Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world, holds a unique place in the artistic heritage of the subcontinent. Its great contribution is the preservation of a continuous tradition of sacred, royal, and domestic architecture. Cradled in the lap of the Himalayan mountains, the heist in the world, the spectacular brick-timber temples and secular buildings are picturesque creations. Each city and buildings is modest, demurely proportioned, and unpretentious against the grand mountainous backdrop; an attitude rare amongst arrogant plains people who easily forget the scale of mother earth.
According to mythology (now partially substantiated by geological evidence), the Kathmandu Valley was once a holy lake encircled by mountains. To this body of sacred water, inhabited by giant serpents and nagas, came the first Buddha who tossed a lotus seed into the lake. The seed took root and grew into a magnificent thousand-petalled lotus flower. On the dark waters it shone brilliantly with the pure life of self-born (swayambhu) wisdom. Then Buddha Manjushri (honoured here by both Hindus and Buddhists) came to see the divine lotus and, taking his sword of wisdom, struck the mountainside and drained the lake, so that the lotus would be protected always by a rim of mountains. Later a Buddhist monk built a stupa with a tall gilded spire, and to this day its pinnacle radiates holy light over the entire Valley. The dramatic Swayambhu Stupa stands on a hill just west of Kathmandu city, marking the site of the divine self-born lotus of wisdom, and is considered one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in Nepal. The city of Kathmandu, it is said, is in the shape of Manjushri's sword, the city of neighbouring Patan, Manjushri's shield (wheel), and a little further away is his conch, incorporated in the plan of Bhaktapur, the loveliest city in the Valley.
The cultural distinction of Kathmandu Valley lie in its geographical isolation, situated (1200 to 1500 meters above sea level) in a bowl encircled by mountains: the Himalayan range to the north and the Mahabharata to the south. The Bagmati river, once the artery of the valley, provided it with necessary nourishment and sustained centuries of civilization in a relatively tiny area (570 square kilometers). It is a self-contained, self-composed culture that has never been disrupted by colonial rule or continual invasions, and was able to grow organically like the mythical lotus. On this huge sacred lotus mandala, the Valley, there grew several holy pilgrim centers that have attracted Hindu and Buddhist devotees for centuries.
The Buddha was born in the lower foothills of Nepal at a site called Lumbini. For the better part of his life he wandered through the cities and centers of pilgrimage in India, till he attained Buddhahood at Bodh Gaya and final Parinirvana at Kusinagar (Uttar Pradesh, India). While Nepal is closely associated with the birth of the Buddha, for who thousand five hundred years his philosophy and religion continued to inspire the country, invigorated by mutual contact with India and Tibet.
The Kathmandu Valley lay on an important trade route between India and Tibet, which explains its historical, political, and economic importance, and its artistic roots. Archeological evidence points to the habitation of the Valley from prehistoric times, to the establishment of small principalities, tribal republics, and the complex structuring of society into the (abominable) caste system, which the Buddha rejected. According to contemporary literature, two thousand year ago (around the time when the Buddha lived), a regular supply of wool, minerals, and gems found their way to India along well-established trade routes. The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka is said it have visited the garden of Lumbini (in the third century BC), and as a mark of respect commemorated the visit with the erection of a (memorial) stambha. Today the site has been further developed.
Between the fourth and nine centuries the Licchavi dynasty dominated the Valley, introducing Hinduism, building temples, and sponsoring stone sculptures (beautiful specimens are to be seen in the National Museum, Kathmandu and the ancient temple of Changu Narayan to the east). Generous support was also given in this period to the construction of Buddhist viharas and stupas (most important the Bodhnath Stupa, seven traders on their hazardous journeys. It was these trade routes the perpetuated the constant flow and reverse flow of Buddhism from India to Tibet through the Valley where it was preserved in a unique synthesized form, blending Hindu and Buddhist deities and rituals in their centers of worship.
The thirteenth century started with stability introduced by Jayasthiti Malla who conquered the area while his son and grandson, Yaksha Malla, expanded the territory. Then the descendent Mallas (between 1482-1767) fell out amongst themselves and the tiny Valley (an oval bowl measuring hardly 24 kilometers east to west and 19 kilometers north to south, which one could traverse in a day) was divided into three independent kingdoms of Kathmandu (Kantipur), Patan (or Lalitpur, the lovely city), and Bhaktapur (the city of devotion, originally called Bhadgaon). Provoked by political rivalry, each city gathered their best local artisans and sponsored architectural ventures that stemmed from the common seed of their heritage.
During the Malla period the three cities acquired their fundamental character and personality. At the heart of all three capitals cities is the Durbar Square, the official brick-paved plaza in front of the palace. The Royal Residence, in all three cities, consists of a walled enclosure of courtyards, rooms for official and religious purposes, and breezy tall watchtowers or spires of many tiers. The public square on one side of the palace is crowded with temples dominated by a large shrine dedicated to the favored patron deity and other smaller ones. One temple is built in stone, with large stone images of vahanas or guardian animals flanking the structure, while free-standing pillars are erected in front of the shrine with an image of the deity's vahana. A column with a statue of the Malla ruler in respectful attitude stood in front of the patron deity. Open areas for ritual performances, mandaps, halls for community gatherings, and water taps or fountains were built for the city in the square by successive generations of rulers.
Bhaktapur is by far the most peaceful and lovely example of city architecture in Nepal. It remains less crowded and devastated by 'modernization'. But the city suffered greatly in the 1934 earthquake when almost ninety percent of the buildings were damaged. Commendable renovation and reconstruction by a dedicated German conservation team over twenty years has brought back some of Bhaktapur's original glory. It is difficult to date many of the buildings in the Durbar Square, for many of them have been renovated or reconstructed over the centuries. In a curious way it does not seem to matter whether the buildings were built four hundred years ago or yesterday; their beauty is timeless.
The three cities have been declared by Unesco as World Heritage Sites. While the Durbar Squares (of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur) are almost identical in concept, the joy of the individual cities lie in walking through the by-lanes and side streets to see its attractive domestic architecture which is still functional and vibrant with life. Nowhere else in the subcontinent, except perhaps in Kerala (India), can one trace the evolution of royal and religious art from domestic architecture, from homes and houses still inhabited and used by the people.
The next period in the story of the Valley is the conquest and unification of the area under the Shah dynasty of Gorkha. This tiny hill town (between Pokhara and Kathmandu) was the home of the Gorkhas who ventured out to control the three Malla capitals. By the end of the eighteenth century, with the capital at Kathmandu, the Gorkha kingdom stretched from present-day Shimla in the west to Sikkim in the east. After a hard-fought war against the British East India Company in 1813 (who wielded power across the rest of the subcontinent), the kingdom under the Shahs continued to remain independent, burdened only with the token presence of a British Resident.
In 1844 a young rebel named Jung Bahadur Kunwar staged a coup, upturned the monarchy, and established the rule of the Ranas (traditionally Prime Ministers of the Kings). It was this enthusiastic ruler who visited (Queen Victoria in) Britain in 1850 and brought back with him a passion for neoclassical architecture, with whitewashed walls, Corinthian columns, arches, triangular-roofed windows, and stucco do-dahs. His passion soon gained popularity in the Valley and today in the three cities one can see traditional architecture rubbing shoulders with (degenerate) examples of British neoclassical structures of the late nineteenth century.
In 1951, the deposed Shah ruler was reinstated to the throne of Nepal (with a little help from its neighbor-India), and it is his grandson Birendra who is the present (titular) monarch of a democratic Nepal. With the advent of modernization, commercial ventures, and tourism, the architecture of Nepal has (as it has in the rest of the subcontinent) taken a turn for the worse, combing mismatched concepts from the West (the present royal palace in Kathmandu!) with the very poorest contemporary styles in concrete and glass. But the charm of the Valley lies in the three cities; the traditional domestic and religious architecture is parallel with the proud hospitable character of the people and the beauty of the landscape.
Domestic architecture of Kathmandu is primarily in brick and timber; slim baked, burnt-orange clay bricks and the deep resonate texture of carved sal-wood windows, doors, beams, and balconies. The houses are two or three storeys high, with a tiled sloping roof, common in areas where rain and snowfall are high.
The public façade of a typical house is formal, with the large expanse of the brick wall clearly demarcated horizontally by the divisions of the wooden beams of the flooring. The sloping roof is supported by wooden beams that protrude like a canopy and are held in place by external wooden brackets or struts. The structural wooden beams and brackets, which play such a vital role in maintaining the stability of the brick construction, is included in the decorative scheme of the building, and their function is often camouflaged by artistic carvings. The ribbon beams, floor dividers, dissolve into great naga bodies that coil around the frame of the building, the bracket become flying celestial figures, and beams are decorated with intricate geometric patterns.
In the sacred (square) temple the two-or three-tired sloping roof was given a sharper gradient and acquired a form identified in south-east Asia as the pagoda. Each floor was proportionality smaller and the roofs followed a graded line to the summit capped by a gilded kalash. To uphold the steep angle of the sloping roof rafters, brackets and external struts were added, which soon fell under the woodcarver's chisel, assuming the form of divine figures, celestial nymphs, and erotic couples who blessed the building with prosperity and guarded it from destruction. Around the rim of the temple roof or tires of roofs is hung a line of bells with long leaf-shaped tongues that capture the slightest breeze, which sets off the most delicate tinkling chime. The rim of each storey is framed by a thin curtain cloth, which ripples with the breeze, extraordinarily enhancing the architecture by making it appear to be in perpetual movement, like a colossal spinning prayer-wheel.
To the basic design of the building comes the addition of (necessary) windows, doorways, and balconies. Here again the architectural purpose of providing openings for entrance, air, and ventilation is given an artistic dimension for beyond functional expectations. The doorways and windows have wooden frames whose entire surface is carved. In order to 'set them into' the brick surface the frame expands like a giant butterfly and incorporates support brackets and protrusions that hinge into the wall. In a temple or palace these flying hinge brackets are embellished with wonderful guardian nymphs and mythical creatures. The door-or window-frame is sometimes carved in a sequence of parallel planes. Other homes have verandas with carved wooden pillars.
The windows are often shielded with a wooden screen that allows light and ventilation while providing a certain privacy to the inmates (necessary because the houses are built so close together). The lattice windows are truly exceptional, for each house, palace, or temple seems to have a different design. Wooden strips, the size of the window, have slots into which the cross-beams of the screen are fitted. Each piece is carved to form, when joined together, an intricate design or motif. So whether the window is circular, rectangular, or square, the wooden pieces are interlocked with hinges (without the use of expensive metal nails) to create a unique pattern. The Wood Carving Museum of Bhaktapur has a magnificent collection of windows and frames, but one has only to walk through the towns to see the imaginative outburst of window designs in the homes of the poor and the unknown.
While the homes are dark and dingy within, the outward façade offers the residents an opportunity to look out onto the streets where all the action takes place; where the religious processions and festivals are celebrated. So the window and the ornate balcony play a crucial consideration by the woodcarver and architect. Sometimes a house or group of houses are built around, and look inward into a quiet, enclosed courtyard sheltered by the inner walls of the homes.
When walking through Patan and Bhaktapur try to catch a glimpse of these created open spaces. Above is the canopy of the sky, on all sides the houses have carved windows and doors that lead into the courtyard, and the open area is studded with little shrines for daily prayer, a well or a sacred image. Most gorgeous among the courtyard enclosures are those belonging to the city palaces of the Durbar Square at Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Whether it is a potter's home in Bhaktapur, the royal palace in Patan, or a temple in Kathmandu, the glory of this traditional architecture is the perfect conversion of functional structural details of brick-timber architecture into aesthetic ornamentations of the most sophisticated kind.
Kathmandu city is the capital of Nepal and lies on the western side of the Valley. The Vishnumati river frames the west and runs north to south, with the Bagmati forming the southern boundary. Kathmandu is separated by a short bridge across the Bagmati river from the city of Patan. As the capital, Kathmandu has converted many of the old palaces and Rana establishments into official buildings. The King's palace is to the north with a road leading to Kathmandu's huge maidan. South-east of the park is the road leading to Singha Durbar (once the largest residential palace of the Ranas, now the Government Secretariat), the road to Bhaktapur, and the bridge road to Patan. Off the western side of the central park is the maze of the old bazaar, and Asan where vegetables, cloth stores, wholesalers of beads, and tourist shops are crowded together in narrow lanes. New Road on the western side of the maidan leads straight to the magnificent Durbar Square.
The area is extremely crowded and requires a little time for orientation. To your right (north) is a huge white neoclassical structure, above which can be seen the many-tiered pagoda spires called Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Basantapur Towers (the city of spring, i.e. Kathmandu). To the left, just where the Square opens out, is the ornate doorway to the Kumari Bahal. The doorway leads into one of the most elegant courtyards in the country. All four sides are lavishly decorated with carved wooden windows, brackets, and doorways. It is here that the living virgin goddess lives. In this tradition a young girl of the Shakya community, carrying auspicious physical signs, is chosen to be the goddess and remains here, appearing only to bless the populace and the royal family on festive occasions. When she reaches puberty her role as the living representative of the patron goddess Taleju ends and a new little girl is brought to this gorgeous (prison?) home.
Stepping back into the Square one can see the charming, apparently haphazard, alignment of temples and shrines. They follow, we are told, a sacred invisible mandala which (over the centuries) dictated where the temples to the various deities should be built. Moving behind, past the pagoda-like Trailokya Mohan Temple, are smaller shrines and the stone statue (one of the finest in the Valley) of the faithful Garuda. Due west, the path opens out into another square dominated by the huge form of the Kasthamandap, one of the oldest structures in Kathmandu, from which the city derived its name. Its broad sloping tiled roofs and pillared hall dominate the surroundings. All around are temporary stalls of vegetable-sellers seated on the ground and shops in every nook and cranny, with little paths leading into the bazaar labyrinth punctuated only with little street shrines and lanes of houses with wonderful details of wooden windows and doorways.
Back in the square opposite the Kumari Bahal (due north) is the delightful rectangular temple to Shiva and Parvati, easily identified by the status of this divine couple lovingly peering out of the upper floor window at the street below, looking down just as ordinary people do from their humble homes. Past the Shiva-Parvati temple on a path that curves a little eastwards, one comes into another square called Hanuman Dhoka. It is so called because at the far right is pedestal with a shapeless orange pasty figure of the much-honored monkey companion (of Lord Rama of the Ramayana epic), Hanuman. He stands to the left of the entrance to the palace. The Palace consists of several courtyards, few of which are open to the public, but do go in. just past the ticket entrance to your left is a powerful image of the half-lion, half-man incarnation of Vishnu, Narasimha, disemboweling a demon. This statue guards the entrance and the Nasal Chowk, huge courtyard dominated by the towering spires of the Basantapur Tower to the south, a circular tower to the north, and the Bengal hut roof to the east. You can climb up the Basantapur tower to experience the interiors of such traditional architecture: the steep wooden staircase, the window views from the other side, the dark rooms and passageways patterned with wooden roof beams and clay-tiled floors. Back in Nasal Chowk, at the north-eastern end, is the Mul Chowk. It is not open to the public but it is well worth risking a pleasant smile to the guard to get a peek at another lovely courtyard with richly carved wooden decorations on the windows and columns.
Out in front of the Hanuman statue, the large, tiered pagoda form is dedicated to Jagannath, Vishnu, Lord of the Universe. The idol within bears an inscription dating it to 1563. Walking around it to the column with the Statue of Pratap Malla one can see the elegant form of an octagonal Krishna Temple, then the drum house with enormous drums that were played on ceremonial occasions. Moving further north, a few steps ahead is the gigantic (4 meters high) figure of Kalabhairab, the terrifying lord of Time or Swachchandra Bhairab (Time the only true test of honesty), a form of Shiva in front of whom none can tell a lie.
Following the path north-eastwards, past other little shrines, one can catch a glimpse of the dramatic form of the great Taleju Mandir. Through entry is restricted only to the Royal family and Brahmins on special days, it is a magnificent structure to be admired at a distance. Raised high on a series of platforms, the temple is built on a concealed mandala. The square temple is surmounted with the classically pitched sloping roof in tiers upheld by beautiful figurative bracket struts and gilded details.
Two kilometers west of Kathmandu is a hill with the oldest and most venerated Buddhist stupa in the Valley. According to mythology, it marks the place where the sacred lotus of wisdom grew, before the valley was created. The stupa is reached by a stairway from the eastern side or a motorable road and a stairway on the western side. To the east, right in front of the stupa, is a large (1.5 meter), long gilded Vajra, the holy thunderbolt; the power of Buddhist Dharma. The stupa is huge, rising above the cramped area of shrines, its gilded stepped spire raised majestically to the sky, the region of pure light, wisdom. Below, on the square base, are the painted, ever-watchful eyes of wisdom surveying all directions. Around its base is a ring of prayer wheels and five cardinal Buddhas enshrined in niches. The western one, Amitabha, the Buddha of boundless Light, is the center of much of the worship here. North-west of this niche is the small but venerated gilded temple to the goddess Harita to whom devotees bring their children to seek protection from illness and death.
The most awe-inspiring site in Kathmandu is the beautiful and gigantic Stupa of Bodhnath. It stands seven kilometers east of Kathmandu where there are several Tibetan monasteries and settlements. A narrow passage provides entrance into the sacred area, which is dominated by the colossal whitewashed form of the stupa (with a diameter of over 100 meters). It is like an earth mound rising up to the all-seeing eye. The gilded spire is embraced by the canopy of the sky. As you walk in pradakshina, clockwise around the stupa, or around on one of its tiered platforms, you feel (satisfactorily) dwarfed by its presence, as insignificant as a fluttering prayer flag against the solid stable form of the Stupa of Bodhnath (the Lord of eternal, universal wisdom).
On the same eastern side of Kathmandu is one of the most Pashupatinath, Shiva the Lord of animals. According to mythology, Shiva, creator (and hence destroyer) of the universe came to this forested area to frolic amidst the creatures of his creation. Disguised as a stag he wandered freely till he was captured by the antlers by Man and forced to assume the form of the linga, now worshipped in the temple. The temple is (exclusively) open to Hindus and consists of a courtyard with many small shrines; an enormous, gilt-plated (delightful) Nandi in front of the shrine. The central temple has four doors open to the directions from which the four-faced linga of Pashupati watches over his cherished universe. The temple, in its Pagoda-like form, is heavily gilded with gifts from rich supplicants for earthly wealth and lost its original simplicity and charm. To the eastern side flows the Bagmati river, and it is here that cremation of Hindus tales place in the holy presence of Pashupatinath, the Creator and Destroyer of all. Across the bridge is a row of lovely little shrines, and a place, which serves as a viewing point for foreigners who are not allowed into the temple precincts. Further over the hill, through the woods, is another sacred Hindu site dedicated to the goddess Gujeshshwari, consort of Shiva.
This city, once called Lalitpur (the beautiful city, which it is), lies across the Bagmati river, south-east of Kathmandu. The distance between the two Durbar Squares is approximately seven kilometers, and at Patan it is located in the heart of the city. The road from Kathmandu centers the Mangal Bazaar. To the immediate right (southernmost side) is a small doorway into the palace building and Sundari Chowk, appropriately called the beautiful courtyard. The courtyard is faced on all four sides by brick walls fitted with the loveliest windows, and its center is an exquisite pond. Called Tusa Hiti, it is an ancient royal both guarded by the serpentine coils of huge stone nagas encircling it. The inner face of the pond is lined with miniature shrines with quality sculptures of deities, and at one end is a gilded water spout in the shape of conch. The design and divine presence of deities makes it appear more like a ritual pond rather than a royal bathtub (but who knows what the Malla kings considered themselves to be?). Outside in the square, moving northward, is a Krishna Temple, the ceremonial bell, the Hari Shankar Temple (dedicated to the compound concept of Shiva and Vishnu), the stone Krishna Temple, the Biswanath Temple (the oldest shrine here), and finally in this line is the most important patron deity (of businessmen), Bhimsen. Opposite site it is an ornamental Licchavi water spout called Mangal Hiti.
The stone Krishna Temple is worthy of comment for it looks different from the traditional pagoda-type shrines and has some interesting decorative elements. It was built by Siddhi Narasimha Malla and took six years to complete (1637). It has a pillared veranda, which provides light and breeze, while the roof follows the conical shikhara form of northern Indian temples. There are brackets and running stone friezes depicting various stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, and legends about Krishna, the divine lover. Most unusual and intriguing are the floral stone panels (on the lowest floor), which evoke memories of Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri wall decoration; of Mughal flowers on carpets and brocades.
To see how metal repousse work and ornamentation (a famous craft in the Valley, which has degenerated into a tourist industry) is incorporated into religious architecture; wander behind the Bhimsen Temple to Kwa Bahal. Entrance from the street is through a narrow passage from which you can hear inmates of the monastery chanting prayers. The entire façade of this living shrine, dedicated to the Buddha, is covered with sheets of embossed, gilded copper, protective images of Buddhist deities, and wonderful birds flying off from the rooftops.
South-east from the Durbar Square, along a narrow lane with excellent examples of domestic architecture and metal cottage industries, is the unique terracotta shrine of Maha Baudha. Unfortunately the shrine courtyard is congested with encroaching houses and the structure was damaged quite severely in an earthquake, but it must be seen for nothing like it exists in the Valley today. It is said that this temple was built as a petite copy of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya (Bihar, India), the sacred site where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The temple, like its prototype, has a shikhara roof, but the entire surface of the brick temple is covered with a sheath of decorative terracotta tiles (see Vishnupur, West Bengal, India) and miniature niches enshrined with images of the Buddha.
To get to Bhaktapur (19 kilometers from the heart of Kathmandu city) one has to travel to the eastern quarter of the Valley on a road fringed by rich green paddy-fields (the staple food) and two-storeyed village brick houses that dot the undulating countryside. Along one way is Thimi, a lovely potter's village. Here one can see artists engaged in ancient traditional skills, making pots and clay images. There are three important squares to be seen at Bhaktapur: the Durbar Square, its extension, the Taumadhi Tol, and the Tachapal Tol.
Following the damage caused by the 1934 and 1988 earthquakes, the Durbar Square looks far less congested than those of the other two cities. From the entrance gate from the north side are two magnificent statues of Bhairab (Shiva, the awesome one) and Durga (killing the bull demon, Mohisha). Opposite are four rather small insignificant-looking shrines built by the Malla kings as replicas of four of the most sacred Hindu sites in India (Jagannath in Orissa, Rameshvara in Tamil Nadu, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttar Pradesh). Here, in order to spare the royal family from having to undertake arduous pilgrimages, the gods are close at hand right outside the palace!
To the right is large building with a sign advertising the National Art Gallery with a collection of stone sculptures, thankas, primitive and contemporary painting on the first floor. Outside, moving eastward, is a free-standing column with the statue of Bhupatindra Malla, the huge Taleju bell in front of the temple entered through the gorgeous Golden Gate or Sun Dhoka, one of the finest samples of gilded copper-work from which Hindu deities emerge from a bed of ornamental designs.
Following the west-east movement comes the Palace of 55 Windows (now fewer in number), and beside it is a wonderful (reconstructed) octagonal Chasalin Mandap. It is one of the most elegant structures in the Valley: with an innovative transformation of an octagonal building up to a circular roof and the flowing line of the roof tiles bending with their own weight like petals of an upturned lotus. At the end of the square are a few more shrines and two large guardian lions.
Branching southwards from the octagonal pavilion is a water tap, a replica of the Pashupatinath Temple (so that the ruler did not have to Kathmandu!), and the road that turns east to the Taumadhi Tol. Towering over this square at one end is the magnificent Nyatapola Temple. Set high above ground level on a stepped pyramidal base guarded by powerful mythical creatures, stands the temple with its five-tiered roof, complete with painted wooden sculptured details, a resplendent home for the goddess Mahishasuramardini, the destroyer of the demon (asura) who appeared as the bull, Mahisha.
To the east of the square is the goddess's partner, in a gilded triple-roofed shrine, Kasi Biswanath. Dedicated to Bhairab and, as the name suggests, is the home of Shiva, Lord of the Universe who resides in Kashi (Varanasi, India). The wide open areas and side lanes around the square are crammed with people when the temple festivals, like the Bisket chariot procession and competition, take place. A walk southward leads to the wonderful Potter's Square where millions of pots and clay vessels are made, fired, and sold by the local potters from their homes.
A pleasant walk north-eastward past some incredibly beautiful examples of restored traditional houses, lanes, and market squares is Tachapal Tol. One side of the square is dominated by the elegant Dattatreya Temple dedicated to the Hindu trinity and has a little white statue of Indra peeping out from the upper floor window. Behind the temple is a lane leading to the Wakupati Narayan Temple, dedicated to Vishnu. It is a small, delightful, gilded temple set within an enclosed courtyard. Just behind the Dattatreya Temple is the Wood Carving Museum established in recent years. The museum has an exceptional collection of carved wooden windows and doorways collected from different parts of the Valley. The display is arranged within its courtyards and rooms. The much advertised Peacock Window is the pride of the collection. The museum is a perfect homage to the woodcarvers who, over the centuries, made the Valley a unique world heritage site that urgently needs to be cared for and protected.
• What's in the neighbourhood
It Is impossible to adequately describe how much there is to see in the Kathmandu Valley. Short trips can be made to the colossal (fifth century) reclining figure of Vishnu on his bed of serpent coils in the tank at Bodhanilkantha, the lovely fortified town of Kirtipur (to the south-west), the ancient shrine at Changu Narayan (to the north-east), and the quite temple grove of Dakshin Kali, south-west of Kathmandu, where animal sacrifices are still performed. A visit to the Valley would be incomplete without a darshan of the awesome mountains from Nagarkot, Shivpuri, or Pokhara. Today the tourist industry is well-equipped to assist the eager adventure traveler on treks to see nature's grandest creations: the young Himalaya, the exotic, fragile rhododendron forests, and the highest peak on our planet, Mount Everest.
• How to get there
Kathmandu has an international airport linked to India, Europe, and the Far East. Within the Valley there are buses, taxis, cycles, and rickshaws for hire, but surely the best, most educative way to appreciate the architectural heritage of the region, is on foot-and the distances are pleasantly short. There is a full range of hotels from very cheap guest-houses to luxury five star hotels to very charming middle range accommodation in Kathmandu.
The best time of year to travel in the Valley is from September to April. If you are trekking then come between February and April or September or November (it rains between June and August, and the winter months are very cold). Thirteenth April is the first day of (one calendar) New Year and it is springtime when the three cities are alive with celebrations and temple festivals. Buddha Jayanti, the great Buddhist festival marking the birth of the Buddha and also his enlightenment and final Parinirvana, is held on the full moon night of May. In the later part of the year around Indrajatra, Durga puja, Divali (September-November) and Shivratri in (February-March) are important, colorful Hindu festivals drawing devotees from all parts of the Valley.