants here are from the Newar community and occupy themselves in professions directly and indirectly related to agriculture and tourism. 92 % of the populace are Hindus and 7 % comprise Buddhists. Thus, besides the various primarily Hindu temples, there are 19 Buddhist monasteries (vihar) in this city. Most of the monuments here are terra-cotta with carved wood columns; the palaces and temples have intricate and ornate carvings, gilded roofs, and open courtyards. Bhaktapur is dotted with pagodas and religious shrines.
The Indra Varna Madavihar built-in 1671 is located between Durbar Square and Dattaraya Square has and two lion statues, Patingi Hiti ( water spout ), Tantric wood carvings and, prayer wheels.
Another prominent and interesting feature of Bhaktapur is the 55 Window Palace ( having 55 windows !! ) which was the seat of royalty priobefore9. It also houses the National Art Gallery which has scroll paintings, palm leaf manuscripts, and, numerous stone carvings.
Outside the Palace entrance to the Taleju Complex is the Golden Gate ( built 1756in ) which is a fine example of metal craftsmanship at its best. The Royal Bath with its golden faucet also reflects the glorious spoils of the then monarchy.
Another very visible and prominent feature is the Big Bell built by the last Malla King of Bhaktapur – Ranajit Malla in the 18th century. It is rung twice a day and is also affectionately referred to as the ‘Barking Bell’ as dogs start barking when the bell is rung.
The prominent feature here is the Nyatpol ( Nyatapola ) Temple which was built in 1702 and dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi. It is Nepal’s tallest pagopagoda-style temple and stands five stories high.
The Bhairavnath Temple which was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake was eventually restored and rebuilt. It contains the gilded bust of Bhairav who is considered either the manifestation of Lord Shiva or the deity that guards his home.
The Dattaraya Square houses Bhaktapur’s Hindu monasteries which include pagoda style Dattaraya Temple built by King Yaksha Malla in 1428. It is claimed that this building was constructed from a single piece of wood from a tree.
Other Places of Interest – Bhaktapur and Adjoining Areas
Besides the enchanting sights of ancient Bhaktapur, there are various other places of interest in the areas adjoining the city. The following is a brief look at some of them :
20 km northeast of Kathmandu and easily accessible from Bhaktapur the second-highest point in the Kathmandu Valley rim ( 2,175 meters). Nagarkot commands spectacular views of the valley and the Himalayas and mighty Everest. Sunrise and sunset are breathtaking experiences from this vantage point.
Besides such views, the hiking trails situated here take you through typically rustic Tamang villages ( Tamangs are one of the many indigenous people of Nepal ).
Changu Narayan is the oldest temple in the valley and dates back to 464 AD. It is situated 6 km north of Bhaktapur. There are excellent hiking trails from here to Bhaktapur that passes through quaint villages.
This is a typically Newar city and is renowned for its fresh agricultural produce and handicrafts that reflect the culture of the valley. Thimi is just 5 km east of Bhaktapur.
A mere 20-minute walk from Thimi takes you to Bode and to the riverside shrine of Nil Barahi. This place is famous for the tongue boring festival which is held on the second day of the Nepali New Year. A spike is bored through a tongue of a devotee; if the devotee does not bleed when the spike is removed and packed with mud, it is considered to bring good fortune.
Surya Vinayak Shrine
A 10-20 minute walk from Bhaktapur is a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesh and devotees pray for good luck from Lord Ganesh. The shrine is located on a top of a forested hill.