Krishna Mandir: Continuing into the square, you can’t miss the splendid Krishna Mandir built by King Siddhinarsingh Malla in 1637. Constructed from carved stone – in place of the usual brick and timber – this fabulous architectural confection shows the clear influence of Indian temple design. The temple is one of the most distinctive monuments in the valley and it is often depicted on the ornate brass butter lamps hung in Nepali homes.
The temple consists of three tiers, fronted by columns and supporting a north Indian–style shikhara. Non-Hindus cannot enter to view the statue of Vishnu as Krishna, the goatherd, but you’ll often hear temple musicians playing upstairs. Vishnu’s mount, the man-bird Garuda, kneels with folded arms on top of a column facing the temple. The delicate stone carvings along the beam on the 1st floor recount events from the Mahabharata, while the beam on the 2nd floor features scenes from the Ramayana.
Royal Palace: Forming the whole eastern side of Durbar Sq, the Royal Palace of Patan was originally built in the 14th century, but was expanded massively during the 17th and 18th centuries by Siddhinarsingh Malla, Srinivasa Malla and Vishnu Malla. The Patan palace predates the palaces in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur and it was severely damaged during the conquest of the valley by Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1768.More restoration was done after the great earthquake of 1934, but the palace remains one of the architectural highlights of Nepal.
Behind the extravagant facade, with its overhanging eaves, carved windows and delicate wooden screens, are a series of connecting courtyards and three temples dedicated to the valley’s main deity, the goddess Taleju. The Bhairab gateway leading to the central courtyard – known as Mul Chowk – is flanked by two stone lions and colourful murals of Shiva in his wrathful incarnation as Bhairab. Strings of buffalo guts are hung above the door in his honour.
Patan Museum: Formerly the residence of the Malla kings, the section of the palace surrounding Keshav Narayan Chowk now houses one of the finest collections of religious art in Asia. Initially funded by the Austrian government, the museum is a national treasure and an invaluable introduction to the art, symbolism and architecture of the valley.
The collection is displayed in a series of brick and timber rooms, linked by steep and narrow stairways. There are informative labels on each of the hundreds of statues, carvings and votive objects, allowing you to put a name to many of the deities depicted at temples around the valley.
There are also some interesting displays on the techniques used to create these wonderful objects, including the art of repoussé and the ‘lost-wax’ method of casting. Gallery H at the back of the complex, near the cafe, houses some fascinating photos of Patan at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Mahaboudha Temple: To reach the Mahabouddha Temple, you must walk southeast from Durbar Sq along Hakha Tole, passing a series of small Vaishnavite and Shaivite temples. When you reach Sundhara Tole, with its temple and sunken hiti (water tank) with three brass water spouts, turn right and look for the tiny doorway leading to the temple.
As you step through, the temple suddenly looms above you, crammed into a tiny courtyard like a plant straining to get some sunlight. Built in the Indian shikhara style, the shrine takes its name from the hundreds of terracotta tiles that cover it, each bearing an image of the Buddha. The temple is loosely modelled on the Mahabouddha Temple at Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha gained enlightenment.
The temple dates from 1585, but it was ruined by the 1934 earthquake and totally rebuilt. Unfortunately, without plans to work from, the builders ended up with a different-looking temple, and had enough bricks and tiles left over to construct a smaller shrine to Maya Devi, the Buddha’s mother, in the corner of the courtyard!
Golden Temple (Kwa Bahal): This unique Buddhist monastery is just north of Durbar Sq. It was allegedly founded in the 12th century, and it has existed in its current location since 1409. Entry is via an ornate narrow stone doorway to the east or a wooden doorway to the west, inside one of the interlinked bahal on the north side of Nakabhil.
Entering from the east, note the gaudy lions and the 1886 signature of Krishnabir, the master stonemason who sculpted the fine doorway with its frieze of Buddhist deities. This second doorway leads to the main courtyard of the Golden Temple, so named because of the gilded metal plates that cover most of its frontage. Shoes and leather articles must be removed if you enter the inner courtyard. Look for the tortoises pottering around the compound – these are the temple guardians. The main priest of the temple is a young boy under the age of 12, who serves for 30 days before handing the job over to another young boy.
The temple itself is a magnificent example of courtyard temple architecture.
Patan: Once a fiercely independent city-state, Patan (pronounced pah-tan) is now almost a suburb of Kathmandu, separated only by the murky Bagmati River. Many locals still call the city by its original Sanskrit name of Lalitpur (City of Beauty) or by its Newari name, Yala. Almost everyone who comes to Kathmandu also visits Patan’s spectacular Durbar Sq – arguably the finest collection of temples and palaces in the whole of Nepal.
Another good reason to come here is to take advantage of the shops and restaurants set up to cater to the aid workers and diplomats who live in the surrounding suburbs. Then there are Patan’s fair-trade shops, selling superior handicrafts at fair prices and channelling tourist dollars to some of the most needy people in Nepal.
Most people visit Patan on day trips from Kathmandu and, as a result, the accommodation offerings are rather limited. On the flip side, Patan becomes a different place once the crowds of day-trippers retreat across the Bagmati. If you stay here, you’ll be able to explore the myriad tole (squares) and bahal(courtyards) at your leisure.