Why you should visit Patan, Nepal’s art haven

Patan on a rainy day.
Patan on a rainy day.

After visiting all the places in my itinerary in Kathmandu City, I decided to take a long stroll to the second city of Kathmandu Valley. I traversed muddy streets for an hour and crossed the Bagmati River to reach Patan, Nepal’s city of arts.

Known by its modern name Lalitpur, Patan is the third largest city in Nepal. It earned it’s moniker because of its rich heritage and longstanding history in arts and crafts.

Patan is more rural than the busy capital. Its streets are narrower and there are less vehicles passing by. Upon entering the city, I felt like I was transported back to the heyday of Nepali artistic tradition. The streets are lined with shops of metal work and crafts and the roads are paved with tiles and bricks.

There are temples and stupas in almost every corner of the road and tourists in their typical elephant pants jumping from one shop to another are a common sight.

I headed to Patan Durbar Square, which is the center of the city, upon arriving. Like Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, this complex, too, is a UNESCO World Heritage.

I paid the NPR 750 tourism fee for entering Patan, although I could’ve been exempted had I not asked a local where to buy a map. They said I looked Nepalese.

After paying the fee, I was given a tourist ID tag which I eventually took off because it made me an easy target for insistent tour guides and shopkeepers. I was traveling on a tight budget so I really didn’t want the fuss.

Patan Durbar Square

Krishna’s Temple in Patan Durbar Square is where doves feast.
Krishna’s Temple in Patan Durbar Square is where doves feast.

Unlike Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, the one in Patan didn’t suffer as much damage during the April 2015 earthquake that shook the country. While some of the structures in the center collapsed and some are still being reinforced by steel and wooden braces, most of the major temples survived. (READ: How Kathmandu is recovering from the 2015 quake)

In front of Krishna’s Temple with the pole of Garuda, you can feed hundreds of doves that loiter in the brick pavements. The palace and museum in front is a popular hangout place for old locals and tour guides looking for customers.

The Durbar Square served as a palace for the royals of Patan since 1734. Before becoming one country, Kathmandu valley was divided into 3 kingdoms – now the 3 cities of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

It’s a beautiful place to explore but once you’ve seen Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, there’s a sense of monotony because of the similarity of the infrastructures.

A history of arts

This is definitely a must-see in Patan. If you want to see the city’s rich heritage in religion, arts, and traditional crafts, you should drop by Patan Museum located at the northern side of Durbar.

The entrance to the Patan Museum.
The entrance to the Patan Museum.

The collections are composed of religious relics and art works that date back to the 3rd century. Most of the objects are made of bronze and copper. There are also art works and paintings depicting Hindu traditions like the Kama Sutra.

The building itself is a site to behold because of its brick and wooden design that follow traditional Nepali infrastructure. I’ve seen similar designs when I visited some temples in Kerala, southern India.

When inside the museum, look for the throne used by the Malla Kings, once the ruling dynasty in the valley. Foreigners pay NPR 400 to enter the museum but this fee is really worth it because of the collections.

Some artifacts in Patan Museum date back to the 14th century.
Some artifacts in Patan Museum date back to the 14th century.

Patan’s gold

Perhaps one of the oldest structures in Patan and one of the few temples that were untouched by the April 2015 earthquake, the Golden Temple is another must-visit site in Nepal’s art capital.

Known locally as Kwa Bahal, this temple was believed to have been built in the 12th century. The walls, statues, and walkways of the small temple is gilded with intricate metal plates that make the temple glisten like gold.

"All that glitters is not gold."
“All that glitters is not gold.”

The facade of Buddhist figures and statues inside the courtyard and the intricacy of the metal designs make the small temple attractive.

According to online sources, the main priest of the temple is a 12-year-old boy. He supposedly serves for 30 days before he hands his job to another boy. I didn’t see any glimpse of this tradition while I was there though.

Foreigners pay NPR 50 to enter.

‘Living arts’

One of the metal sculptures inside the Golden Temple.
One of the metal sculptures inside the Golden Temple.

After visiting the Golden Temple, I walked back to my guesthouse in Thamel. There are much more places to see in Patan as listed in its tourist map but I felt sleepy so I decided to return. Plus, some of the places listed were really just simple stupas whose structure I’ve grown familiar with.

One thing you should do in Patan when you’re visiting is to buy crafts. You can shop for handicrafts in other cities in Nepal but this is where most of it originate from.

The usual souvenirs from Patan are metal crafts like singing bowls and Buddhist items like small statues and prayer beads. There are also jewelry shops where you can buy pure silver and gold items with precious stones. There are a lot of clothing items being sold in shops but I don’t recommend buying here since they’re available elsewhere.

Of all the places I visited in Nepal, Patan really stood out. The city is a haven for art lovers and history buffs. But you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the history and beauty of Nepalese art. In this city, every road looks like a painting and every temple a living sculpture. Art is the reason the city thrives and art is the reason locals wake up every morning.

When in Nepal, make sure you visit Patan for your dose of artistic inspiration. We all need that from time to time to break free from the monotony of daily life.

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