Monday, June 25, 2012

When Temples Were Cool Again: Durbar Square of Kathmandu

If you travel to quite a few places in Asia for an extended period of time, temples and other such places of worship would at some point begin to lose their magnificence and splendor. You would at some point be, as most travelers would call it, "templed-out." Having seen the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, the Khmer ruins of Angkor, the Tibetan temples of Dharamsala, and the Mughal masterpieces of India, I was beginning to lose interest in similar such places. Great! Another temple. I would often hear myself sarcastically say. Sad, really. There I was standing in some of the world's greatest heritage sites and the experience was lost on me.

It was not the case, however, in the temples in Kathmandu, Nepal. From the tourist district of Thamel, we made our way south along the narrow and chaotic streets of Kathmandu, one of three UNESCO World Heritage cities (the other two being Patan and Bhaktapur) situated in the Kathmandu valley, the widest piece of flat land in all of the Nepal Himalaya. After a few minutes of walking, we found ourselves in a holy place where time seemed to have stopped a long time ago. We found ourselves in a land full of pigeons and red wooden pagodas. We had just arrived in Durbar Square of Kathmandu.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Land of pigeons and pagodas, the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal.

For the first time in a long time, I was standing in awe of temples once again, and I knew exactly why. Most of the temples I have visited thus far were "dead" temples in that they were no longer in use by common folk. They have been turned into museums and tourist attractions generating money from visitors such as myself. It was different in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal. It was, has been, and continues to be a place, not just of worship, but of everyday life in the Kathmandu valley amidst the Nepal Himalaya. There were peddlers, market vendors, and everyday pedestrians existing along side sadhus (ascetic and itinerant men of the Hindu faith) and living goddesses. Surrounded by the temples of Kathmandu, I found myself captivated and invigorated by all the life around me.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Early morning in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu sees doves fed by locals.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Nepali man sitting by the window of the chambers
of the Royal Kumari, Kathmandu's living goddess.


Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
The architecture of the pagoda, as seen here in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu,
actually originated in Nepal and was only later brought to China.


Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Sadhus, ascetic and itinerant men of the Hindu faith, are quite used
to tourists taking their photos, especially here in the Durbar Square
of Kathmandu, Nepal. Michael Palin calls them the world's most sociable hermits.


Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Colorful rickshaws waiting for the day's catch in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
The delicious treasures of the Bagmati River in the Kathmandu valley.

Something has to be said of the exquisite artistry that can be seen in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal, a distinctive mixture of Tibetan and Hindu aesthetic, perfected through thousands of years by the local Newars, the ancient people of the Kathmandu valley. The Newars of Kathmandu valley are masters of fine brickwork and wood sculpture. The detail on each statue, doorway, window frame, cornice, and roof are astounding, even more so up-close.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal

It is very difficult to stay templed-out and unimpressed in the presence of such life in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal. There was such fine craftsmanship in the architecture of its palaces and temples. That day in the Kathmandu valley, temples became cool again. Yet another reason why I think Nepal is such a great travel destination. You have the great outdoors of the Himalayas and these heritage sites right in the heart of these Himalayan capitals.


More photos in my Flickr set Nepal: Kathmandu.


Have you ever been templed-out in your travels? How and where did you get over it? For you, when did temples become cool again?


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