View over group of brick temples with tiered tiled roofs
Architecture,  History,  Monday walks,  Nepal

A walk in Patan, the City of Beauty

Patan is said to be one of the oldest Buddhist cities in the world. It is also known as Lalitpur, which means the City of Beauty. The name recognises its tradition of arts and crafts which continue to define the city.

Rato Machhindranath, the highly revered deity, was brought from Assam in India by three inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley. One of these three gentlemen was Lalit, without whose efforts the God would not have been established in the present-day Patan. And Kathmandu Valley would continue to face a dry drought. It was believed that Rato could bless the valley with raindrops.

Source: https://nomadenroute.com/patan-the-age-old-buddhist-town-in-nepal/

We only had a few hours here at the end of our Nepal trip so didn’t have time to properly explore. Added to that, many of the streets in the centre were undergoing rather chaotic repairs, with rubble everywhere making walking a challenge! But we did have a few hours to visit a few key sites with our excellent guide Pritik, who had been our guide in Kathmandu at the start of the trip. Perhaps Jo would like to join me for a Monday Walk?

Patan’s Durbar Square

This is the third of the Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley. We had already seen Kathmandu itself and Bhaktapur, now it was time for one final Royal Square. The 2015 earthquake caused significant damage here. Many of its temples were reduced to rubble, but some have since been restored. Before the earthquake, the square had 55 temples; now relatively few remain.

Stone column with gold statue of a man praying
King Yoganarendra Malla on a column
Stone column with gold statue of a man praying and tiled roofs behind
King Yoganarendra Malla seen from the Café du Temple (my feature photo is a general view of the square from there)

We walked past a line of these typical old ornate Hindu temples, each dedicated to a different god. I enjoyed seeing and photographing the details without really taking in which was which! A bit of digging around on the internet later tracked down most of the temple names.

Tall tiered building with stone columns and steep conical roof
Krishna Mandir Temple
Stone column with bronze sculpture of a winged figure
Garuda on a column in front of Krishna Mandir Temple

The Royal Palace

Facing the line of temples is the Royal Palace with a series of lovely courtyards full of beautiful intricate carvings. It was striking how tranquil it seemed the moment we entered, in complete contrast to the noise outside in the square. I spent ages wandering around the first courtyard, Mul Chowk, taking photos of all the details.

In another of the courtyards, Sundari Chowk, Pritik showed us the sunken area, ringed with nagas, where one of the kings used to meditate, naked even on the coldest winter day (well below zero)!

Off yet another courtyard was a small gallery showcasing Newari architectural styles and off another a museum devoted to carvings of the Hindu gods.

Stone carved gods
In the gallery
Small stone figure in a lit display case
In the museum

We also saw where the kings used to bathe, in the Bhandarkhal Water Tank.

Square sunken pool and small stone shelter
Bhandarkhal Water Tank
Courtyard with brick and carved wood buildings
Keshav Narayan Chowk

The Golden Temple, Hiranya Varna Mahavihar

After we’d finished exploring the palace Pritik led us down a road off the square to the Golden Temple. The temple was built in 1409 and is a Newari Buddhist monastery. Despite the popular name, the temple’s gold colour comes from the polished gilt copper used for its construction.

Unlike the Hindu temples, visitors are allowed inside. Our attention was caught in the entrance area by a display of photos of the Kumari of various places, including Kathmandu’s – the same young girl we had seen briefly at her window on our first morning in Nepal but not been permitted to photograph ourselves.

Inside we saw the prayer wheels, the main Buddha statue and many others. A couple were being photographed in front of the Buddha, clearly celebrating something (I thought maybe a wedding anniversary). And we were permitted to visit the attached small monastery where a man was preparing butter lamps.

When we emerged from the monastery there were people pouring into the courtyard below us, men first then women. They were all in traditional dress, and there were drums and music playing. They circled the central temple and then started to gather in small groups for informal photos. It was clear that they didn’t mind at all that we were also taking photos. Pritik explained that it was a typical celebration for a person reaching a significant age. In this case there was a man marking his 78th birthday.

As we left one man thanked me for coming, as though we had been honoured guests! That was a great note on which to end our sightseeing in Nepal.

I visited Patan in November 2022

43 Comments

  • Annie Berger

    Rather late getting on your bandwagon, I know, but how your photos brought back wonderful memories of our our own trip there but sans guide. Loved your photos especially of the people, Sarah.

  • Leya

    37 years ago we biked the Kathmandu valley. Fond memories, and wonderful to see your photographs! Some years ago I was devastated hearing about the earthquake, but from your pictures I can see not everything is gone – or some of it is restored. Beautiful details are still there!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Ann-Christine 😊 Patan was particularly badly hit by the earthquake. Many temples have been restored but far more remain to be done or may never be able to be recovered.

  • wetanddustyroads

    I can understand why you spent time with your camera here – the detail in the statues and doors are amazing. I also like the women’s traditional clothes towards the end of your post.

  • Smitha V

    That was a lovely walk around Patan, Sarah. The temple complex looks so serene. Th
    e statue on the column makes the king look elegant – there’s something about the way he’s seated. It’s beautiful.
    It’s wonderful that you could witness a wedding anniversary celebration as well as a birthday. Lol…it must have been funny to be thanked when you were only watching the ceremony. But from your travels in India (Rajasthan), you already know how much ‘white’ skin is revered in our part of the world. :).

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, yes, I see what you mean about the king looking elegant – I think he looks very poised. We felt we were made very welcome at that temple even though we were there purely as tourists.

  • Monkey's Tale

    It looks like the restorations are going well in Patan. When we last visited in 2018 there were barely any buildings that weren’t surrounded in bamboo scaffolding. I do always love the bronze monkey. Maggie

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, and interestingly of course yours was taken before the earthquake. It shows what a good job they’ve done of restoration (most of these temples were flattened) but there are also signs of the damage in my shot that don’t appear in yours, like the pile of rubble next to the elephant statues in front of Vishwanath Temple.

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    What an experience, and to have the same guide through the trip. This gallery is so interesting, and I love how you showed the details of the temples. Of course, I always enjoy seeing the people, too.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Pritik was an excellent guide and good company, but if I gave the impression we had him throughout our trip that’s not the case. We spent a couple of days with him at the start, in and around Kathmandu, but he didn’t come with us on our travels around the country.

  • leightontravels

    What an incredible place. Love all the details you picked out, particularly the fascinating Hanuman statue and that stern looking monkey with the jackfruit. The Royal Palace is every bit as magnificent as I’d imagined it might be, and then some. Props to the king, not sure how I’d get on meditating naked in freezing conditions.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Patan was incredible although I think we’d have enjoyed our visit even more if it weren’t for the chaos of the roadworks in all the surrounding streets. The palace was a real highlight, partly because it was so relatively peaceful 🙂 And I loved the way each courtyard was different in some way.

  • bluebrightly

    That’s what travel is all about, isn’t it? The unexpected moment when you get an inside look at local culture – and then are greeted with warmth on top of it! A wonderful story, Sarah. I like the way your photos encompass the architecture as well as the role the temples play in local life. Terrific!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much, that’s lovely feedback 😊 Yes, the temples, both Hindu and Buddhist, are central to daily life here. I regularly saw people stopping off to pray briefly at the Hindu ones on their way to work, for instance (and the bells they rang woke me most mornings!)

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Buddhism is one of those subjects whereby each little bit you learn makes you want to know more. We’re actually planning to do something about that in the very hear future, as it happens. Mind you, however interested we get and however much learn, naked meditation in freezing temperatures is NOT gonna happen! Fascinating places you visited on this trip, endlessly enthralling, full of intrigue and wonder. And, as you say, a great way to end the trip.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I have no idea why this comment had to be approved Phil, as did Jo’s below – I must double-check my settings haven’t mysteriously changed! I too find Buddhism fascinating so I’m very curious about your hinted-at plans 😀 Yes, this was a great end to our trip and I’m glad to have got it written up and posted before we head off again on Friday (Colombia) 🙂

  • restlessjo

    This trip will take some beating, won’t it, Sarah? The carvings and sculptures are just exquisite. Tragic about the earthquake damage but you can put buildings back together better than people, however long it takes. Still shivering at the nude bathing thought 😁💖

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jo, and yes – but you know we’ll try!! I don’t think the king bathed nude, but even sitting meditating in Kathmandu’s winter temperatures (below zero) would be a challenge 🥶🥶
      I think I had to moderate this comment because you’re on a different device but hopefully it won’t happen again!

  • CliffClaven

    I visited Patan/Lalitpur more than 40 years ago. I did the usual sights with a tour group but more memorable was my return the next day to spend a surreal couple of hours at the DPRK Embassy where I was offered tea and lectured about the Spirit of Juche, the North Korean interpretation of Marxism emphasising national reliance. Anyway, the tea was good.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, I know ALL about the Juche Idea! We visited the Juche Tower in Pyongyang of course, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for ages. One day I’ll get around to it 🙂

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