Friday, August 8, 2014

Memories of Nepal (Part 3, Day 3)

Memories of Nepal_Day 3

The third day of our Nepal trip had a gloomy beginning. We had arrived at Nagarkot, the small hill station close to Kathmandu, the previous evening and had spent the night there surrounded by gorgeous rolling hills and pine-forests. It is a sequestered spot where you can enjoy gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Nevertheless, the morning we woke up in Nagarkot proved to be an exceptionally somber cloud-covered one. At five in the morning, we beheld, instead of the birth of the sun in the eastern sky, great rolls of cloud covering the sky from end to end. It was as we saw these great dollops of cloud that we realized what a great decision it was to come to Nagarkot earlier than we had planned and seen the breathtaking view of the mountains the evening before. The memory of that spectacular view acted as a palliative and prevented us from being despondent.

Morning in Nagarkot, Nepal

Morning in Nagarkot, Nepal
Having breakfasted at nine, we left Nagarkot for Changu Narayan temple at ten in the morning. This temple is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Nepal. Located around 6 km north of Bhaktapur, the temple of Changu Narayan is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is home to a series of beautiful sculptures of Vishnu like the Vishwaroop Lord Vishnu, Vishnu-Vikranta Lord Vishnu, Nar Singha Vishnu and Vishnu mounted on Garuda, the humanoid-bird.  Magnificent relief work done in gold in the pillars and in the torans crowning the temple offer a rare treat to the eyes. The temple is one of the holiest sites in Nepal and is said to have been constructed in the Lichhavi period. It is home to a series of incredible examples of Nepalese architecture. Like other temples in Nepal, the Changu Narayan temple too is done in Pagoda-style.

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

Changu Narayan Temple, Nepal

The second stop on the third morning of our visit to Nepal, was the world famous Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Situated about twelve kilometers away from Kathmandu city, Bhaktapur, or the city of devotees, is said to have been founded by King Ananda Dev in 1197 A.D. Of the three Durbar squares we visited in Nepal, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was unequivocally the best. This royal plaza is not only very well maintained— which you will expect it to be considering the exorbitant entry fees you pay before you step into it—but is also home to some of the most exquisite pagodas, palaces, and monuments that we've seen in Nepal. I was glad that we had kept the visit to the best Durbar Square in Kathmandu till the last day of our visit.

View of the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal, from the Palace Restaurant. 

To enter the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, you need to walk a little way down the road opposite the ticket counter and climb a series of stairs leading you to the entrance gate to the Durbar Square. The moment you step through the gate into the Durbar Square, the royal plaza with its irresistible antique charms, would suddenly burst into view and obliterate all thought for a moment. What you would perceive before you would be unlike anything you've seen before. For few brief moments, you would be overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of the edifices that stand before you. When you have gained your composure, you may look around and concentrate on each specimen of exquisite Nepali architecture and treat yourself to as many photographs as you like. I think we took more than a hundred photographs at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and still felt that it was not enough.

The Lion Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Our first stop at the Durbar Square was The Lion Gate. It gets its name from the two exquisitely carved stone lion statues installed on either side of the gate during the reign of Bhupatindra Malla. Statues of lions, symbolizing the elements of power and protection, are found in every Durbar Square in Kathmandu, but none we've seen before were as beautifully carved and perfect in every detail as the pair we saw sitting on either side of the Lion Gate at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

The statue of King Bhupatindra Malla perched atop a long and slender stone pillar with his hands folded and his body bent in an attitude of prayer to the Taleju goddess, was the second exquisite royal figurine we saw. We stopped before the column on top of which the stone-king sat motionless under the shadow of an elegantly carved umbrella, his sword and buckler next to his kneeling form, and thought how true the statement of E.A. Powell, writer of The Last Home of Mystery, was, who said, while talking about the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, that even if there were nothing else in Nepal, save the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, it would be sufficiently worth “making a journey half way around the globe to see” it.
The Golden Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Tympanum of the Golden Gate, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

The Golden Gate, erected by King Ranajit Malla after a successful feat in the battleground in 1753, was our third stop. It serves as an entrance to the Taleju complex. This ornate gate, boasting some of the most delicate gilded copper-work in the Kathmandu valley, is one of the most beautifully carved golden entrances in the world. It is an exquisite piece of gilded art that takes the breath away. At the richly-gilded bosom of the tympanum, appears the ten-armed goddess Taleju with Shri and Lakshmi on a crocodile and a tortoise respectively on either side of the central deity. On the door frame are gilded representations of a doorkeeper, a good-fortune vase, and figures of such deities as Bhagwati, Bhairava, Ganesh, Kumari and Kali.

Palace of 55 Windows, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

The supreme wooden architectural structure dominating the entire Bhaktapur Durbar Square area, is the three-storied palace of 55 windows. It was built by Yakshya Malla in 1427 A.D. and embellished later by Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century. It is a magnificent edifice with exquisite relief work in its windows and pillars and beautiful carvings on the doors and windows of the lower floors.

The Art Gallery in the area, like all museums and galleries we visited in Nepal, charges exorbitant entry fees. The gallery has a modest collection of Buddhist artifacts and some exquisite thankas depicting esoteric images of Tantric deities.

Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Temples galore at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and you may take your time and visit the four dhams (religious sites) of Jagannath, Kedarnath, Rameshwar and Badrinath situated near the west entrance.

The Shikhara style stone-made Vatsala temple dedicated to the goddess Durga is a breathtaking monument of religious architecture. On the lower section of this edifice, is the famous “barking bell,” which causes dogs to bark and whine when it is rung. In olden days, this bell was used to communicate an alarm of emergency during times of trouble.

The Yakcheswor Mahadev temple, which is a replication of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, is an important religious edifice in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square area. This religious seat of Lord Shiva was built by King Yakshya Malla, who was a great devotee of the lord, and is said to have received dream-instructions from the divine deity himself who commanded him in his reverie to erect a temple for him in the Bhaktapur area.

The greatest temple we visited on our day-trip to the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was the Nyatapola in the Taumadhi Square. We were awestruck by the sheer size of this enormous religious structure. It is a massive five-storied pagoda-style temple that stands above five plinths. Each plinth has majestic stone statues of men and animals on either side of the stairwell that runs through the middle of it. The five tiers of this gargantuan temple symbolize the basic elements of Nature. It is the tallest temple in Nepal and is dedicated to the goddess Siddhi Lakshmi— a Tantric deity representing the most potent female force.

After visiting the Taumadhi Square, we took our leave of the gorgeous Bhaktapur Durbar Square.  I wished I could stay in Nepal and in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square for a decade in the least. Nevertheless, logic came to the forefront of my mind and waved a pair of air-tickets at me. 

Traditional Nepali Thali Meal 

Our last meal in Nepal was at a small but famous restaurant in Kathmandu. My husband ordered a Nepali thali for himself while I had a plate of dumplings. The dumplings I was served was good, but the ones I had at the Tree House Inn in Nagarkot were the best. The Nepali thali looked very much like a traditional Bengali afternoon meal with rice, saag, daal, vegetable curries, and a dish of chicken. The food was lightly spiced and was delicious. I especially loved the brass platter and bowls they served the food in.

 Having finished our afternoon meal, we headed straight to the airport. The departure formalities and security check being completed, we made our way to the waiting area. One incident that brightened my last moments in Nepal was this: As I was being pat-checked by a female security official at the airport, I noticed the beautiful glass bangles she wore. When I told her that I absolutely loved her bangles, she promptly took out a few of them and gave them to me. I was surprised at this and said that I was simply complimenting her. But she was so touched by my remark that she insisted I take a few of her bangles as a parting gift. I hugged the security official and accepted the gift. I still have the bangles with me carefully stored in my accessory box. That last moment in Nepal welled up my eyes.  

Time to Say Good to Nepal 

I believe that when you visit a new country, a new city or town, not only do you see the place, but the place sees you too. To it you may be one of the travelers with indistinguishable features flitting from tourist sites to tourist sites sipping the delicious nectar of art and heritage that the place offers. Nevertheless, it always has a ubiquitous eye directed at you, judging your actions and watching your deliberations during your stay in it. I wonder how Nepal saw me; did it see me as one of the many travelers who flit about from place to place, or more like a person, an individual who loved every bit of the gorgeous country she saw. Did it perceive my childish excitement on seeing the Kal Bhairav statue in Kathmandu, or my exhilaration upon seeing the beauteous mountain ranges in Nagarkot? May be it did, may be it smiled and shook its head like a septuagenarian at the foolishness of a young soul; may be it too shed a few drops of tears like I did when I boarded my flight back home and bid Nepal adieu.

 The trip to Nepal was one of the most memorable trips I had made in my life. And now, as I sit at my desk in my home, surrounded by souvenirs I got from that beautiful country, I feel that even if I had my finished my trip to Nepal, a bit of Nepal will always be in and around me forever. 

Prayer flags from Nepal in my balcony garden communicating my devout prayers to the gods!