One of the top reasons why people come to the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal is to see its magnificent centuries-old temples, one of the most popular of which is Narayan Mandir temple. Commonly referred to as Changu Narayan, this historic temple is located on a hilltop to the east of the valley, 22 kilometers from the capital city of Kathmandu and six kilometers from Bhaktapur.
Changu Narayan exudes an eerie charm that can only come from a religious structure that has existed through a number of centuries. It was rebuilt in 1702 after it was destroyed by a fire, but the original temple is believed to have been built in the 4th century. Some of the stone sculptures found within and around the temple date back from the 4th to the 9th century during the Licchavi period. The kind of mystery, history and sacredness that shroud this ancient temple is exactly what convince UNESCO to designate a historic site as a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO citation means a historic site deserves to be preserved and observed by the human race for many generations to come. It becomes the responsibility of the host country that the chosen sites are indeed preserved and protected. While many countries hope to have at least one UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nepal has eight.
Despite the fact that Nepal is home to so many important landmarks and historical buildings, the country has poor infrastructure, which is slowing down international tourism. Roads to important sites are either unpaved or full of potholes. Regarding Narayan Mandir, there is only one road leading to this important temple, which is probably why not many people come here. The one road passes through Changu Village, to a pilgrim shelter, an ancient water tank, a Ganesh shrine and through a wooden mask shop just before the temple entrance.
Those who do decide to make their way to the ancient temple will be reward to see the temple’s many rare features that are not found elsewhere in the world. The double-roofed Changu Narayan is exceptionally beautiful. Its roof struts are intricately designed with multi-armed Tantric deities and other religious figures. In front of the temple are a kneeling 5th-century Garuda statue, a kneeling image of Vishnu with a snake around his neck, and stone lions. There are also gilded doors, gilded windows, and two pillars with a conch and disc which are symbols for Vishnu, supreme Hindu god.
In the temple’s courtyard are very old sculptures and images of Vishnu as the man-lion Narsingha while disemboweling a demon, Vishnu as the six-armed dwarf Vikrantha/Vamana who turned into a giant and defeated King Bali, and a beautifully carved small black slab with an image of Vishnu with ten heads and ten arms. Believed to be around 1,500 years old, the carvings depict the underworld, the world of man and the heavenly world. There are more images of Vishnu and Garuda inside and outside the temple. Outside the temple are figures of more deities, stone guardians and other sculptures, as well as the Changu Museum behind the Changhu Peaceful Cottage. The real beauty, which is the interior of Narayan Mandir temple, is yet to be seen by the non-Buddhist world. Only Buddhists are allowed to enter the temple, but that is also very rare since the temple is always closed.