Historical Background of Nepal:
The Kathmandu Valley's civilization is around 3000 years old. It has been claimed that the valley was a large pond in the early geological period and it was only when the pond was drained that the valley was ready for human settlement .There is also legend which reinforces the story that a certain Bodhisattva called Manjushree came to Kathmandu Valley and cut the gorge in Chobar with his flaming sword and drained the water out of the valley making it ready for human settlement. The fertile land supported large settlement and over the centuries different dynasties that ruled the valley patronized an urban civilization with its rich,cultural heritage .Politically,in the past days Nepal had the Gopala ,Mahispala and Kirata dynasties which were followed by Lichhavi (185-750 A.D.).The Licchavi period is known as the classical period of Nepalese history because it was during this period they built magnificent temple, palaces and monuments. But it was only under the later Malla period and the early Shah period from 14th to the 18th centurie the valley's fabulous cities with their exquisite pagoda ,shikhara, stupa architecture , ornate palaces and artistic temple came to take shape in the form that we see it today.
However, the present day neo-classical building was built only during the second half of the 19th century (Rana Regime) with Nepal's first contact with the western countries. Sculptures, wood craft and stone works were the medium and means on which the expert hand and imagination of the artists on with impressive originality and ingenuity.
The historical monument of the world heritage sites of Kathmandu Valley are marked by the presence of three prominent architectural style namely the pagoda , shikhara and the stupa style . The pagodas are multi-tiered monument tapering towards the top with intricate wood historical structure are supplemented by bronze works and stone sculptures together forming the squares and palaces with profuse representation of image of gods, goddesses, demons, beasts, mythical figures , king and the ordinary human beings engaged in their day to day activities.
Day 01: KATHMANDU DURBAR SQUARE.
Kathmandu Durbar Square lies in the heart of the Kathmandu city. The locals know this area by its old name Hanuman Dhoka, an ancient seat of the Nepalese Royalty. The royal palace during medieval times was not merely for royal activities but also used as the center of administrative, cultural activities and festivals. The historical buildings and temples in this area were erected form the time of King Ratna Malla (1484-1520) to Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (1875-1911 A.D)covering the Malla, Shah and Rana period of Nepalese history. The entire palace complex here is named after a monkey God called Hanuman.O ne can see a huge stone statue of Hanuman painted all red next to the main entrance ( the Golden gate ) of the palace. Hanuman here is regarded as a powerful protector of the entire Durbar Square.
TALEJU TEMPLE: The temple was built by King Mahendra Malla in 1562 A.D which was dedicated to the royal deity of the Malla King. Resting on a 12 stage plinth, the temple is 36.6 meters high.T he temple is opened to the public only once in a year during Dashain festival (Sept-Oct).
KRISHNA TEMPLE: This octagonal temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna which was built in 1649 A.D by Pratap Malla in the memory of his two dead queens. There is also mentioned in the epigraph that the temple contains the statue of the king and his queens representing as Lord Krishna and his consorts.
JAGANNATH TEMPLE: The image of Jagannath was installed in 1563 A.D. during the reign of Mahendra Malla and the temple is famous for erotic carving.
STONE COLUMN: The stone column represents the statue of King Pratap Malla in praying gesture to Goddess Taleju, the Royal family deity.
DEGUTALLE TEMPLE: A tantric goddess representing the family deity of the MALLA king is enshrined in the temple and access to the visitors is restricted. The temple lies opposite the stone column and was built in 1617 A.D. by King Shiva Singh and later renovated by King Pratap Malla.
HANUMAN STATUE: Kneeling Hanuman, the monkey god, seated on a stone pedestal and flanked by a pair of lions symbolizes strength and protection against all possible threats. The Hanuman pedestal was erected by King Pratap Malla in 1672 A.D.
SHIVA- PARVATI TEMPLE: The divine couple Shiva and Parvati look out from the central window of the first floor. The temple was built during the reign of King Rana Bahadur Shah.
BIG BELL: The bell erected in 1797 A.D. by King Rana Bahadur Shah is rung only when worship is being offered in Degutalle temple situated nearby.
KAL BHAIRAV: Shiva in his ferocious form is known as Bhairav. This is one of the largest images of Bhairava and was erected by King Pratap Malla
MAJU DEWAL: This temple dedicated to Shiva was built in the late 17th century by Queen mother Riddhi Laxmi and rests on a nine plinth base dominating the square and commanding a good view of the area.
TRIMOHAN NARAYAN: lOKYA This Vishnu temple of the late 17th century near the Kumari Ghar, was built on a five-stage plinth by King Prathibendra in the memory of his deceased brother. There is a kneeling image of Garuda(the vehicle of Vishnu), near the temple. During Indrajatra (chariot festival), a large crowd gathers here to see the ten incarnations of Vishnu enacted on the pedestal.
KUMARI GHAR: Kumari Ghar built in 1757 A.D. by King Jaya Prakash Malla is the house of the living Goddess "Kumari " who gives the blessing from the window to the visitors.
GADDI BAITHAK: This neoclassical building was built by Chandra Shumsher in 1908 A.D during the reign of King Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. Such kind of building was constructed because of Nepalese contact with the west in the second half of the 18th century.
KASTHAMANDAP: This 12th-century wooden building is said to be constructed from the wood of a single tree. Hence, Kathmandu obtained its name from this historical building, Kasthamandap. During those days, this building was used for public gathering. The central image in the building consists of Gorakhnath and there are also miniature temples of four Ganeshas.
ASHOK VINAYAK: This temple dedicated to the elephant god Ganesha is revered both by the Hindus and Buddhists alike and is one of the most important shrines in the valley.
DHANSA: This temple was built in 1673 A.D. by Pratap Malla to start a new masked dance of Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu.
Day 02: PATAN DURBAR SQUARE.
Patan is known as Lalitpur which mean the city of arts. It is located across the river Bagmati which is 5 km south of central Kathmandu. This city was founded in 3rd century A.D. by King Veera Dev. It has a distinction of being the home of the finest crafts and is considered the oldest of all three cities of Kathmandu valley. Most of the monuments in this square date back to the Medieval Malla period from 16th to the 18th century and the monuments in this area are mostly credited to King Siddhi Nar Singh Malla, Shri Niwas Malla, and Yog Narendra Malla.
MAIN CHOWKS (COURTYARDS): Patan Durbar Square consists of three main courtyards- Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Mani Keshab Narayan Chowk which houses the Patan Museum. The Sundari Chowk built by King Siddhi Narshing Malla in 1647 A.D. contains the masterpiece of stone sculpture known as the Royal Both and was used for permitting ritual bathing.
BHIMSEN TEMPLE: The three-storied temple of Bhimsen, located on the extreme north of the square with the magnificent golden balcony overlooking the square outside is very popular among the merchant and trader communities. There are many curio shops around the temple.
VISHWANATH TEMPLE: This three storied temple dedicated to Shiva located near the Bhimsen temple is built in Pagoda style and houses a large phallic of Shiva and two elephants.
KRISHNA MANDIR: The temple of Lord Krishna built in the 17th century by King Siddhi Narshingh Malla is the first specimen of Shikhara style temple entirely made of stone. It is the only temple in Nepal with 21 golden pinnacles and contains engraved scenes from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
STONE COLUMN: The stone column of King Yog Narendra Malla in a praying posture to the Goddess Taleju is protected by a snake. Legend says that the King would be remembered and remain immortal as long as the bird does not fly from the tree.It is because of this belief, windows of the nearby palaces are kept open for the spirit of the King to come and rest in the palaces. A stones pillar located nearby with the Garuda atop facing the Krishna temple is another typical example of Nepali stone workmanship.
JAGANNATH TEMPLE: Also known as the Char Narayan temple, one of the oldest temples is located south of the Krishna temple. The temple is guarded by two lions and half human sculpted from stone.
HARISHANKAR TEMPLE: This three-tiered temple built in 1704 A.D. is dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. This temple was built in the memory of KingYoga Narendra Malla by his wives after his death because of which this temple is also known as Sati temple.
TALEJU TEMPLE: There are prominent temples like the three stories octagonal temple of Taleju Bhawani and Digu Taleju, the five-storied temple of the protective deities built by King Siddhi Narsingha Malla in the 17th century. These temples are a unique example of craftsmanship in wood.
GOLDEN TEMPLE: The three-storied golden pagoda was built by King Bhaskar Verma in the 12th century and contains images of Amoghpash Lokeshwor, large prayer wheel, and paintings of Buddha. The temple is located at a walking distance north from the main square.
KUMBHESHWOR: This five-storied temple dedicated to Shiva was built during the reign of King Jayastithi Malla in the late 14th century. It is a few minutes walk north from the main square. A religious fair is held during the Janai Purnima (August). There is a famous Banglamukhi temple nearby.
MAHABODHI: a Thousand images of Buddha made of fine quality bricks are found in the temple. The temple was constructed in the 15th century by an architect named Avaya Rai and is located eastward within walking distance from the main square. There are many other shrines, sculptures, stupas scattered in and around the square and provide a unique experience to visitors and art lovers.
Day 03: BHAKTAPUR DURBAR SQUARE.
Bhaktapur meaning the city of devotees was founded by King Ananda Dev in 1197A.D. According to the Gopal Raj Vamsabali, the existence of the city could be traced back to the Licchavi period [185-750A.D]. There are many monuments including pagodas, palaces, shikhara style monuments, courtyards, and Buddhists shrines and monasteries. The Dubar Square was the seat of the Malla King and the present structures were erected from the 12th to the 18th century A.D. Bhaktapur is located around 12 kilometers away from Kathmandu city.
The lion gate: The two lions symbolize the elements of power and protection and was installed on its either sides during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla in 1696A.D. This gate has beautiful stones statues of Bhairav (the fierce form of Shiva) and Durga (the manifestation of Shakti, the female power).
GOLDEN GATE: The golden gate was built by King Ranjit Malla in 1754 A.D. which serves as an entrance to the Taleju complex.
FOUR PILGRIMAGE SITES: You can also observe the four dhams (pilgrimage sites) of Jagannath, Kedarnath, Rameshwar, and Badrinath just at the entrance. It is a replica of holy sites revered in India.
STONE COLUMN: King Bhupatindra Malla seated atop on a stone attitude of prayer to Taleju Bhawani. He was a great builder, a scholar, and an artist.
55 WINDOW PALACE: This is the supreme wooden architectural structure dominating the entire Durbar Square. This magnificent edifice was originally built by Yakshya Malla in 1427A.D. and embellished later by Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century.
VASTALA TEMPLE: It was built in shikhara style completely of stones by Jaya Ranjit Malla in the 17th century. The temple is dedicated to mother Goddess Durga. On the lower flank of the temple, there is a small bell known as "barking bell" because dogs bark and whine at the sound of the bell. In those days, the bell was used as an alarm to alert the people during an emergency.
YAKCHESWOR MAHADEV: This temple is a replica of Pashupatinath temple of Kathmandu. It was built by King Yakshya Malla in 1480 A.D. It shows the importance of Pashupatinath temple in the spiritual life of the people of Bhaktapur and it was built so that people from Bhaktapur may avoid the difficulty of going to main Pashupati in Kathmandu for offering prayers. Folklore mentions that the King who was a great devotee of Lord Pashupati dreamt that the Lord told him to build the temple for him so that he could move into it. He obeyed the divine command and thus the temple was built.
Day 04: TAUMADI SQUARE.
NYATAPOLA: The temple was founded by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1702A.D. Nyatapola in Newari means five-tiered temple symbolizing the five basic elements of Nature. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Siddhi Laxmi, a Tantric deity representing the most powerful forces. The legend goes that the temple was built by King on the advice of the astrologer to pacify God Bhairav and maintain a harmonious balance of male and female principle. Nyatapola and Bhairav temple signifies the co-existence of male and female energy pervading the earth. The temple stands above the five plinths and rises above 30m above the top plinth. Pairs of animals and robust men flank the stairway. It is believed that every pair of a guardian is ten times more powerful than the pair immediately below. This is the most famous pagoda of Nepal.
BHAIRAV NATH TEMPLE: This temple of bhairav, the ferocious form of the Shiva was originally built by Jagat Jyoti Malla as one storied temple and later King Bhupatindra Malla added two more stories to it in 1718 A.D. According to the legend, Vishwanath, a manifestation of Shiva once visited Bhaktapur to observe Biscuit jatra. When the locals recognized him they beheaded him in order to retain him permanently in the temple.It is because of this reason the central image of Bhairav temple has the head of Bhairav without the body and is taken on a chariot once during the Biscuit Jatra which is the biggest festival of the town held in April.
TEEL MAHADEV NARAYAN TEMPLE: This temple lies south from Nyatopola dedicated to Lord Vishnu built in the 12th century A.D. A disc, lotus, conch, shell and a mace (four emblems of Lord Vishnu) are placed on pillars to the sides of the entrance.
Day 05: DATTATREYA SQUARE.
DATTATREYA TEMPLE: Dattatreya temple was originally built by Yakshya Malla in 1427 A.D. & later renovated by his son Vishwa Malla in 1458 A.D., is the only temple in Nepal that is dedicated to Lord Dattatreya (the combined incarnation of the three supreme gods, Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva). The entrance of the temple is guarded by two robust men & a conch is placed in a stone pillar and a disc-like weapon dedicated to Vishnu. A bronze statue of Garuda, the messenger of Vishnu is also erected on a stone column.
BHIMSEN TEMPLE: To the west of the Dattatreya temple is the Bhimsen temple built in 1605 A.D. Lord Bhimsen is the second oldest of the five Pandavas of the Mahabharat epic. In the old days, people had to walk to Tibet or India for trade and pilgrimages, so one had to be naturally strong to embark on an arduous journey. In order to gain strength, people prayed to lord Bhimsen and the tradition continues till today. This area also has two bronze and wood carving masterpiece of Nepali woodwork.
PUJARI MATH: The Pujari Math literally translated as the priest’s house, now houses the wood carving museum. The math built by King Yakshya Malla in the 15th century was used for storing donation and contributions. The world famous peacock window of the 15th century is situated on the eastern face of this house. One can observe the intricately carved image of gods and goddesses on the struts of this monument.
Day 06: PASHUPATINATH & BOUDHANATH.
PASHUPATINATH: Situated 5 km east of Kathmandu city, Pashupati literally means “lord of animals” and is considered to be the patron deity of Nepal. Pashupatinath is regarded as one of the holiest sites for Hindu all over the world. Pashupatinath temple is a pagoda-style two-tiered temple with a golden roof and exquisitely carved four silver doors containing in its sanctum a phallic idol with four faces facing in each direction and the other fifth one is looking up towards the zenith. According to the ancient chronicle, this temple dedicated to Shiva was constructed by Licchavi King Supushpa Verma. However, the present temple is claimed to have been built by King Bhupalendra Malla in 1697 A.D. Legend has it that a cow would frequently escape from its herds and offer milk on a Jyotirlinga (phallic symbol of Shiva) which denotes the point where the temple stands today. It is said that certain cowherd much to his surprise found the self-generated Jyotirlinga (Phallic symbol of Shiva) when he dug the spot where the cow would give milk. The spot immediately became the center of worship that has been continued until today. A considerable part of the temple vicinity is converted to rest and prayer areas. Behind the temple on the bank of the Bagmati is a crematorium for Hindus. It is the wish of every Hindu to be cremated on the bank of the Bagmati river near the temple. In October 1979, Pashupati area was declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the temple is being managed by Pashupati Area Development Trust. The temple activities can be observed from the back of the temple.
BOUDHANATH: The biggest stupa of Nepal is located 5km east of central Kathmandu. The stupa stands on a three-tiered platform raised over the crossed rectangle in order to bring out the yatra form. The claims made in various religious and literary texts regarding the erection of the stupa is varied and conflicting. However, the stupa is believed to have been built in the 5th century A.D. during the reign of the Licchavi King. As in other stupa architecture, this stupa also has Vairochana at the center followed by Aksobhya, Ratna Sambhave, Amitabha and Amogha Siddhi in east, south, west and north directions respectively. Similarly, there are one hundred and eight small niches around the stupa accommodating the icons of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other female deities along with conjoint figures in erotic poses. Likewise, at the bottom level; it is surrounded with the praying wheels embossed with the famous mantra OM MANI PADME HUM fixed in more than a hundred and forty niches. According to a very popular legend, in ancient time there was a poor girl in a magnet village of Nepal. She was called Jyajima and was very pious and charitable by nature. She had a deep desire to spread the faith of the Master and approached the King for a piece of land where she could build a Stupa. Hence, she built the Stupa with the help of her four sons as it stands today. According to another very popular legend, in the ancient days, Kathmandu valley was under severe drought and this caused the King Dharma Dev much concern and anxiety. Finally, the king was advised by an astrologer that only the sacrifice of an ideal man with 32 virtues in front of the dry royal water could bring rainfall in the country. There was hardly anybody with such a great virtue except the king himself. So the following night he commanded his sons to go to the dry water spout near the royal palace at midnight and behead the person clad in a white robe without looking at him. The prince (Mandev, the Licchavi King) obeyed his father and to his great horror found that it was none other than his own father that he had beheaded. In order atone for the heinous sin, he prayed to Goddesses Vajrayogini, who ordered him to erect a stupa and practice rigorous penance. He practiced great penance in gunvihar where vagrayogini rests and it was due to his great devotion there sprang out the present stupa of Boudhanath.
Day 07: SWAYAMBHUNATH.
Located on the lovely little hillock, Swayambunath Stupa lies about 4 km west of central Kathmandu. There are 365 steps leading all the way to the top commanding a magnificent view of Kathmandu valley and the breathtaking panorama of the snow-clad Himalayan range. The tradition in the Stupa follows the Vajrayana form of Buddhism which is a tantric variation of the Mahayana Buddhism (the great vehicle). The stupa seems to have been constructed during the Licchavi period. Religious and literal sources give numerous account of the establishment and the patronage of the Swayambhunath premises.It is also interesting to note that the stupa went through a series of renovation during the Malla period in the medieval times with donations made by merchants, pilgrims and Buddhists followers. As the ancient legend goes, Kathmandu valley was a lake a long time ago right in the center of this lake atop. When Maha Manjushri, a saint came to the valley, he cut through the southern hill of the valley with his divine sword. The cleft made by the sword immediately drained the entire lake water making the valley floor ready for habitation. Hundreds of votive shrines and other historical monuments built in and around this stupa speak a lot about the significance and antiquity of this famed stupa. The stupa of Swayambhunath stands on a typically stylized lotus mandala base. The hemispherical part of the chaitya is made of brick and stone and on top of the hemispherical part lies the Hermida which carries the eyes of Vairocana watching in all the directions and believed to have been painted in the Malla period. The stupa is also laden with the 13 gold plated spires which symbolizes the 13 stages to salvation.T he spires is crowned by a golden umbrella supported by a pole from within the center. Devotees pour lime down the chaitya to cure the illness of family members.
HARATI TEMPLE: It is two-tiered pagoda temple dedicated to the primal mother, Ajima who is also known as the protective deity of children. Special prayers are offered on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
ANANTAPUR AND PRATAPPURA: These two temples dedicated to Vajrayana deities were built by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. Anantapur temple was named after his consort and both these temple represents the Shikhara style of architecture.
BAJRA DHATU MANDALA: The Mandala depicts 12 animals representing the twelve months of the Tibetan year. The gilt Bajra installed by King Pratap Malla in the middle of the 17th century represents the sword Chandahasa of Manjushree.
FORMS OF BUDDHAS AND THEIR CONSORTS: The ten niches around the stupa represents the different forms of Buddha and their consorts. Clockwise representation is Aksobhya, Vairochana, Vajradhatvesvari, Mamaki Tara, Ratnasambhava, Pandora, Amitabha, Tara, Amogha Siddhi, and Saptalochini. The Vairochana is represented by the eyes painted on the Hermida. Amitabha is the main deity of the chaitya.
FIVE ELEMENTS OF LIFE: Temples and sacred sites representing the five fundamental elements of nature are said to have been founded by Shankar Acharya. The five elements of life represented in the premise of the stupa are Vasupura (earth), Nagapura (serpents, the lords of water), Shantipura or Akashpura (space or sky), Jayapura (air) and Agnipura(fire).
Important days to visit this holy site: Buddha Purnima, the birthday of Lord Buddha which falls on the full moon day of Baishakh (April - May). Gunla, the holy Buddhist month according to Newari calendar (August - September early morning). Kojagrat Purnima( September –October), Samyak day of Magh (January-February) (once in every twelve years) or in the Tibetan new year Lhosar.