Patan, Nepal. Five miles outside of Kathmandu, separated only by a river, Patan is almost like a suburb, but once was a fiercely independent city-state. Scholars agree that it was a well-established and developed town since ancient times, and several historical records including many legends indicate that Patan is the oldest of all the cities of Kathmandu Valley.
We took a taxi there this morning, as it is a must-see. Though it is similar in layout to Kathmandu, featuring a Durbar Square with a palace on one side, its architectural style is somewhat different and it was less damaged in the 2015 earthquake. It is considered the finest collection of temples and palaces in all of Nepal, so off we went.
Patan did not disappoint. Here Hindu and Buddhist temples mix, but there are over 1,200 Buddhist monuments in this city of a quarter-million people. No scarcity of places for anyone to worship. It had a building boom in the 14th to 18th centuries, and much evidence of that early period remains – though some is under post-earthquake reconstruction.
It would take hours to describe each building and its history, but a visual sweep will give you an idea of what is left and what is being repaired on the square. The photo is a panorama taken before the earthquake.
Our guide took us into the Royal Palace, originally built in the 14th century and expanded during the 17th and 18th centuries. What is most stunning about so many of the buildings in this city, especially this one, is the artistry of the mostly teak carvings that ornament almost every available space, although some of the ornaments are stone and metal. The facade, eaves, windows and screens have a level of detail that somehow has lasted for centuries. The courtyards are spectacular, and the scale is palatial, without being overwhelming.
The Patan Museum was formerly a palace, and is a rare collection of the art, symbolism and architecture of the valley. No, we will never learn the name of all the deities represented in a huge variety of forms, but we can appreciate their artistic manifestation.
We also appreciated the lovely cafe in the rear where we had our elevenses in high style.
Perhaps the top highlight was our visit to the Golden Temple, a Buddhist monastery north of the square. It is said to have been founded in the 12th century and has existed in its current form since 1409. It seems small, but its details are overwhelming. There are so many spirit guardians protecting the temple that it’s no wonder that it has lasted so long.
We did a bit of strolling around, though sometimes the heat after the morning rain, and the barrage of motorcycles and other traffic made it a bit difficult. Patan is the center of bronze casting work and other metal arts, and is the source of much is what is found in Kathmandu, and maybe a few other places in the region, including Bhutan. We saw some beautiful things, but only succumbed to a few of them…
We did see craftsmen and laborers hard at work on the many restoration projects. They have made amazing progress, and it is remarkable to see that they still have the ancient skills required to seamlessly reproduce the carvings on the buildings around the square. We had to have an expert show us the new from the old in some places.
An amazing city. Here’s hoping that there are no more devastating forces of nature to harm the beauty created by the hands of man.
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