When you are visiting Patan, do not—I repeat, do not—miss out on a tour of the Patan Industrial Estate. It is a large sprawling area with hundreds of handicraft establishments where you’ll be able to see the fabled artisans of this “City of the Arts” practicing their ancient crafts. You’ll see stonecarvers chipping away at mammoth blocks of stones to bring them to life in the form of sacred deities, many of which, when finished, will need the help of huge cranes to be transported to their destined sites—perhaps a high hilltop? perhaps a meditation retreat? You’ll see woodcarvers focused totally on carving intricate designs on massive wooden windows destined for some exotic destination—perhaps a hotel in Lhasa? in Beijing? And, you’ll see metalsmiths crouched over huge 100 kg bronze bells, etching out elaborate patterns around the rims; all of them ordained to become a major part of temples and shrines all over the country.
Sometimes, time is of the essence, and a bit of luck comes in handy as well, since you can’t always predict when you’ll be in Nepal, and by the time you are in Patan Industrial Estate, somebody may inform that you about a huge work of art that has been moved just the other day to some far-off site that could be days away. Take, for example, the case of the 3000 kg bronze bell that used to hang next to the doorway of the famous maker of bells, Nepal Dhalaut Udhyog. Well, even today, if you ask for directions to the establishment, most people around will tell you that there’s a massive bell hanging out front. If you go by their words, you’ll be searching forever, because it isn’t there anymore; it was moved some months back to the Muktinath Temple in Bhaktapur. Anyway, aside from all that, imagine what a boost this temple must have got with a 3000 kg bell out front!
The famous bell makers also make other metal sculptures; if you go now, you’ll see a couple of enormous lion-heads made in the Chinese style; you know, the kind you see during those elaborate Chinese festivals, except in this case, they are made of bronze and weigh 500 kg each! Generally, the bells displayed around the place are of three sizes: 25 kg, 50 kg, and 100 kg. It should interest you to know that most of the metal craft are made by craftspeople of Okubahal, a locality near Patan Durbar Square, which, for generations, has spawned the most accomplished metalsmiths of Kathmandu Valley. Actually, this is a unique feature of the “City of the Arts”—each of the old localities is renowned for some particular craft.
Sundhara and Bhinchebahal being two such localities that have most of the remaining 15 or so families involved in stone carving, some of whom you’ll find chipping away at blocks of stones more than 10 feet high at Arnico Stone Carving in Patan Industrial Estate. Now, if size is your thing, as it’s for most ordinary folks, then don’t waste time; they’re in the process of sculpting a 32-ft 40-ton Shakyamuni Buddha statue for a monastery in Mustang of western Nepal. The head alone is going to be six-feet-tall! It’s a commission that has been going on for more than a year already, and will probably take another year or so to be completed. Still, it’s a wondrous experience to see those tough stone carvers chiseling away at the lifeless and implacable blocks of limestone, not knowing how successful they will be in carving out the correct proportions at the end of it all.
However, one can be fairly confident that it’s going to be a great work of art, going by the finished 18-ft tall 10-ton statue of Ganesha that stands out in front. It’s a fantastic work of art, no one can doubt that. In fact, one gets the feeling that it is just waiting for somebody really knowledgeable, and with clout in the world of art, to declare it a ‘masterpiece’. The proportions are lovely, and the aura this colossal Ganesha imparts is such as to make one stare at it in awe for quite some time. But, be warned again, time is of the essence, because it will soon be travelling to far off Tansen, and then there goes your chance to see a modern day masterpiece in stone, the kind Michelangelo would have been proud of. Remember, also, that stone carving is the toughest and most demanding of all crafts, so the number of stonecarvers is on a steady decline. All the more reason to make a beeline for Arnico Stone Carving at the earliest possible opportunity!
Now, about those windows meant to decorate some hoity-toity hotels in Lhasa, and maybe Beijing; well a score and more woodcarvers at Purna Woodcarving Industries are hard at work on carving out a complete set, meaning, maybe a score or so really large-sized wooden carved windows. You’ve seen plenty of such Newari style windows all over the valley; in many hotels, houses, temples, and so on. But, take it from me, you might not have seen the kind they’re making here, certainly not such huge ones. One can only imagine how immense must be the size of the hotel they are being built for! The carvings are, as expected, top-notch, and how couldn’t they be? After all, most of the woodcarvers are from Bungamati, a small nearby village where almost each and every household has been involved in the woodcarving business from time immemorial.
With so much ancient skills handed down through the generations, in stone, in metal, in wood, is it any wonder that the Patan Durbar Square—where many of the best examples of such work are on perpetual display—is a world heritage monument? Which is very fine and all that, but why not take that extra step and grab the opportunity to see the very creation of such magnificence, such splendors?