Patan Durbar Square: An Enthralling Glimpse Of Nepal’s City Of Fine Arts

Of all the places I visited on our FAM tour of the Kathmandu valley at the Himalayan Travel Mart 2018, I found Patan the most fascinating.

Located about 8 km south of Kathmandu, on a plateau across the Bagmati River, Patan is called the city of fine arts. It is one of 3 royal cities in the Kathmandu valley, the others being Kathmandu and Bhaktapur.

The royals and the commoners

Lalitpur, historically Patan, is the third largest city of Nepal after Kathmandu and Pokhara. It was founded by King Veer Deva in 299 A.D.

The fine art of woodcarving is alive and well in Patan

Turn anywhere in this city and you’ll see an abundance of wood and stone carvings, metal statues, ornate architecture, including dozens of Buddhist and Hindu temples, and over 1200 monuments.

Woodcarvings of deities line the walls

The city was once an independent Newar kingdom before the Shah dynasty took over and is best known for its rich tradition of arts and handicrafts and as the birthplace of master craftsmen, like these woodcarvers, we met in the Patan Durbar Square.

Woodcarvers take a break from work in the Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square

One of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Patan Durbar Square is situated at the centre of Lalitpur city. One of its attractions is the ancient royal palace where the Malla Kings of Lalitpur resided.

Entrance to Patan Durbar Square

There’s a lot to see in Patan Durbar Square, including ancient palaces, pagoda temples, stone baths, Hindu and Buddhist statues, bas-relief and engravings, and bronze carvings. The Patan Museum houses bronze statues and religious objects, some dating back to the 11th century.

An ornate stone bath in Patan Durbar Square

Ever since I found out that Patan Durbar Square was one of the locations for shooting the Marvel movie, Dr Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (the other location is the Pashupatinath Temple), I was very eager to go there.

Every doorway looked like the mythical Kamar Taj to me

The Durbar Square is a marvel of Newar architecture. The floor is tiled with red bricks, like the ones we saw in Bhaktapur. There are many temples and idols in the area.

A doorway embellished with woodcarvings and deities

The Square also holds old Newari residential houses. There are various other temples and structures in and around Patan Durbar Square built by the Newa People.

This building represents Newari architectural style

The Patan Durbar Square was heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake and many of its historical structures are still being repaired and reconstructed.

Reconstruction and repair work on the damaged monuments

Patan Durbar Square’s Golden Temple

The Golden Temple (Bhaskerdev Samskarita Hiranyabarna Mahavihara), built in the 12th Century by King Bhaskar Verma, was one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever seen.

Entrance to the Golden Temple

I could have spent all day here exploring, appreciating the intricate carvings and metalwork and taking photographs. Unfortunately, we were a bit rushed and didn’t have the time to do justice to this marvel.

Doorway to the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple

This three-roof Buddhist monastery is adorned with a golden facade, four large gateways, a clock tower, and two lion sculptures. Inside are golden images of Buddha, wall carvings, and a prayer wheel.

I was mesmerised by the detail of the metalwork
A glimpse inside the place of worship

The Vajra – A Symbol for Hindus and Buddhists

But by far, one of the most prominent and fascinating objects in Patan’s Golden Temple was the vajra – a ritual object associated with Tibetan Buddhism, and also called by its Tibetan name, Dorje.

The Vajra  – Indra’s weapon and a symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism

In Hinduism, the vajra is the weapon of the Vedic rain and thunder-deity, Indra. In the tantric traditions of Buddhism, the vajra is a symbol for the nature of reality, or sunyata, indicating endless creativity, potency, and skilful activity.

It is the symbol of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism, the tantric branch whose rituals help attain enlightenment in a single lifetime, in a thunderbolt flash of indestructible clarity.

In Tibetan ritual, the vajra is often used with a bell (ghanta). The vajra is held in the left hand and represents the male principle — upaya, referring to action or means. The bell is held in the right hand and represents the female principle — prajna, or wisdom.

A bell and prayer wheels in the Golden Temple

The vajra is used symbolically by the dharma traditions of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, to represent firmness of spirit and spiritual power.

In fact, so enraptured was I by this object which, to me, represented an otherworldly power, that I bought my own vajra in the gift shop at the Kathmandu airport before I left Nepal.

The Vajra I bought at the airport gift shop

After interrupting a Buddhist ceremony being held in the monastery upstairs, we were kindly invited inside by one of the monks so we could look around.

A ceremony held in the monastery upstairs
A huge prayer wheel in the monastery

My tour of Patan Durbar Square was far too short. I really wish I had all day to spend here. But our group had just returned from our Bhaktapur walking tour and we were tired.

A view of the  Golden Temple from the monastery

My Kathmandu valley tour and the monuments we visited were a captivating glimpse into the history, culture, art and architecture of Nepal.

The metalwork of these figurines is stunning

On my next trip, with family this time, I hope to explore Nepal’s other cities, like Pokhara and hopefully, visit the Chitwan National Park.

If you do go to Nepal, please be a responsible tourist and be mindful of your environmental impact.

Also look at staying in a community homestay so that you can give back to the people of this country, who are still recovering from the devastating 2015 earthquake.

Also, read:

Patan, the city of fine arts, is one of 3 royal cities in the Kathmandu valleyRead about my tour of Patan Durbar Square and the Buddhist Golden Temple

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Patan Durbar Square: An Enthralling Glimpse Of Nepal’s City Of Fine Arts
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Patan Durbar Square: An Enthralling Glimpse Of Nepal’s City Of Fine Arts
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Patan, Nepal's city of fine arts, is best known for its rich tradition of arts and handicrafts and as the birthplace of master craftsmen.
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Ahoy Matey
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Priya Florence Shah

Priya Florence Shah is an author, blogger and travel writer. She loves vacations that involve peace and quiet but loves nature, wildlife, art, history and culture too. You can connect with her @PriyaFlorence

7 thoughts to “Patan Durbar Square: An Enthralling Glimpse Of Nepal’s City Of Fine Arts”

  1. Patan is spectacular …. no wander it’s called the city of fine arts. Such intricate detailing on the wood carvings and the temples are absolutely incredible. Patan Durbar Square is filled with so many beautiful palaces and temples.
    Nepal has always been on my list and would definitely look to staying in a homestay when planning my trip.

    1. Yes, it really is quite splendid, Lana. I wish I had more time to spend there. A homestay is an excellent option – it’s cheap and gives you an authentic glimpse into the life of the locals.

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