The allure of ancient Lalitpur-Patan

The Republic of Nepal holds eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, one of which is Mt. Everest. No, we did not climb it, before you jump to any grand conclusions. But when we first came to Nepal in the winter of 2017, we saw a glimpse of the spectacular views that this country can offer. We also witnessed the strength of Sherpas who tackled every vertical hill without breaking a sweat, while Henning and I trailed behind on all fours fighting for every breath. We only had the weight of our body to carry when he alone had both of our backpacks and our daily refreshments. Our Sherpa carried it all in a basket that had a single strap which he placed on his forehead for lifting. Needless to say, he had the world’s strongest neck.

During this trip, we did not have time to venture into the mountains, but we relished our time spent discovering the ancient city of Patan. Unlike many areas in Kathmandu, such as Thamel, where it was overrun by tourism and had, in my humble opinion, little remnants of Nepali culture. Streets were packed with budget hotels, ATMs, souvenir shops and travel agencies etc. I felt I could have been anywhere around the world. Patan on the other hand, a half an hour drive south of Kathmandu, remained an area built and inhabited by locals.

One of the main allures of Patan for me is, it is a showcase for Newari architecture and at the centre lies Patan Dubar Square, the epitome of this distinguished Nepalese artistry. The red bricked walls provide the perfect canvas for the elaborately carved wooden windows ornamented with deities, mystical creatures, peacocks, dragons and other auspicious elements. Sadly, they have not been well preserved in residential areas, but locals have become more aware of their value. Due to the foresight of some locals many are still intact, like those in the four-star Dwarika’s Hotel, where you can see some exquisite examples.

Sprawling out of the Dubar Square are streets packed full of metal workers and markets selling all kinds of local products. A lady selling jewellery there told me tales of Tibetan monks who used to come to Nepal and when they ran out of money would sell their belongings in exchange for food. In such close proximity of each other, it is little surprise there were significant exchanges between the Tibetan and Nepalese. Patan is also famous for their Newari metalsmiths who produce some really spectacular works, and needless to say, the music of clink and clank of metal delivers its residents their daily soundtrack.

Lalitpur province built almost 300 Viharas (monasteries or facilities for pleasure and entertainment for Buddhist monks) and Bahas (traditional courtyards in Newari communities) and over half of them are in Patan. A Baha was generally built by a family and their descendants lived in it for generations, and I really got a sense of its history when I stood in the middle of these beautiful courtyards. The serenity and protection they offered its residences from the hustle and bustle of the streets was transcendent.

There are so many layers to the residential area of Patan that I loved getting lost in the myriad of narrow streets that meander through the city. I never knew when I would stumble on a group of locals huddling around a dhunge dhara (traditional water fountains) to wash or fill up their bottles or when I would discover an artistic gateway that would lead me to another stupa or monastery. The people went about their businesses as if you were part of their community and they were always welcoming.

We stayed a few nights at Heranya Yala Hotel in Patan, whose owner gave us a most insightful tour (free for all guests at the hotel) of the neighbourhood. He told us great tales of his father who was the assistant of a shop keeper in his youth. When his boss decided to open a shop in Lhasa his father accompanied him, on foot, that took over a month to reach. After a few years his father realised his own potential and started his own commercial business. What incredible times they lived in and the tales they could tell. That journey his father took would only take us a few days to accomplish now yet there lacks a certain flavour.

After sixteen months on the road, Toyotoro hit 60,000km and it was call for a big maintenance. We had a most unpleasant steering death wobble for some months, and we were eager to have it fixed. Vivek’s Yeti Travel/Gear workshop next to Kathmandu airport was the perfect place for us. For days we camped at his workshop while Toyotoro got his spa treatments: installation of Ironman diff. breathers and upper and lower swivel bearing replacements (from front knuckle and hub overhaul). While Henning skipped around the car replacing the ever-so-problematic Webasto heater burner for the coming winter, and installed the Parker Racor inline petrol filter for India, Nepal and other upcoming countries with bad quality fuel. I on the other hand made friends with Vivek’s dogs and did a patchwork job of mending the mosquito nets. Well done me.

Since Vivek did not have the machines for wheel alignment and wheel balancing we had no choice but headed over to the Toyota workshop. It turned out to be a circus and possibly our only regret of this whole trip. Not only did they scratch Toyotoro while reversing it onto the hydraulic lift, they also inexplicably managed to crush one of our solar panels into the roof. I was quite baffled by the whole affair and still find it bewildering that a workshop carrying the name of Toyota did not know how to operate a hydraulic lift. I shall not go into the details of the problems this caused us for the rest of the trip.

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