Suitcase and World: Return to Patan Durbar Square.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Return to Patan Durbar Square.

Chantale along with a group of local men sitting out front of Patan Museum.

With our meeting with the mayor of Lalitpur out of the way, we could now just focus on seeing the sights of Kathmandu. When I was here in 2007, I fell in love with Patan so on this trip, I decided it was the first place I wanted to take Chantale to visit.

It's been 10 years since I have been here and as Sonam was driving us to our destination, I have go admit that nothing looked familiar to me and yet it did especially the iconic red brick buildings and dark wood windows and doors that are typical of Nepalese architecture. The city was already congested with people and cars back then and I think it's worse now - especially with the number of vehicles on the street.

Sonam dropped us off at Durbar Square, very near to the ticket booth. I don't know how many people actually buy tickets and I've never been asked to show mine so I think it's a bit of a honor system but considering that the small fee goes towards maintenance and up keep of the place, I consider it a worthwhile price to pay.  I got our tickets and we made our way into the square.  I was so shocked by what I saw.  There was protective fencing and scaffolding everywhere.  So much of what was standing here in 2007 had been leveled by the devastating 2015 earthquake. My heart broke for the people of Nepal - so much of their priceless heritage has been destroyed and even though, they will rebuild, it will not be the same.

Fallen debris had all been removed so it was easy to walk around.  Some sights were seared in to my memory from 2007 like the Patan Museum so even though it had been 10 years, I had a good enough memory to take us around.

Patan Museum

We started the with Patan Royal Palace Complex which was still standing at least from the outside.

The palace complex was constructed in the 17th century by King Siddhinarasimha Malla and then continued by his son Srinivasa.  The complex contains three courtyards, built at different times and each with its own character: Sundari Chowk (1647), Mul Chowk (1666), and Keshav Narayan Chowk (1734). Despite its continued use, the Patan Royal Palace was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage In Danger List in 2003 because of structural decay and the threat of urban development.

The architecture in Kathmandu is referred to as Newar architecture.  It is the style that is distinctive to the Newari people who were the historical inhabitants of Kathmandu.  I just know it as red brick with intricately carved dark wood windows and doors.  It is most certainly a style of architecture that is unique to Nepal as you don't see this anywhere else in the world.

Mul Chowk is the central courtyard. It is the most famous and largest courtyards among the three main chowks.

Mul Chowk

The earliest of the three, Sundari Chowk is known for its spectacularly carved stone bath and wood ornamentation of animals and deities.   I absolutely adore the iconic Nepalese wooden windows and doors. On my last visit, I nearly bought a door.  The only thing stopping me was concern about how to ship the door frame back to the US in one piece and whether or not I would have to pay an exorbitant import fee. In the end, I decided I would just continue to admire the beautiful carved windows and doors through my photos so I was determined to not hold back on taking photos today!

In my humble opinion, the Nepalese are incredibly talented wood carvers!

Situated at the center of Sudari Chowk is Tusa Hiti, a royal step well.  I'e never seen a more beautiful step well in my entire life.  No wonder it was exclusively used by the King.

Our walk through the royal palace took us to the grounds behind the palace complex.  There wasn't much of a garden, just a large pond filled with a lot of algae and some water hyacinths.  What was interesting was the activity taking place beyond the pond.

Covered by corrugated tin roof, were several workshops where men were hard at work carving pieces that I presume will eventually be installed as part of rebuilding the structures that were leveled by the earthquake.  It appears that all of the carving is being done by computer powered lasers following a programmed template to carve the wood.  Everything is done by by chisel and in the case of the two  men shown in the photos below, using small blocks of wood as hammers and their legs as clamps. This is not easy work.  Rebuilding what was lost in Durbar Square is truly a labor of love and devotion! 

I had to stop for a few seconds to just admire the repoussé work on this door to fully appreciate the workmanship that went into it.  All the relief work is hammered from the reverse side of the sheet of metal.  It takes a tremendous amount of skill to do that....not to mention all the artistry in the design some of which is very intricate.

There are statues of Hindu gods and goddesses everywhere and facially they all look the same but of course, they are not all of the same deity.  In Hinduism, each deity has a different vahana or mount i.e., animal that serves as the vehicle to take them around their universe so you can usually identify the god or goddess based on the animal they are standing atop.   In the photo below, the Hindu goddess, Yamuna stands atop her vahana which is a tortoise.  She is revered as the goddess of rivers.

You can also identify a god or goddess by what they hold in their hand or hands.  The carvings below have lost their implements so I can't identify which deity they are.  The easiest one to identify is Shiva as only he holds a trident.

In other parts of the world, you have to pay to go inside a museum to see the incredible art work that is part of Patan Royal Palace.  Here you can appreciate it for free.

As we were wandering through one of the squares inside a royal palace, I noticed a man sitting on a stoop.  His face was a familiar one.  Even though I had only seen him for a very brief moment on my trip in 2007, I immediately recognized his face which is amazing because these days, I can barely remember the name of a person that I might have just been recently introduced to!  Today, as was the case back in 2007, he was stringing marigold flowers into devotional necklaces.  The photo below was taken today in 2017.

Here is the photo I took of the same man back in 2007.  Today, he wanted money when someone tried to take his photo so I just sneaked in a shot.  Back in 2007, he smiled at me for free.  We are both 10 years older but hopefully, if we are both lucky, I will get to seem on my next trip back to Kathmandu!   I know now where to find him.

Exiting the palace, I knew the next place I wanted to take Chantale to was the Golden Temple.  Now I just had to find it and I vaguely remembered how to get there.  Along the way, more photos of the incredible Newar architecture here.

What is so incredible to me is how every inch of a building is decorated....all the way to the top of the roof!  Even the buttresses holding up the roof are made of beautifully handcarved wood beams!

Facing Patan Museum, is this brass statue which sits high atop a carved stone pillar.  The statue is of King Yoganarendra Malla (1684–1705) and his queens. Installed in 1700, the column toppled in the 2015 earthquake but was one of the first items to be restored. Looming over the king's head is a cobra, and alighted on the head of the cobra is a small brass bird.

The museum is located directly opposite the royal palace.  I would've gone inside but today there really wasn't much time as I have a lot of sites that I want to cover today.

Today, a group of older Nepalese men were sitting on one of the long benches that run alongside the front facade of the museum.  Based on their interactions with each other, I would guess they were friends. They were having the best of time just chatting and laughing.  They made for a wonderful photo and it did not take much convincing for me to get Chantale to sit among them for a photo.  I quickly snapped one photo and that's the one that opens this post.

With our photo op over, it was time to continue to make our way to the Golden Temple.  I have to scoot Chantale along otherwise, she can stand in one place and take endless number of photos!

Statue of Shiva on a rooftop

Everywhere you go in Patan, it's a feast of art and very often, you find incredible works displayed on the most unlikely or seemingly insignificant places.  I was constantly stopping in my tracks to look at something and because it was all around, my head was literally spinning!

While the area around Durbar Square had been cleaned of fallen debris, the same cannot be said for areas just a short walk off the beaten path.  Here, may things laid in crumble and where possible, rebuilding was taking place. It was so sad to see the devastation but heartwarming to know that recovery is underway though it may be years before things are fully restored, if they are restored at all.

But life has to go on so it looks like the residents just make do as best they can.  Most certainly, life will never be the same for them.

From the main part of Durbar Square, it's a very short walk to the Golden Temple.  Occasionally you see a sign pointing you in the right direction so keep walking til you get there!  That was my strategy and it worked!