Once an independent city-state to the east of Kathmandu, the city has now more or less become a suburb. Conveniently located just a short drive away and with an astonishing palace square filled with impressive palaces and temples, Patan has become a popular destination for visitors on a tight schedule.
Moreover, the Durbar Square (Palace Square) is one of seven sites in the Kathmandu Valley included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. I found even more to discover in Patan.
The Durbar Square
Patan has been at the centre of things for centuries, most importantly from the 14th to 18th centuries – the Malla period. The main structures we encounter today on the main square, the Durbar Square, were largely built in the 17th century. Unless you are staying in the town and arrive by foot, you will most likely be entering from the crowded parking lot to the south. The square is not square in mathematical terms, more like a rectangle. On the eastern long side of the rectangle you will find the wall belonging to the Royal Palace. To the west (left) you will find a number of structures with primarily religious purposes. The entrances of all temples face the palace.
Patan, or Lalitpur, is known as one of the oldest Buddhist cities in Nepal, but the predominant features of the Durbar Square are those of Hinduism.
There are more temples around, like the Chyasing Dewal you first meet as you enter the square. Behind it you will also take notice of the Big Bell (Taleju bell). Towards the end of the square you will find some particularly interesting temples.
The multi-layered Krishna Temple is the most important temple on the square. It was originally built in 1637 but with time and the number of earthquakes the city has suffered, it is unclear how much is actually original. Further on you will want to have a closer look at the Bhimsen Temple, the Vishnu Temple and the Vishwonath Temple.
Before you reach that far you will most likely have entered the Royal Palace. The temples on the square offers some exquisite examples of both stone and wood carving. The instant you enter the first of three courtyards of the palace you will want to concentrate on the wood carvings. Follow my advice and spend some time here in the Mul Chowk. The next courtyard is the Sundari Chowk with a sunken tank guarded by stone statues.
Take a walk
As a first-timer to Patan, and as the sole participant on a guided tour, I had the fortune of balancing my personal interests with that of my guide’s knowledge. So, we went for a walk through the streets of Patan seeking out a couple of other places of interest. Two more temples came up, but frankly speaking, the time it took us to get there was equally interesting. Outside the palace square fewer tourists venture and you get more into everyday life of the locals. There were not many souvenir shops around, only locals out on their daily routines.
My first stop was at the Bangala Mukhi Temple, more of a local Hindu temple with people sitting by or performing their praying rituals.
The next temple was the brilliant Hiranya Varna Mahavihar Temple, a Buddhist temple. As you pass the potent lion guards outside you will first enter a small courtyard adorned by wonderful wood carvings and then the main courtyard filled with lovely brass sculptures and praying wheels. This was the definite highlight of my visit to Patan.
Here are some suggestions for reading up on the sights of Patan: Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, Wikitravel.
The map below indicates the places I visited during my stay in Nepal. Most of the days were spent in and around the capital of Kathmandu but I also went down to the Chitwan National Park for a bit of jungle life. Zoom in and out as you like, and click the markers. You may also expand the map into a new tab.
This article is from my visit to the Himalayas. I flew in from Bangkok, spent seven days in Bhutan (read the first chapter from Bhutan) and then took a flight to Nepal for another week. The overall schedule is introduced in an article called The outline of a visit to the Himalayas. The next chapters from Nepal are coming up, roughly like this:
- Inflight views of the Himalaya mountain range
- Kathmandu’s Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams
- Kathmandu’s historic districts and temples
- The former city-state of Patan (THIS)
- The beautiful town of Bhaktapur
- Jungle life in Chitwan
Two articles from these World Heritage Sites have also been published: Kathmandu Valley and Chitwan – in addition to a special post containing all pictures from Nepal.