Exploring Kathmandu’s Mind-blowing Heritage (2)

Durbar Square in Bakhtapur

Durbar Square in Bakhtapur

During my stay in Nepal , I visited Bakhtapur and Patan, two of the Royal Cities of the Newari Kingdom which dominated the Kathmandu Valley  until mid-eighteenth century.  Most of the important and well preserved temples, monuments and shrines are found in their famous Durbar Squares which are delightful examples of Newari art, architecture and workmanship.  Or maybe ‘were’ would be more accurate as much of Nepal’s rich heritage was destroyed in the April earthquake and many of the famous temples and shrines lie in ruins, waiting for conservation experts to rebuild them in a more earthquake proof manner.   Although many of the Nepali pagoda style temples still stand proud in the midst of the squares, several of the stone, Indian temples are almost completely level with the ground.  Stacks of salvaged bricks and lines of rescued statues and sculptures bear witness to the resilience of the local people, many of whom have lost their own homes, but who have already started thinking about restoring and rebuilding their common heritage.

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As I went to Kathmandu without the ‘obligatory’  Lonely Planet Guide, I had no imprint of its former glory in my mind and I was certainly not disappointed with what was left.  Let’s face it, time generally takes its toll and often what remains of historical buildings is just ruins and weathered walls, so to still find so many well conserved temples and monuments, some dating back several centuries, was pretty amazing.  No wonder the sites gained the Unesco World Heritage stamp of approval.

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IMG_5712I explored Patan on my own, marvelling at the ‘God’ deposited in the middle of a narrow road, its huge carrier-cart making the road impassable to cars and only motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians could squeeze past.  I was awed by the impressive, immaculate buildings and inspired by the many colourful artisan shops selling original paintings, unique sculpted statues, wooden masks and other handicrafts.  Men sat in the shade of the overpowering royal castles whiling away the heat of the day.  And I bumped into a ‘living God’ who blessed me with a long and happy life. I am not too bothered about the long life, but certainly would sign up for a happy one!!

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In Bakhtapur, I saw sense and decided to avail myself of the services of a very nice and persuasive ‘student’ to me fill in on the parts of history that would be lost on me if I just wandered around on my own.  So far I had resisted an overdose of cultural background but I did remember the occasions when I had been grateful to have some explanation of the mysteries of unfamiliar cities and cultures; and my financial contribution would at least put some money into the Nepalese economy. The guide took me around the still-standing  Bakhtapur temples and other remnants of royal life such as the bathing pool overlooked by three snakes, the golden gate guarded by soldiers, 17th century statues of  Brairab and Ugrachandi, and lastly pointed out the famed pagoda style temple used by 15th century newlyweds to learn the facts of married life (or was it to amuse the king and queen?).  Sex education in a different form!  Thank goodness, I was left to check out the ‘erotic’  woodcarvings in privacy so as to spare my blushes as the Kama Sutra pictures of yesteryear – albeit rather obscured through the distance from the ground –  are probably the forerunners of modern pornography.  I had seen the temple before and unwittingly taken photographs of the beautifully carved beams, without realising what was on them…

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But then again erotic pictures seem a recurring theme in Nepal.  There are many ‘Kama Sutra’ temples depicting a healthy sex life as, according to Hindu theology, Kama (sex) is deemed an essential part of life and both Hinduism and Buddhism are important religions in the country.  So on my last night in Kathmandu, and completing my stay in Nepal, Ashok invited me to a meal at the Bhojan Griha, a restaurant priding itself on preparing authentic Nepalese food, accompanied by Nepalese traditional music and dance, in what was once a building belonging to the royal priest of the king of Nepal.  And as he guided me along to the main room for our meal, we passed the ‘Kama Sutra’ bar… I do not know whether women in Nepal do not linger much in bars, but this one certainly had an overwhelming male clientele…although I cannot say how much notice they took of the woodcarvings in front of the bar.  I was just passing through but not without taking a few photographs,  just in case one day I may need to resort to the suggestions of the Kama Sutra…

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Kathmandu’s Mind-blowing Heritage (2)

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