The Three Ancient Cities of the Kathmandu Valley

escapehimalayaFeb 28th 2024
[TOC] Known as the country of the Himalayas- Nepal is exceptionally rich in diversity and beautiful landscape. Tremendously diverse in its topography, Nepal rises from as low as 59 meters elevation in the tropical Terai—the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain, beyond the perpetual snow line to some 90 peaks over 7,000 meters including Earth's highest 8,848 meters Mount Everest. The dramatic changes in elevation along this transect results in a variety of biomes, from tropical savannas along the Indian border, to subtropical broadleaf and coniferous forests in the hills, to temperate broadleaf and coniferous forests on the slopes of the Himalaya, to montane grasslands and shrub lands, and finally rock and ice at the highest elevations of the country. The country is home to people of many different national origins as well. A multicultural and multiethnic country, Nepal is a destination that is a must-visit for all travelers. Aside from being super affordable, Nepal is also a home to many adventure activities like Trekking. Because of the beautiful topographical structure of the Himalayas, trekking has become quite a popular activity to do in the country. With a very rich history and a cultural amalgamation, Nepal has developed its own art and architecture which differ from everything else around the world. The ancient cities of Nepal display a spectacular architecture and are shrouded in rich history. Their cultural and historical significance is unprecedented to the country and the cities all have various monuments and sites listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.


Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal. The largest metropolis in the hill region of the country, Kathmandu stands at an elevation of approximately 1,400 meters above sea level in the bowl-shaped Valley of central Nepal. The city was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Nepal and hosts palaces, mansions and gardens of the Nepalese aristocracy and many monarchial buildings and temples. The center of Nepal's history, art, culture and economy, Kathmandu has a multiethnic population within a Hindu and Buddhist majority. The city of Kathmandu is named after the Kasthamandap temple that stood in the Kathmandu Durbar Square. There are many places to visit in Kathmandu City. Let’s have a look at some of Kathmandu’s highlights-

The Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu durbar square A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kathmandu Durbar Square holds the palaces of the Malla and Shah Kings who ruled over the city in medieval times. Also known as the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, the acreage surrounds quadrangles, revealing courtyards and temples. The Durbar Square is surrounded with spectacular architecture and vividly showcases the skills of the Newar artists and craftsmen over several centuries. Kathmandu Durbar Square is also the site of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex, which was the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century and where important ceremonies, such as the coronation of the Nepalese monarch, took place. The Durbar Square of Kathmandu is in the old city and has heritage buildings representing four kingdoms (Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur); the earliest is the Licchavi dynasty. The complex has 50 temples and is distributed in two quadrangles of the Durbar Square. The outer quadrangle has the Kasthamandap, Kumari Ghar, and Shiva-Parvathi Temple; the inner quadrangle has the Hanuman Dhoka palace. Kumari Ghar is a palace that lies in the center of the Kathmandu city, next to the Durbar Square where a Royal Kumari selected from several Kumaries resides. Kumari is believed to be the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju Bhawani. The square was severely damaged in the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, with reimbursement process and reconstruction going on.

The Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple, kathmandu The Pashupatinath Temple is a famous 5th century Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Lying on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of Kathmandu, Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pashupatinath Temple is the centre of the celebration of Shivaratri- the night of Lord Shiva and attracts thousands of devotees and sadhus for the occasion. Built in the pagoda style of architecture, the temple has cubic constructions, carved wooden rafters (tundal) and two-level roofs made of copper and gold. This extensive Hindu temple precinct is a sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions raised over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. In front of the western door of the temple, there is a huge statue of the Nandi bull in bronze, along with many temples and shrines of both Vaishnava and Saiva tradition. With four main doors all covered with silver sheets, this temple has a gold pinnacle (Gajur) on which there are two Garbhagrihas.


Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu The Boudhanath is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal, along with Swayambhu. About 11 km from the center and northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu, the stupa's massive mandala makes it one of the largest spherical stupas in Nepal. Boudhanath became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The base of the stupa has 108 small depictions of the Dhyani Buddha- Amitabha. It is surrounded with a brick wall with 147 niches, each with four or five prayer wheels engraved with the mantra- om mani padme hum. Every year, the stupa attracts many Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims who perform full body prostrations in the inner lower enclosure, walk around the stupa with prayer wheels, chant, and pray. Thousands of prayer flags are hoisted up from the top of the stupa downwards and dot the perimeter of the complex. The Stupa is also said to entomb the remains of the Kassapa Buddha.


Swayambhu is a Buddhist stupa atop a hillock at the northwestern part of the city. This is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. Although the site is considered Buddhist, it is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. The Tibetan name for the site means 'Sublime Trees', for the many varieties of trees found on the hill on which the stupa stands. The Swayambhu complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Licchavi period. Numerous Hindu monarch followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful king of Kathmandu, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century. Consisting of a dome at the base, Swayambhunath has a cubical structure painted with eyes of Buddha looking in all four directions. There are pentagonal Torans present above each of the four sides with statues engraved in them. Behind and above the torana, there are thirteen tiers. Above all the tiers there is a small space above which the Gajur is present. The stupa also has many artifacts inside it.

Rani Pokhari

Rani Pokhari is a historic artificial pond in the heart of Kathmandu. Built by King Pratap Mall in 1670 AD, the pond has a large stone statue of an elephant in its south that signifies the image of Pratap Malla and his two sons. Rani Pokhari is opened once a year during the final day of Tihar i.e. Bhai Tika and the Chhath festival. The world largest Chhath takes place every year at the pond. The place is one of Kathmandu's most famous landmarks and is known for its religious and aesthetic significance.


Bhaktapur literally translates to “the place of devotees”. Also known as Bhadgaon, it is an ancient Newar city in the east corner of the Kathmandu Valley and lies about 8 miles from the capital city, Kathmandu. Bhaktapur was the largest of the three Newar kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley and was the capital of Nepal during the great 'Malla Kingdom' until the second half of the 15th century. Bhaktapur has the best-preserved palace courtyards and old city center in Nepal and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples, and wood, metal and stone artworks. The city is famous for a special type of curd called "Ju Ju(king) dhau(curd). It is expressed by the curd makers that the taste of curd prepared in this location cannot be found anywhere else in Nepal. Home of traditional art and architecture, historical monuments and craft work, magnificent windows, pottery and weaving industries, excellent temples, beautiful ponds, rich local customs, culture, religion, festivals and musical mystics, Bhaktapur is still an untouched as well as a preserved ancient city that is itself the world to explore for tourists. From time immemorial, it lay on the trade route between Tibet and India. This position on the main caravan route made the town rich and prosperous in medieval times. Here are some highlights of the Bhaktapur city-

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is a conglomeration of pagoda and shikhara-style temples, mostly dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses grouped around a 55-window palace of brick and wood. The square is one of the most charming architectural showpieces of the valley as it highlights the ancient arts of Nepal. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Durbar Square consists of at least four distinct squares- the Durbar Square itself, the Taumadhi Square, the Dattatreya Square and the Pottery Square. The golden effigies of the kings perched on the top of stone monoliths, the guardian deities looking out from their sanctuaries, the wood carvings in every place — struts, lintels, uprights, tympanums, gateways and windows — all seem to form a well-orchestrated symphony. Some major attractions of the place include-

The 55-Window Palace

The Palace of Fifty-five Windows, also called the Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar, was built during the reign of the Malla King, Yaksha Malla in 1427 AD and was remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century. Among the brick walls, with their gracious setting and sculptural design, is a balcony of fifty-five windows, considered to be a unique masterpiece of woodcarving. It is also known as one of the oldest monument present in Nepal.

The Batsala Temple

Batsala Temple is the stone temple of goddess Batsala Devi that included many intricate carvings. It is most famous for its bronze bell, known to local residents as "the bell of barking dogs" as when it is rung, dogs in the vicinity tend to bark and howl. The colossal bell was hung by King Ranjit Malla in 1737 AD and was used to sound the daily curfew. It was rung every morning when goddess Taleju was worshiped. The bell remains intact; however, the temple was completely demolished by the 2015 earthquake.

The Statue of Bhupatindra Malla

Bhaktapur, Kathmandu valley The Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla in the act of worship can be seen on a column facing the palace. Of the square's many statues, this is considered to be the most magnificent.

The Bhairav Nath Temple

The Bhairav Nath Temple is dedicated to Bhairav- the fiercest manifestation of Lord Shiva, associated with annihilation. Bhairav originated in Hindu legends and is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike. Bhairav is the wandering form of Lord Shiva and they are depicted as guard to the cardinal points. Bhairav is also called as “the protector”, as he guards the eight directions of the universe.

The Golden Gate

Lu Dhowka, a.k.a the Golden Gate, is said to be the most beautiful and richly molded specimen of its kind in the entire world. Surmounted by a figure of the Hindu goddess Kali and Garuda (a mythical griffin), the door is attended by two heavenly nymphs. It is embellished with monsters and other Hindu mythical creatures with marvelous intricacy. The gate was erected by King Ranjit Malla and is the entrance to the main courtyard of the palace of fifty-five windows.

The Lion's Gate

The Lion’s Gate is a magnificent and beautiful gate that was produced from artisans in ancient time. It is said that the artisan’s hands were cut off after finishing the gate by the envious Bhadgaon King so that no more of such masterpiece would be produced again.

Nyatapol Temple

Nyatapola Temple' is a 5-story pagoda of Bhaktapur. The temple was erected by the Nepali King Bhupatindra Malla during a 5-month period from the late 1701 into 1702. It is the temple of Siddha Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nyatapol has a universal and natural value. This beautifully sculptured building is considered one of the tallest pagodas in the country and is a lovely example of the immense workmanship that went into buildings of this type. This five-storey temple with a five-tier roof that stands just over thirty meters high can be reached by walking up a flight of steps that leads to the top of the platform. As you walk up these terraces you will notice that there are statues on either side of you, on every step.

The Dattatreya Temple

The temple of Dattatreya is as old as the Palace of Fifty-five Windows. The three-story pagoda-style Dattatreya Temple, with statues of the Hindu trinity, (Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer), was built during the reign of King Yaksha Malla and was opened to the public around 1486 A.D., only after his demise. This temple, according to popular belief, was constructed from a single piece of wood from one tree. Around the temple are wood carved panels with erotic decorations. Just beside temple is a monastery (Math) with exquisitely carved peacock windows. These famous windows were carved during the reign of King Vishwa Malla. The monastery is full of artistic facades of latticed windows and engraved columns.

The Changu Narayan

The temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples of the valley and is believed to have been constructed first in the 4th century. Changu Narayan is the name of Vishnu, and the temple is dedicated to him. A stone slab discovered in the vicinity of the temple dates to the 5th century and is the oldest such stone inscription discovered in Nepal. Many stone sculptures here date to the Licchavi period. Changu Narayan Temple is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The temple is a double-roofed structure where the idol of Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Narayana is deified. The exquisitely built temple has intricate roof struts showing multi-armed Tantric deities.

Siddha Pokhari

Siddha Pokhari is a big rectangular water pond near the main city gate of Bhaktapur. It was built during the reign of King Yakshya Malla in the early 15th century and is associated with a number of myths. From this spot, a wide range of snowy peaks are visible on clear days. The pond also has many koi fishes and people can feed them.

The Kailashnath Mahadev Statue

Kailashnath Mahadev is the World's Tallest Lord Shiva statue. The height of this statue is 143 feet high. It is situated in Sanga, on the border of Bhaktapur. According to the List of statues by height, Kailashnath Mahadev is the world's fortieth-tallest statue, four places after the Statue of Liberty.


Patan, also known as Lalitpur, is the third largest city of Nepal after Kathmandu and Pokhara and is located in the south-central part of the Kathmandu Valley. Known for its rich cultural heritage, particularly its tradition of arts and crafts, Patan is also called “the city of festivals and feasts”. Lalitpur is believed to have been founded in the third century BC by the Kirat dynasty and later expanded by the Licchavis in the sixth century. It was further expanded by the Mallas during the medieval period as well. In 1768, Patan was annexed to the Gorkha Kingdom by Prithvi Narayan Shah without any battle. Initially designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness), Patan has more than 1,200 Buddhist monuments of various shapes and sizes scattered in and around the city. Patan is also one of the oldest known Buddhist cities. It is a center of both Hinduism and Buddhism with 136 bahals or courtyards and 55 major temples. Lalitpur was planned in Vihars and Bahils. Out of 295 Vihars and Bahils of the valley, 56% of them are in Patan. The water conduits, stone spouts, Jaladroni (water tanks), artistic gate ways, Hindu temples and Buddhist Vihars adorn the city. The in-built cultural heritages like the royal palace with intricately carved doors and windows and beautiful courtyards adorned with exquisite icons enhance the beauty of the city. Such art pieces are found in stone, metal, terracotta ivory and other objects. All these artifacts exhibit artistic excellence of the craftsmen and the whole city looks like an open museum. Most of these structures are in the vicinity of the Durbar Square. Here are some highlights of Patan-

The Patan Durbar Square 

The Patan Durbar Square is a marvel of Newar architecture. With square floors tiled with red bricks, there are many temples and idols in the Durbar Square area. The Malla Kings of Lalitpur are given credit for establishing the royal square. It is believed that the site is an ancient crossroad. Some important structures of the Durbar Square include the Krishna Mandir, the Bhimsen Temple, the Vishwanath Temple and the temple of the Taleju Bhawani. Krishna temple is the most important temple in Patan Durbar Square. Built in the Shikhara style, the temple is most notable for its stone carvings along the beam above the first and second floor pillars. The first floor pillar carvings narrate the events of the Mahabharata, while on the second floor- there are visual carvings from Ramayana. The main layout of the durbar square consist of three main courtyards in the palace- the Mul Chok, the Sundari Chok and the Keshav Narayan Chok. The Square was heavily damaged on 25 April 2015 by an earthquake. Krishna Mandir, Patan, Kathmandu valley

(Krishna Mandir, Patan, Kathmandu valley)

Other highlights of Patan include the Patan Dhoka- one of the historical entrances to the old city, the Golden Temple- old Buddhist temple also known as the Bhaskerdev Samskarita Hiranyabarna Mahavihara, the Mahabouddha Temple- also known as the 1000 Buddha Temple as it is modeled liked the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, the Kumbheshwar Temple- a Shiva temple with two ponds whose water is believed to come from Gosaikunda, the Banglamukhi Temple- a temple dedicated to one of the ten Mahavidyas (great wisdom goddesses) in Hinduism, the Ratnakar Mahavihar- also known as Ha Baha, the official residence of the Kumari of Patan and the Central Zoo. Established in 1932 by Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumser as a private zoo, it is only zoo in entire Nepal.

escapehimalayaFeb 28th 2024

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