Kathmandu Durbar Square, Nepal
Located centrally in the city, the pulsating Kathmandu Durbar Square is a dreamland away from the honking of cars and the traffic jams. This old palace square is filled with people out for a stroll, marveling at the wonders of the place.
On entering, visitors are greeted by the tall Nautalle Durbar (or the Nine-storey Palace). This was a tower built by Prithvi Narayan Shah during his reign. The structure emanates exquisite craftsmanship of an era gone by with its architecturally beautiful windows. Made out of wood and bricks, all the nine levels are not built in the exact same manner; in fact, on closer inspection, each level will resonate its own beauty in terms of style.
An open space right beside this nine-storey giant is majestic. With a grand spread of trinkets and numerous vendors to choose from, you are sure to spend half of your time amidst this kaleidoscope of colors.
If you’re too tired of the shopping, explore the alleyways until you finally come across the famed old Freak Street. This street will transport you back to the hippie days - remnants of which you can see through some of the tourists walking the streets.
Out onto the square, and continuing your journey into the main square past the open trinket sale, you will come across an old yet huge wooden building to your left. Another interesting structure to marvel over, the Kumari Ghar will entice you not only with its artwork but also its history.
The Kumari Ghar houses the living goddess, girls from the Shakya or Bajracharya clan who are chosen to live a life of a female deity before they reach puberty. You might just catch a glimpse of her in the late afternoons or evenings. Even if you don’t, the archaic architecture as you enter the open courtyard inside the temple complex is sure to captivate you.
As you move in deeper to the square, you will see The Gaddhi Baithak, an impressive architectural gem with influences of European architecture. Known to be modeled after the London National Gallery, this structure stands out from the other buildings that have a more Newari themed architecture.
Although parts of the palace itself have been converted into a museum, the grandeur of these buildings still seems intact even despite the damage the earthquake has caused. The palace was occupied till the late 1800s by the monarchs of the Malla and Shah dynasties, after which they shifted to the Narayanhiti Palace and ruled from there.
What is of particular significance, and what you should not miss, is the Taleju Temple that was built by King Mahendra Malla in 1549 AD. The deity it protects is supposed be an imported goddess from India. As myth narrates, the temple that houses the titular deity, Taleju, was made to resemble a yantra, a form believed to hold magical powers. So powerful was it that the deity herself attended the inauguration of the temple in the disguise of a bee.
One should visit this temple during Dasain, the main festival of Nepalis, the only time the temple is open to the public. Considered to the family goddess of the Mallas, this temple has been built in Patan as well as Bhaktapur. So special was it that the kings in Kathmandu even built the Degutalle Temple, which shoots out of nowhere from one of the roofs of the palace, only to worship the Taleju.
Right below this stands the Swet Bhairav, behind a screen of wooden lattice. Open to the public on-ly during the Indra Jatra festival; alcohol is poured out of the mouth of the God, with devotees competing to drink it.
A black stone statue of the head of Bhairav with its tongue sticking out is an eccentrically beautiful piece of stone art in the square and might arouse your interest as much. Dedicated to the deity of Kal Bhairav, the stone statue is believed to be made out of a single rock. It was King Pratap Malla who had it installed after it was found in Raniban, a forest in Kathmandu. According to popular beliefs, Bhairav is believed to be the god of justice.
Not far away from the palace, you will stumble upon the Jagannath Temple, a two-storey temple across the Krishna Temple in the Durbar Square. It is a marvel of erotic figures and built on a platform. Surrounded by smaller temples around it, the temple went unscathed during the earthquake.
For any visitors, it is these erotic figures designed in the lower struts of the temple that are the most appealing. Many have different beliefs regarding the figures; some believe it was made to ward away evil spirits while others think they possess special tantric knowledge.
Kathmandu Durbar Square was one of the worst damaged squares during the April 2015 earthquake. It had already gone several changes after it was renovated following the 1934 earthquake. The construction of the square dates back to the Lichhavi period, but modifications have been made to the architecture over the years.
Coronations used to be held here during the days of the monarchy. A sacred space not only for the kings but for any mass gatherings that used to happen in the city, this square is in shambles. Old relics like the Kasthamandap temple, believed to be made from the bark of a single tree, Maju Dega, Narayan Vishnu Temples, Trailokya Mohan, Chasin Dega and the famed Old Drums that used to be a signal for messengers have been badly destroyed or damaged.
Still this oasis culture, one that connects the modern with the old, Kathmandu Durbar Square is a lively place to be in the early mornings or the evenings. Visiting and contributing to the local economy could be one way to help restore the glory of this place.
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