Friday, January 18: Under ominous skies, we enter Durbar Square at the southwestern end. Listed as one of the eight Cultural World Heritage site by UNESCO, Kathmandu Durbar Square is a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The square is known to be the social, religious and urban focal point of Kathmandu.
The first building we come to is Kasthamandap, an ancient open pagoda-roofed pavilion said to be Kathmandu’s oldest building and one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The name of Kathmandu probably came from this building. Buddhi tells me it was built in the 12th century from the wood of a single tree. It has been renovated several times since 1630. According to Rough Guide to Nepal, it used to serve as a rest house along the Tibet trade route. It was probably the center of early Kathmandu.
On our way to the Kumari Chowk, we pass the 17th century Trailokya Mohan, a three-roofed pagoda dedicated to Narayan, the Nepali name for Vishnu.
North of the Trailokya Mohan sits the 17th-century Maju Dewal atop a pyramid of 9 stepped levels.
We then go to Kumari Chowk, where we hope to get a glimpse of Kathmandu’s Raj Kumari, the most important of a dozen or so “living goddesses” in Kathmandu Valley.
The Kumari is a prepubescent girl who is worshipped as the living incarnation of the goddess Taleju. Apparently the last Malla King of Kathmandu, the weak Jaya Prakash, lusted after Taleju. Offended, she told the king that he should select a virgin girl in whom the goddess could dwell. The Kumari is considered a Hindu goddess, but she is chosen from the Buddhist Shakya clan of goldsmiths. Elders interview Shakya girls between the ages of 3 and 5 and base their decision on whether she has 32 auspicious signs: a neck like a conch shell, a body like a Banyan Tree, etc. (Rough Guide to Nepal).
The young goddess lives a cloistered life inside the Kumari Chowk and is only carried outside on her throne during certain festivals. Her feet are never allowed to touch the ground. The goddess’s spirit is said to flow out of her with her first menstruation, at which time she is retired with a modest pension. Apparently, it’s hard for the Kumari to find a husband since legend has it that the Kumari’s husband will die young.
The Kumari courtyard is decorated with intricately carved windows and doorways. We are told upon our arrival into the courtyard that she is having something to eat, but we wait for a bit and she finally shows her face at the window, dressed in an auspicious red-colored coat, her eyes heavily made up. The current Kumari has been in place since 2008, since she was 3 years old, meaning she is currently about 8 years old. Sadly, it’s strictly forbidden to photograph the Kumari.
Walking along, we come to another area chock full of temples — and pigeons. We see a column topped with a gilded statue of King Pratap Malla. East of this column is the 16th century pagoda-style Jagannath Mandir. The struts supporting the lower roof of the temple contain numerous erotic carvings, quite common in Nepali temples. Other smaller temples surround the Jagannath Mandir. Cows lounge in the square among the pigeons, and a solitary monk stands silently, not moving, accepting donations in a bowl. Buddhi tells me that monks don’t ever ask people for money, but just stand silently in the belief that people will give them alms.
The 17th century octagonal Chasin Dega is dedicated to Krishna the flute player.
North of the Pratap Malla column is the rotund image of Kala Bhairab (Black Bhairab) dancing on the corpse of a demon. It’s carved from a single twelve-foot slab of stone. Legend has it that anyone who tells a lie in front of it will vomit blood and die (Rough Guide to Nepal).
We come across what I think Buddhi says is a Buddhist Shrine. However, I may be misinformed as it seems to have Hindu deities in it. It looks a little squished by this banyan tree.
Here is a random building that I think looks interesting. I’m sorry I don’t know what it is.
At Taleju Mandir, which sits atop a 12-tiered plinth, we can see Kathmandu’s largest temple, erected in the mid-16th century by King Mahendra Malla, who made a law that no building could exceed it in height. This law was in force through the mid-20th century. Taleju Bhawain is considered by Hindus to be a form of the mother goddess Durga, while Buddhist Newars consider her as one of the Taras, tantric female deities.
Here is the Lion’s Gate to the temple.
Finally, we go to the Old Royal Palace, usually called Hanuman Dhoka. A statue of the monkey-god Hanuman stands outside, installed by the 17th century king, Pratap Malla, to ward off evil spirits. The Hanuman idol is veiled to render his stare safe from mortals and he’s been anointed with mustard oil and vermilion paste (abhir) through the centuries.
We enter the courtyard through the brightly decorated Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate).
The large central courtyard inside, called the Nassal Chowk, was the setting for King Birendra’s coronation in 1975. The brick wings of the southern and eastern walls date from the 16th century.
At the northeastern corner of the square is the round-roofed five-tiered pagoda-like turret, Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir: “Five-Faced Hanuman,” which supposedly has the faces of an ass, man-bird, man-lion, bird and monkey (Rough Guide to Nepal).
After this, it is starting to sprinkle and we hear claps of thunder. We head back immediately to the car, where we hop in just in time. As soon as we’re in the car, driving toward the great stupa of Boudha, it begins to pour.