Around Kathmandu
Hanuman Dhoka

The Image of Hanuman

The Golden Door

Nasal Chowk
Mohan Chowk
Basantpur Chowk
Taleju Mandir
Mul Chowk
Kumari Chowk
Trailokya Mohan Temple
Kasta Mandap
Bhagavati Temple
The Great Bell
The Great Drums
Image of Kala Bhairab
Singha Durbar
Kesher Library
Narayanhity Royal Palace
Martyr's Memorial

Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is surely one of the world's most amazing cities, being endowed with a very large number of ancient monuments, historic temples and other interesting and unusual sights.

Hanuman Dhoka -
Probably the most interesting part of Kathmandu is the ancient Hanuman Dhoka Palace and temple complex in the middle of the old city. Built during the Malla period, the area consists of a number of different monuments, the most outstanding of which are as follows:

The Image of Hanuman
-Standing to the left of the main entrance to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace is an image of Hanuman, the Hindu god who is always depicted in the form of a monkey. The Mallas placed this image of Hanuman at their palace gate both to protect the palace and to bring them victory in war. The image is made of stone, but each year is coated with a layer of red pigment made by mixing oil and vermillion powder. Over the years these repeated layers of pigment have distorted the face almost beyond recognition. The idol is always clothed in red, and is further honoured by the golden umbrella placed over its head. This particular image, and also the smaller one just beyond it, were erected in 1672 by King Pratap Malla.

The Golden Door
-To the right of the image of Hanuman is the golden main door of the Hanurnan Dhoka Palace. It is guarded by a pair of stone lions., Shiva sits on the lion-, to the right, while Shakti sits on the lionness to the left. These custodians undoubtedly date from Malla times; the golden door itself, however, is of a later period. The inscription above the door states clearly that it was erected in 181 0 during the reign of King Girbana Yuddha Bikram Shah. Such an extravagance at that particular period of Nepal's history must surely have a story to explain it, and indeed the story is found there in the inscription. Hundreds of outdated copper plate inscriptions were gathered and sold, the return from which bought the gold that was then pounded into sheets and moulded to the posts and panels of the door.

Above the golden door, in a niche formed by a large window opening, there are three interesting images. The central piece shows Krishna Bishwarupa, the multiple arms, the skulls and the terror image, are all indicative of a strong tantric influence. To the left is a group of three figures. The central figure is clearly of Krishna, and very likely the other two are meant to represent his two favourite consorts, Rukmini and Satya Bhama. The group on the right of the Bishwarupa is comprised of two seated figures. One of these figures, wearing royal robes and insignia, is playing an instrument. Seated near him in an attentive attitude is a woman, well dressed, heavily ornamented. The face of the king resembles very closely the features found on known images of King Pratap Malla; it can therefore be concluded that all the images date from Pratap Malla's time (1641-74).

Nasal Chowk-Passing through the Golden Door one enters Nasal Chowk, the largest of ten courtyards found inside Hanuman Dhoka Palace. Nasal Chowk is frequently mentioned in the historical literature dealing with the Malla period as well as in the documents of different Shah kings. Many of the buildings that surround this courtyard date from the Shah period, but a fair proportion of them also date from an earlier period. Most of the art objects and images found in Nasal Chowk date from the Malla period.

On the eastern side of Nasal Chowk there is a small shrine of Nasaleshwar, from which the courtyard gets its name. During the Malla period, Nasal Chowk served, among other purposes, as a sort of royal theatre, so that dances to be performed for the Palace were practised and presented here. Nasal Chowk was also regularly used for meetings between the king and his subjects: it is here that the king met all those coming to him with petitions and in times of distress, received the condolence and support of his subjects.

During the Shah period, Nasal Chowk took on even greater importance than it did during Malla times: the Malla practice of conducting the coronation rites inside Mul Chowk was set aside during the Shah period and the coronation of the kings of Nepal has subsequently been held in the much larger and more public Nasal Chowk. This practice has been continued, even though the kings of Nepal have now lived for more than ninety years in another part of the city.

The courtyard is rectangular with the main entrance situated at the northern end. Immediately to the left is the open audience chamber of the Malla kings, with the old Mafia throne still occupying a position of prominence. At the far end, rising a full nine storeys is the Basantpur Palace, built by King Prithvi Narayan Shah soon after the unification of the country.

Mohan Chowk-To the north of Nasal Chowk lies Mohan Chowk, the residence of the Malla kings of Kathmandu. It was built in 1649 by King Pratap Malla (1641-74) and later repaired and 'modernised' during the reign of King Rajendra Bikrarn Shah in 1822.
One of the central features of Mohan Chowk is the Sundhara or golden water spout. Bringing water from Budhanilkantha, eight kilometres north of the city, to the Palace was a major project in the seventeenth century Nepal, but nevertheless was accomplished. Pratap Malla celebrated the event by erecting this fabulous setting for the new spout from which poured cool and clear water. The Sundhara is about 3.5 metres below ground level, so one has to descend to it. The spout itself is a sculptor's dream of birds and beasts, while the wails around it are lined with thirty-six images of gods and goddesses, all of them beautiful works of art. In these magnificent surroundings, the king of Kathmandu performed his morning ritual bathing ceremonies and then ascended to the large stone throne above the Sundhara to complete his morning devotions.

On the northern wall of the quadrangle is a lengthy inscription of King Pratap Malla, setting out the arrangements made to finance the worship of his many deities. Above this inscription are two rows of images affixed to the wall. The images in the upper row show the ten incarnations of Vishnu and various scenes of Krishna at play, all perfectly in keeping with the religious tone of Mohan Chowk. There are also some images commemorating one of the earliest contacts between Kathmandu and the West.

Basantapur Chowk -At the south-east corner of the Nasal Chowk is an exit through which one can pass into Basantpur Chowk. During the time of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Shah kings moved from the old quarters formerly occupied by the Malla kings into this section of the Palace. While the woodcarvings in the central courtyard are an especially outstanding feature, the whole building is of equal historic value to all Nepalese.

The nine-storeyed Palace of Prithvi Narayan Shah, called the Basantpur Tower, is on the south-west of the quadrangle. The tower on the south-east corner is known as the Lalitpur Tower; Bhaktapur Tower is on the north-east corner while Kirtipur Tower is on the north-west.

Lalitpur Tower rises two storeys above the roofs of the quadrangle. The view from the windows of this tower is marvellous, and when the lavish gardens were laid out directly below, as they once were, its charm must have been even more enhanced. Bhaktapur Tower also rises two storeys above the general level of the quadrangle.

It too looked out over the gardens, but a more special attraction lies in its unobstructed view of the great temple of Taleju that lies directly to the north. The Kirtipur Tower has its own special fascination. The copper roof of this tower is of most unusual design and complexity and is unparalleled in Nepalese architecture. Where from the inspiration for the design was derived is as unknown as the names of the artisans who contrived it, but it does provide a perfect counterpoint to the towers that lie beyond it. Matching with the Lalitpur and Kirtipur Towers in height, the Kirtipur Tower offers a clear view into the courtyard of Nasal Chowk and also across the roofs to Degutaleju temple and Jagannath temple in the Hanuman Dhoka area.

Regarding the height and dramatic position, the other towers pale to insignificance in comparison with the Basantpur Tower, which rises a full five storeys above the general level of buildings in the whole Palace. It is a mark of pride today that King Prithvi Narayan Shah saw fit to build his Kathmandu Palace in the Nepalese style, thus not only showing his appreciation for the merits of the traditional architecture of the Valley but also establishing a firm precedent that was to continue during the coming centuries.
The Basantpur Palace is a work of art in its own right, and even today there is hardly a spot in Kathmandu that can compare with the upper terrace of the Basantpur Chowk for observing finely carved roof struts, excellent windows, and the poetry of roof rising upon roof.

Tajeju Mandir -Built in 1564 by King Mahendra Malla, this is the most famous of the three Taleju temples built by the Malla kings. It is situated in Trishul Chowk, an appendage of Hanuman Dhoka Palace, but can also be approached by way of the Singha Dhoka or Lion Gate. The temple stands over 36.6 metres high, resting on a twelve stage plinth. Its three roofs soar above the rest of the Hanuman Dhoka complex, and until very recent times, it was considered very inauspicious to build a house higher than this temple. At the eighth stage of the plinth, the step broadens out into a spacious platform on which a wall is mounted, barring further progress.

On the platform just outside this wall there are twelve miniature temples, each with a double roof and all other appurtenances of a temple built in the Nepalese style. The same theme is repeated inside the wall, where there are four more such temples, each housing a deity, and each having a spire, one of the symbols of the attributes of Taleju goddess. On the south side, where the main door is found, there are large stone images of men and beasts, each one a powerful protecting force. At the top, on the final stage of the plinth, is a finely wrought bell on either side of the main door of the temple, one erected by Pratap Malla in 1654 and one by Bhaskar Malla in 1714. They are rung only when worship is offered to goddess Taleju.

Mul Chowk-Mul Chowk was the scene of almost all the truly important functions of the Malla period. Religious rites of all descriptions, royal weddings, the investiture of the crown prince as well as the coronation of the king himself, all took place here. According to the Bhasha Vamsavali, the Mul Chowk was built by Mahendra Malla in 1564 while he was building the great Taleju Temple; Bhaskar Malla then rebuilt it in 1709, giving it its present appearance.

Mul Chowk is shaped very much like a vihar or Buddhist monastery with a square courtyard surrounded by a two-storeyed quadrangle of buildings. The southern wing of the quadrangle is by far the most important, housing, as it does, a second and smaller, but nontheless beautiful temple of Taleju. On the ground floor of the three wings of the quadrangle there are large, open verandas. In the centre of the courtyard there is a low post set in the ground where animals are sacrificed at Dashain festival. At this time Taleju is worshipped within the small temple according to secret rites. The temple is on the south side of the Mul Chowk, facing north. To the right and left of its golden door, life-sized images of Ganga and Jamuna stand in poses of graceful service. Above the door, an impressive torana, carries in it central place of honour an image of goddess.

Apart from the above mentioned courtyard and temples of the Hanuman Dhoka complex, there are also a number of other interesting and historic temples in the vicinity. Some of the more important ones are described here.

Kumari Chowk -Built in 1757 by King Jaya Prakash Malla (1746-68), Kumari Chowk is the home of the 'Kumari' or living goddess who is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Taleju. The Kumari Chowk is a three-storeyed quadrangle lavishly decorated with fine woodcarving. It is the third storey of the building that is especially attractive with its fine bay windows, in which the Kumari appears from time to time in the company of her guardian priestess to see and be seen by her admirers.

Trailokya Mohan Temple-Built in 1680 by Parthibendra Malla (reigned 1680-87), the Trailokya Mohan Temple is built on a five-stage plinth and has three roofs. The roof struts are carved with different images, while the temple as a whole is dedicated to Vishnu. On each of the walls, under the projecting roofs, there are window screens with medallions attached. Parthibendra Malla erected the Trailokya Mohan Temple in memory of his elder brother Nripendra Malla, who had enjoyed a brief reign of only six years (1674-80).

Kasta Mandap
-Known locally as Maru Sattal, this huge, open temple has a long history. Popular legend has it that during King Laxmi Narsingh's time Kalpa Briksha came to see the chariot festival of Machchhendranath, where he was recognised by one of the priest of Machchhendranath, The priest seized him and refused to release him until he promised to give a tree from whose wood a rest house could be built. Kalpa Briksha made the promise, and so he was released. Four days later, a huge sal tree was delivered. With the King's permission, the Kastha Mandap was built from the wood of this single tree; Kathmandu has derived its name from Kastha Mandap.

A three-storyed building, Kastha Mandap has an open ground floor, underlining its original purpose as a public building. The decorations and carvings added over the years have greatly enhanced the original design, bringing it closer to the appearance of a shrine. The central image in Kastha Mandap is of Gorakhnath. At each of the four corners is an image of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god.

Bhagavati Temple-This temple has perhaps the most interesting history of any temple in the Hanuman Dhoka area. It is at present dedicated to the goddess Bhagavati and consequently is also known as the Nuwakot Bhagavati temple. Its special importance stems from the fact that King Prithvi Narayan Shah had a great devotion to Nuwakot Bhagavati and is said to have brought her image with him when he unified Nepal under one flag. After taking the city, he set up the image in this temple, from which it is taken in April each year on a visit back to Nuwakot, some fifty-seven kilometres north of Kathmandu, and returned a few days later.

The temple itself was built long before he took over Kathmandu. Apparently King Jagajjaya Malla (1722-36) built it and named it Mahipatindreshwar in memory of his grandfather Mahipatindra Malla. The image of Mahipatindra Narayan was subsequently stolen (1766), and the shrine was empty when King Prithvi Narayan Shah entered the city in 1768. Since Prithvi Narayan had with him the image of Bhagavati, it was quite normal for him to place it in this empty sanctuary close to the Palace.

When one steps back some distance from the temple to study it, the Bhagavati temple is uncommonly attractive; this beauty is further enhanced by the golden roofs on the upper two storeys.

The Great Bell-Without the great bell erected by King Rana Bahadur Shah in 1787, the Palace area would have seem incomplete. The bells in the Patan Durbar Square and the Bhaktapur Durbar Square date from 1736. For some reason Kathmandu did not imitate this achievement immediately though it was in the same year that Jaya Prakash Malla came to power. Sixty years later, King Rana Bahadur Shah filled the deficiency by providing this bell to drive off the evil spirits. The bell is rung only when worship is being offered in Degutaleju.

The Great Drums -Located close to the great bell, two huge drums were made during the reign of Girbana Yuddha Bikram Shah (1799-1816) and are played only during the worship of Degutaleju. An inscription on copper plate, in the keeping of the one who plays the drums, specifies that a buffalo and a goat must be sacrificed for them twice a year.

The Image of Kala Bhairab
-This huge stone image of Bhairab represents Shiva in his destructive manifestation, hence its terrifying expression and the symbols of death and destruction. It is undated, but was set in its present location by Pratap Malla after it was found in a field north of the city. The image is a single stone, though the portion on the upper right hand side was damaged and repaired by adding another stone. The sun and moon to the left and right, and the heads of lions in the upper portion also seem to have been later additions. Such large images made of a single block of stone are very rare in Nepal.

Apart from the Hanuman Dhoka Palace and temple complex and other monuments in the surrounding vicinity, some other places worthy of mention are:

Machchhendranath Temple-This pagoda of considerable artistic beauty is situated in lndra Chowk on the way to Asan when coming from Hanuman Dhoka. The temple is set in a courtyard full of stupas and statuary and has a two-tiered bronze roof. The temple is surrounded by residential homes and busy shops.

Akash Bhairab Temple-This is a three-storeyed temple located in the same area as the above temple. The image of Akash Bhairab is displayed outside this temple for a week during lndra Jatra, the festival of lndra, the god of rain.

Tundikhel-It is the huge greenfield that flanks one entire side of the old city. It is used for parades, national celebrations, and numerous colourful festivals, and also for sports and general exercise. At its one end is a popular garden known as Ratna Park, and at the other are army barracks. There are also many splendid statues at Tundikhel that are worth looking at.

Singha Durbar
-Singha Durbar is a grand imposing palace built in the neoclassical style. It was once the private residence of Rana Prime Ministers and is now the official seat of government. It used to be a huge building with many courtyards; however, most of it was destroyed by fire and is now being rebuilt.

Dharahara-Also known as Bhimsen Stambha (Tower), Dharahara is a 50.5 metre tower built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in 1832. Situated near by the General Post Office, the tower is one of Kathrnandu's best known monuments. From the top of the tower, one has a panoramic view of the whole Kathmandu Valley. But it is not open for the public.

Kesher Library-Located near the Narayanhity Royal Palace, Kesher Library has got a huge and rare collection of books and manuscripts collected during the last century. It also offers an opportunity to have a glimpse of the inside of Nepal's numerous palaces. It is open for the public during normal office hours.

Narayanhity Royal Palace
-This is the present Royal Palace. At the south there is the famous historic water spout of Narayanhity from which the Palace derives its name. Special permission has to be obtained to go inside the Royal Palace compound.

Martyr's Memorial
-Located on the way to Singha Durbar the memorial's arch contains effigies of the martyrs, and the statue of the Late King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah. It was he who led the revolution of 1950-51, and laid the foundation for today's democratic system.

Home for travel