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Last days in Kathmandu

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October 7th Kathmandu

We arrived in Kathmandu with time for a pleasant stroll around Thamel and a last shop before we went home. We (finally) collected my beautiful earring and he offered us a matching bracelet which we could not resist! Then we picked a lovely warm Nepali coat for Steve, and some T-shirts with various designs on. Our last purchase before evening was from a tiny shop run by a Tibetan making thangka. We haggled a bit, and as he wanted to shut up for the evening we paid a good price for a lovely gold bhavachakra on a black background. The next day we found a specialist shop where we bought another (this time vermilion and gold) and the Tibetan artist showed us how to tell the 3 different qualities and side by side the poorest one did look very poor. The top notch one was very pricey, but the mid range (which we bought both times) wasn’t much less effective than the top, so we were quite happy with our purchases.
Thangka in Patan Museum
A thangka (tangka, thanka, tanka Tibetan ཐང་ཀ་; Nepal पौभा), ), is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton or silk appliqué, depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thangkas are relatively small but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thangkas are intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear. Thangka serve as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, influential lamas, deities and bodhisattvas. One subject is The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra), which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma teachings (Art of Enlightenment). Today printed reproductions at poster size of painted thangka are commonly used for devotional as well as decorative purposes. Thangka perform several different functions. Images of deities can be used as teaching tools when depicting the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describing historical events concerning important Lamas, or retelling myths associated with other deities. Devotional images act as a centrepiece during a ritual or ceremony and are used as mediums through which to offer prayers/ intercessions. Overall religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. The Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner uses a thanga image of their yidam (meditation deity) as a guide. Tangkas hang on or beside altars, and may be hung in the bedrooms or offices of monks and other devotees.The word "thangka" means "thing that one unrolls" in Classical Tibetan. Thangka are very rarely signed, but some artists are known, more because they were important monastic leaders than famous as artists. Painting was a valued accomplishment in a monk. Tangkas are further divided into these more specific categories: Painted in colours (tson-tang, the most common), Black Background (ie gold line on a black background nagtang), Appliqué (go-tang), Embroidery (tsem-thang), Gold Background (an auspicious treatment for long-life deities and enlightened buddhas), Red Background (lit gold line, but refers to gold line on a vermillion mar-tang). It was getting quite dark now, so we headed for dinner at the Baardali again.
October 8th Kathmandu

We had one last day in Kathmandu and we decided it should be a stroll, shop and mop-up places we’d missed day. We’d bought some local honey in Chitwan and knew we couldn’t take it back, so we enjoyed it over breakfast and it was delicious!
We set off down Thamel Marg, which had loads of shops, stalls, shrines and small temples to visit. Diverting from Thamel marg took us to some of the smaller shrines and temples we’d previously missed.

Bikramashila Mahabihar (Bhagwan Bahal) Along a street (Amrit Marg) was Bikramashila Mahabihar, more commonly known as Bhagwan Bahal, which all locals know. It is said to be over 1,000 years old, though it has been rebuilt on many occasions over this period. There is a temple to Ajima beside the Bahal but the deity shrine is long gone. Inside, Bhagwan Bahal is said to contain the manuscript Swayambhu Puran, one of the oldest manuscripts narrating the story of Kathmandu Valley. Bhagwan Bahal has a close relationship with the Kathmandu Kumari who visits here once a year. Opposite the monastery are tiny shrines surrounded by motorcycles.
Ganesh strine interior and exterior
Facing Bhagwan Bahal we went right and continued to the next junction north to see the small Sunken Ganesh Shrine lodged into the steps below a pavement. Though the concrete building might not be so interesting step up close to notice the deity statue below street level. The statue of Ganesh is very detailed and worth a closer look through the metal fence.
Ashok Stupa
We now doubled back to Narshing Chowk and took a right heading south. It was a few mins before we come across our next shrine which was a little hidden. Just before J.P. Road is a small lane called Ashok Gully to the right in among some Thangka stores. This narrow little lane turned sharply to the right until it came to a new wall. Ashok Stupa newly renovated stupa is said to date back over 1000 years and dedicated to Indian Emperor Ashoka. There's not much actual written history to this stupa though and many doubt its actual age.
Doubling back to the main road we came down and took a left back onto Thamel Marg, continuing south until we got to a small stupa to the right up on a pavement of sorts. Ganesh shrine & stupa is a small Buddhist stupa surrounded by shops, and a small pavement off the road. Behind the stupa is a fenced in shrine dedicated to Ganesh. Although locked we still got a good look inside.
Ganesh shrine and stupa
Outside Bhagwati temple at the bottom of Thamel we were in Thahiti/Thahity Chowk, a popular part of the old city filled with market streets, shrines and temples. Thamel is over 1000 years old and full of hidden temples. On the border between Thamel, Jyatha and just inside what used to be the old walled city Thahiti Chowk dates back to the 15th century according to documents describing the central stupa. The stupa is accessible through a small garden park. Surrounding the garden park along its fence numerous vendors occupy the pavement. Among them is a local vegetable market.
Right in the centre of the chowk was Thahiti Dharmadhaatu Stupa in a small fenced garden, 15th century stupa said to be have been built over a hiti to hide the fact that it produced gold coins. Thahiti Stupa is said to have been built by a Tibetan trader who used to live there. There was a hiti (natural water source with a tap built on it) which he discovered produced gold coins to the virtuous. Fearing someone would steal the water spout he built this stupa over it to hide the hiti. Today the stupa is well preserved. Protected from the traffic and people by a fence that runs around a garden area surrounding the stupa. There's a small gate on the southern side of the fence which provides access.
On the northern side of the chowk opposite the stupa is the 18th century double roof Nateshwar temple (Natadreeswarar) dedicated to Nate, an incarnation of Shiva. The ornate doors were open to see three very faded stone statues inside. Interestingly it is one of the few temples in this area to have a patanka come down from the roof. The doors into the temple are highly decorated. Beside the gate are two stone lions and two taleju bells. Above the gate is an elaborate toran and on either side depictions of dancing skeletons. Just outside the temple the main road usually has several rickshaws. On the north-west corner is a shrine to Ganesh mounted on the fence that's worth a look as it's quite detailed.
Dharmadhaatu Stupa and Nateshwar Temple
Ganesh Shrines
After an interesting look around we continued on down to Aakash Bhairav Temple, where an authentic Tibetan thangka craftsman explained thangka in detail to us. We ended up just outside Durbar square and decided we needed a drink. Heading around the back on Gangalal Marg, we found a nice courtyarded cafe to have a milkshake at the Royal Heritage Restaurant Bar. Then we walked around to see the back of Durbar square, as it had been so busy during the festival, and managed to get (almost) tourist free photos!
We felt the need for a relax before our long trip home tomorrow, so we sauntered back to Thamel and stopped for a very late lunch at Alchemy Pizzeria. The open second floor gave us great views of the street life of Thamel, and the copious beer didn’t go amiss in the heat either. Then, a last trip to Hot Breads for a delicious pastry and a final shop before a rest in the hotel, who had kindly upgraded us to a suite (it ALWAYS pays to be polite and friendly to the staff).

Achut kindly drove us to the airport and helped us check in and sort out the baggage. We were lucky to get seats that gave brilliant views of the mountains as we left for Delhi; check out Steve’s photo below. Then a rapid walk to the check in at Delhi to discover that Steve’s seat we’d paid extra for was unavailable (annoying), so his flight back was not so great. However, we got the money back in the end, so...

Posted by PetersF 07:43 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal kathmandu

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