THE PATAN Darbar, a World Heritage Site covering a square kilometre, is unequaled both for its history and for its well-preserved monu-ments. Unlike Bhaktapur’s Darbar square, which saw great destruction in earthquakes past, and Kathmandu’s, which underwent many architectural alterations during the Rana and Shah period, Patan’s Darbar square has retained its Malla-period character almost intact. Here you will find the palace of kings of long ago; scores of temples and shrines; exquisite, secluded gardens; a newly established museum displaying Kathmandu Valley’s art heritage; and the famous Krishna Mandir, which draws devotees from all over the country.

The palace itself consists of three main chowks, or courtyards- Sundari Chowk, the Keshav Naryan Chowk, and the central Mool Chowk. The Mool Chowk is the oldest. Three temles, all built in the Valley kings, stand around the courtyard. These include the tallest structure of the entire darbar complex, the degutale temlpe, with a palatial base ascending to a wide pagoda top.

South of the central chowk is the Sundari chowk, the most elaborate of the palace courtyards. At the center of the courtyards lies Tushahiti, amasterpiece in stone. This hiti, with numerous deities finely sculpted in stone and set in niches. The main water spout os brass rather than stone, and statues of Vishnu and Laxmi on garud adorn it. Some of the niches are now, tragically, empty.

One enters the northern courtyards, or Keshav Naryan Chowk, through a gate of gilded gold. Above is an intricately carved toran which itself covers an impressive lattice-work window of wood. Just above the toran is a golden window full of repousse work, showing deities. The courtyard inside includes a large temple dedicated to Narayan.

The three stories of this 18th century wing of the patan palace surrounding the Keshav Narayan Chowk now house the patan Museum.This institution opened its golden doors in the summer of 1997, after it was restored and converted to its new purpose through the joint efforts of His Majasty’s Goverment and the Goverment of Austria. The museum is a unique repository which showcases the devotional art of Kathmandu Valley, including paintings and work in wood, stone and metal. Patan Museum’s space includes the palace gardens of Patan Darbar, an independent exhibition space, and a cafe.

Perhaps the most important site in the Darbar Square for Nepalis from all over is Krishna Mandir, a temple devoted to the amorous deity Krishna. Constructed completely of stone, the temple has friezes depicting scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharat and Ramayan on its sides. The temple shows the architectural influence of the plains in eras past: there are pavilions on the first and second floors and a pointed dome at the top(the mountain shaped shikhar). During late August, the temple is the centre of attention when Krishna’s birthday is celebrated with great pomp. Thousands of devotes from far and the temple, which also receives a visit from the king of Nepal.

The Bhimsen temple, large and impressive next to Krishna Mandir, was built in 1681 to mark a period when all three kingdoms of the valley were at peace. The image of Bhimsen is kept on the first floor, and a pillar in front of the temple supports a lion, the deity’s mount. This temple is very popular with the locals of Patan, and a festival dedicated to the god is held in the second half of August.

Opposite the Bhimsen temple and north of the Patan Darbar, is the largest sunken water source in Patan, Manga Hiti. There are two pavilions shaped like large patis, from which steps go down. water gushes continuously from elaborately carved spouts. Elsewhere in the Patan Darbar complex are a huge town bell, put up in 1687; two tall pedestals of granite, one with Garud on top and the other with King Yog Narendra and his two queens; a newly renovated math (Hindu monastery); large pagodas including Char-Narayan (Four Narayans); and a Krishna Mandir look-alike shikara in stone.

The southwest corner of Darbar Square is used by Nepali Muslim bangles sellers and cloth merchants. Nearby, amidst the 16th and 17th century architecture, is an odd but finely-wrought statue of a Rana queen sitting atop an ornamental pond. This curiosity was put up in 1905 to mark the arrival of piped water in Patan town.Nearby is a traditional temple platfrom topped by a stubby white structure in stucco.The original pagoda temple which stood here was destroyed, like so many others, by the Maha Bhukamapa (great earthquake) of 1934. The dimensions of the original three-tiered temple can be guessed by studying the size of final (pinnacle or Gajur) which tops the original pediment, which is still intact.

Mangal Bazaar is a bustling market which begins here, at the southern edge of Darbar Square and expends westwards. The bazaar is the main commercial artery of Patan, much like the Asan market of Kathmandu town. City people, as well as those from outlying areas, come to Mangal Bazaar’s retail outlets to buy everything from calico to foodgrains, statuary to copper gagro (the distinctive water container carried on the hip, a specialty manufacture of Patan’s craftsmen and exported far and wide in the Himalayan region).

The area around Darbar Square has developed as a tourism hub in recent years, with curio shops, cafes, restaurants, pensiones and bed-and-breakfast lodgings. These establishments, it can be said, all have that unique “Patan touch,” which means modest size and fine quality.
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