There’s much that you’ll find in Lalitpur (a.k.a. Patan), besides what it is world famous for—its renowned art, craft, and architecture. Here is where you’ll find the Patan Durbar Square, a world heritage monument, the Golden Temple and many other equally impressive shrines, and narrow alleyways and side streets full of workshops making statues in metal, stone, and wood
You could say that the durbar square is the soul of Lalitpur. It perfectly gives meaning to the phrase, ‘living museum’. From early morning to late night, it is a busy center full of thriving activities. If you visit its many temples at the crack of dawn, what you’ll find are throngs of devotees joining the morning prayers, the surroundings shimmering with a thousand butter lamps, and the air heavy with the scent of burning incense. The alleyways and the streets outside may be serenely quiet, with nary a soul in sight, the shutters down in the numerous shops lining the streets, with even the mongrels deep in slumber, but the temples are where the action is, a different world altogether! The Golden Temple (Hiranaya Varna Mahavihar) is where you should go if you want to be a part of this deeply spiritual experience.
As the day progresses, the square becomes busier, it is after all a thoroughfare, too, linking half a dozen or so streets. Early morning joggers and walkers stop for a while to have a glass of hot tea at one of the teashops in the area and exchange pleasantries with friends and acquaintances. There’s one particular teashop near the Narsing building, where the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust is located, that is extremely popular with tea aficionados. It’s full of customers throughout the day, and well into the evening, a hangout for the locals, as well.
Early mornings are also when you’ll find the hiti (watering place) next to the palace, and opposite the Bhimsen Temple, full of chattering women, who’ve come there to fill their brass vessels with water from the dhunge dharas (stone spouts). Some will be washing clothes, and it’s all a very homely sight. This hiti is famous, since it is also part of the Patan Durbar Square. For your information, there is a royal bath in one of the palace’s three courtyards that underwent quite a bit of restoration some years back, and that is also very famous. It is surrounded by numerous deity figures, a fact that made the chief restoration architect question its status as a royal bath. “I don’t believe a king would be naked in front of the gods,” was his observation.
Anyway, with the morning light becoming stronger, the square is now a proper city center, with lots of school kids crossing it to go to their schools, or bus stops, old folks taking up their usual vantage points to warm their rickety old bones, and while away the hours sightseeing. The most interesting of which, for them, will be the groups of tourists moving through the square, giving a keen eye to the temples, before entering the palace to explore and discover. The museum inside on the first and second floors of one wing could be a must-visit for some, while others may just like to amble around, clicking away a few up-close shots of the carvings on the windows and doors and struts, as well as the metalwork evident everywhere. It’s all a treat for those with an artistic bent, one can assume.
That’s how the day goes by in the square, but now that evening is falling, let’s see what happens in and around the famous square. If you walk through the side streets at around this time, you could well espy pretty young girls coming out of doors and doorways leading to smaller squares inside around which are situated many houses. They are dressed in all their finery, and looking fresh and vibrant. It’s their time for a stroll around the square, to meet friends and check out the boys, and have a taste of the delicious tongue tingling pani puris (small puffed up fried dough balls filled with a spicy mixture of boiled potatoes, peas, and what not, and a spicier liquid concoction) at the stands around the square that also serve other equally delicious stuff like chaats (mix of many edibles, including samosas, curd, tamarind water, spices, etc.) and so on.
The place is actually a foodies’ delight. There’s an eatery near the above-mentioned popular teashop known as Honacha’s that is famed for its wholesome baras (lentil patties topped with either minced meat, egg, or both) and its thwon (rice beer) that you can order by the jug or by the glass. You get other Newari delicacies, too, and this place, which has deliberately been kept as it has been down the years (that is, humble-looking, with well-worn wooden tables, chairs, and small stools, in case the tables are full). The highlight, besides the baras, are the women making them in the open kitchen. There they sit, cross-legged, these amply endowed ladies, their hands continuously pouring the lentil mixture on the extra-large wok on a big stove, shaping them with ladles into neat round shapes, then breaking an egg over them, or placing minced meat on them, flipping them over and cooking both sides till just done. A couple of men and boys take the orders and serve the food. I took a Chinese friend there once, and she exclaimed that it was the best restaurant she had visited in Kathmandu. She had taken a few glasses of thwon!
One could go on talking about the many attractions of this renowned square, but for this piece, suffice it to say that it lives up to the phrase, ‘living museum’.