Patan is one of the major cities of Nepal and is situated on the south side of the Bagmati River in the Kathmandu valley. Patan is one of the world’s oldest Buddhist centers and is more beautiful than Kathmandu or Bhaktapur. Until the turn of the 1990s, the city limits were still marked by four brick-and-earth stupas allegedly laid by 3rd century BC, Emperor Ashoka.
Compared to its sister cities in the valley, Patan has a very different ambience to it. Its main streets are wider and its buildings are a line of ugly modern concrete mixed in with plaster nymphs, European-styled columns, and old bricks that date back to the Rana period.
Today, Patan is a suburban extension of Kathmandu and this can be seen every morning and evening when rush-hour commuter traffic makes its appearance over the Bagmati Bridge. It was not always so, however. For centuries, Patan rivaled Kathmandu for independent dominion of the valley. It still does rival the capital; its proximity allows it to steal some of Kathmandu’s wealth and industry. Many of the cottage factories and industrial companies are located within the city, including the Patan Industrial Estate.
Unlike Bhaktapur, Patan has not been frozen-in-time. Students, factory workers, and automobiles give the city a heavy foot in the modern age, even though its other foot is set in old traditions and customs. Today, TVs and satellites are found in households and outside in apartment roofs and old architectural gems rub elbows with modern concrete. Patan is fast losing its reputation as the “City of Golden Roofs”.
Culture and Life
The people of Patan are community-oriented, having lived and worked together for decades. The bond of a common history and heritage is strong. On weekends, residents are usually outside lying on the grass, listening to Buddhist priests present teachings on a platform under the shade of trees. A perfect example of this can be seen in the Nag Bahal community.
Patan is particularly known for its Nepalese deity art found in many of its temples, palaces, and monuments. Patan’s main attraction is its Durbar Square, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Patan Durbar Square used to serve as the residence of the Malla rulers of Patan but has now been converted into the Patan Museum. The square is located at the heart of the city where most of Patan’s tourist attractions are found. Around the square, you’ll find many ancient temples, shrines, and palaces noted for their impressive carvings. Most of the palace complex was constructed in a very hectic 17th century when Siddhi Narasingha Malla and Shrinivasa Malla ruled the town.
The square also consists of three main chowks or courtyards: the Keshav Narayan Chowk, the Central Mul Cowk, and the Sundaru Chowk. These three courtyards are not linked to each other and appear to have been built without considering whether they would look harmonious or compatible with one another. The Sundaru Chowk courtyard in particular holds in its center the Tusha Hiti, a royal bathing pool considered a masterpiece of stone architecture. It was built in 1627 and is lined with carvings of dozens of stone gods.
Among the square’s magnificent temples includes the 17th century Krishna Mandir. This temple is the most prominent in the palace complex and the first example of Shikhara style architecture in Nepal. It has a dizzying 21 spires, all completely made of stone.
Another point of interest is the Hiranya Varna Mahaa Vihar, which is a Buddhist temple known locally as the Golden temple. It is located north of the Durbar Square and is among the most beautiful of the bahals in the valley. The front of the temple’s main shrine is intricately detailed in metal work and features panels depicting the Gautama Buddha. The temple is still supported, cared for, and maintained by the community as it has been for the last 500 years.
Just a few blocks further north, you’ll find a five-story pagoda temple called the Kumbheswar Temple worth visiting as well. It is the oldest temple in Patan, built in 1392. Inside, you’ll find a large silver lingam and shrines in the compound that date back to Licchavi times (around 600 BC).
Patan has been a traditional center of arts and crafts for centuries. Even today, it is famous for its handicrafts and a great place to buy jewelry, Buddha statues, and masks.
Burbank, Jon, Rosha Bajracharya, and Kesang Tseten. Nepal. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1993. ISBN: 0671879138.
“Patan, Nepal.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patan%2C_Nepal>
“Places to Visit in Patan.” < http://www.nepaltravelinfo.com/patan3.htm>
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