The heart of Nepal’s tourism is the Kathmandu Durbar Square in the capital city of Kathmandu. This ancient complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and within it is a cluster of centuries-old streets, palaces, courtyards, shrines, stupas and temples that date back to the 12th and 18th centuries. Jagannath Mandir is one of the temples inside Durbar Square, and it is most famous for the erotic carvings on its roof struts. The temple may have been built by Mahendra Malla in 1563 but it was Pratap Malla who claimed to have constructed Jagganath in later years. The two-storey temple has a three-tiered platform with three doors on each side. Only the center door may be opened today.
The Kathmandu Valley, where the capital city is found, has eight UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites, and Kathmandu Durbar Square may easily be the most elaborate and most popular. While Kathmandu is the largest city and center of all major religious, political and social happenings in Nepal, Durbar Square is the focal point of everything social, religious and urban in the capital city. A Durbar Square is any square or plaza in front of a palace, and in Nepal’s history these squares played an important part in the country’s past monarchies. There are three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley, representing three former Nepali kingdoms, and the most prominent of them today is the Kathmandu Durbar Square.
In addition to Jagannath Mandir, the former Royal Palace complex is also found in Durbar Square. It is, in fact, the most major structure in the area. This was where the monarchs and the royal family lived until the 19th century when the palace moved to another part of the city. Yet, through the years, the palace has maintained its splendor and today it hosts the King Tribhuwan Memorial Museum and Mahendra Museum.
Other major attractions alongside Jagannath are Taleju Temple, Mahendreshvara Temple, Hanuman Dhoka, Nasal Chowk and Mul Chowk. The three-tiered Taleju Temple is the oldest temple in the complex is now a widely known Hindu and Jain center for worship. Legends say that goddess Taleju herself gave the king instructions on how to build the temple and that she disguised herself as a bee when she visited the king at the temple’s dedication ceremony. Mahendreshvara Temple, on the other hand, is very simple yet beautiful; perhaps the simplest in the square. Constructed by King Mahendra Malla, the temple is dedicated to Shiva, a Hindu deity, and serves as a memorial to the king.
Hanuman Dhoka is the main gate entrance to the Royal Palace. Guarding the gate is an image of Hanuman, the monkey god, covered in red garments and an umbrella. Devotees anoint this image with mustard oil and vermilion as a sign of worship.
Meanwhile, Nasa Chowk and Mul Chowk are ancient royal courtyards. Nasal Chowk was named after the tiny image of a dancing Krishna in a shrine. During its time, people used the center of this court to offer dances to the gods, but what’s really significant about this court is that this was where Shah Kings were ceremoniously crowned. Mul Chowk, on the other hand, is so sacred that Buddhists may enter it only on the ninth day of the Dasain Festival, while non-Buddhists may not enter at all. This courtyard is known to be the bloodiest of them all as goats, chickens and ducks are slaughtered here as animal sacrifices.
There are other notable structures within Durbar Square alongside Jagannath Mandir, and they include the Bhandarkal botanical garden, Shiva Temple, Shiv Parvati Temple, Kasthamandap House of Wood and Ashok Binayak Shrine, just to name a few. Of all the temples here, Jagannath is recognized to have the most exquisitely carved doors, windows, and roof struts.