Driving through the busy streets of Kathmandu today, we crossed over the Bagmati river south of Kathmandu city. Traveling for another 20 minutes, we entered a place that suddenly changed in landscape. For a moment, it felt as if we have moved through a time portal from present to past. What surrounded us was an iconic old city that dated back to 300 A.D. Here’s what we discovered walking through the Art City of Patan.
Patan – A City with an Artistic Past
Entrance Fees: 250 Nepalese Rupees (SAARC Countries);
1000 Nepalese Rupees (Non SAARC Country)
Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is a traditional city that designed by employing the ancient Buddhist principles of ‘Dharma Chakra’ or the wheel of righteousness. Once an independent Newar Kingdom, this city is home to exemplary artistry, exquisite handicrafts, and cottage industry that still continues its legacy with most of its traditional systems practiced even today. When seen from the top view, the Patan city depicts the four cardinal points of a compass, with one Stupa on each cardinal point. These Stupas were believed to have been built by the Indian Emperor Asoka himself, who traveled here more than 2000 years ago.
The city can be understood clearly when placed and seen between these cardinal points. The three Chowks and the Patan Durbar square happen to be the center of the quadrangle, and the temples placed along the road periphery. There are several small temples at the cross roads when moving inside the city from one monument to another. The whole city is a journey through handicrafts, metal relics, antiques, fabric and wooden art.
The Three Chowks
The first thing that you encounter while approaching the city is the Three Chowks; namely – Mul Chowk, Sundari Chowk and Mani Kesab Narayan Chowk. The entry to the Mul Chowk is through a narrow gate with artistic postures of Buddha on the entrance. There are three paved courtyards surrounded by two-storied buildings in which the upper stories have been designed in the form of art gallery. The courtyards are interconnected and provided with jharokhas (small windows) similar to the ones I noticed in Hawa Mahal. The best part about the upper corridors is anyone overlooking the corridors from the top can see the courtyard and the people below, but not vice versa. The windows were designed for the royal ladies for viewing from the top.
The Mulchowk was originally built under Srinivasa Malla in 1666 and later underwent renovations in the early 18th and mid 19th Centuries. The copper shrine at the center is known as Goddess Yantamode or Yantaju, the istadevta of the Mallas. Facing the shrine is the ornamental “Golden Doorway” etching out of the red brick stone walls, and is a glorious piece of artistic mastery and metallurgical excellence. On the either side of the doors are the large sculptures of Gang and Yamuna, the two most important rivers in the Hindu religion. A door further extends into the next courtyard called the Sundari Chowk.
The Sundari Chowk consists of a three storied courtyard with an oval shaped bath tank in front- called the Royal Bath. The bath has stairs stepping down into the tank, with source of water inside. The bath was built by Siddhinarasimha Malla, for performing rituals. Two stone pillars and a seating area are placed in front. The bath can be viewed from the upper corridors. The bath also known as the Tusha hiti step well, has a fountain inside made of gilt copper depicting the idol of Lakshminarayana on Garuda. The either sides of the tank are decorated with 13 effigies of various demigods in artistic postures.
The Art Galleries on the Upper Floors:-
The upper floor have been converted into art galleries containing the old paintings, building sketches, Thangka paintings and other collections from the past. The upper corridors further extend into narrow overhanging corridors that almost stand on top of the courtyard, giving a top view of the courtyard in the center. These places were also probably used as hiding doors and the entry generally tends to slip the eye, if not viewed closely.
The Bhandarkhal Tank:-
The most attractive part of this area is the Bhandarkhal tank. With a lotus fountain in between and a source of water at one of its ends, there are stairs at the corners to walk down to the tank, much like a swimming pool. I guess swimming pools were the ‘in-thing’ in all eras. Two of the corners are installed with giant sized lions that face the entrance to the tank.
The tank used to be fed with underground source of water; however, recently, an artificial circulation system has been arranged for water circulation to put the tank functional with its fountain. Substantial damage is visible in these parts of the temple, due to the earthquake, and most of the relics and small temples in the courtyard have been destroyed.
Patan Durbar Square
The entry to the city is at the Patan Durbar Square, also the erstwhile entry point to the Newar kingdom. The city still appears as if it is still functioning in the ancient era. The Police occasionally moving on the horsebacks, the traditional handicrafts, art stores, souvenirs lined up in the street just like the old times. Facing the Patan Durbar Pagoda is a pillar that resembles the Ashoka Pillar except for a lion on top that faces the Pagoda. The Patan Durbar Square has found its place in the UNESCO World Heritage Sights.
Patan Durbar was one of the most affected sights during the 2015 earth quake with most of the temples completely drawn to rubbles. Several of the temples such as the Yogendra Malla Statue and Stone Pillar, the Krishna Temple, Narasingha Temple etc.
We waited here for some time to figure out our route to the select temples we wanted to discover in the city today. As we walked into the square from the Lalitpur Metropolitan gate, we went past the rows of temples undergoing reconstruction. Significant among these was the Krishna temple with a pillar in front with the Garuda (eagle) resting on top and facing the temple.
It was also a good time for us to explore the adjacent marketplace which was full of handicrafts, art galleries and paintings, while my daughter and niece enjoyed savouring their sugar candies. The one that peculiarly drew my attention is this one, which had a huge collection of Thangka paintings. The Thangka paintings pay due attention to details and symmetry while sketching and uses a lot of natural paints and colors which make them appear all the more attractive.
More in Pictures
From Patan Durbar Square, we moved further to explore the other parts of this spectacular city..
View my complete trip album here:-