The Kathmandu Valley, the political, commercial and cultural hub of Nepal, is the first stop for the majority of visitors to the country.
Once a separate kingdom in itself, it contains three fabled cities - Kathmandu (local name: Yen, population 550,000); Patan (Yala, population 160,000); and Bhaktapur (Khopa, population 75,000). There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Valley.
The history of the Valley begins with the Buddhist saint Manjushree who slashed a passage through the surrounding hills to drain out the primordial waters and make it inhabitable. Over the centuries, a refined urban civilization emerged, built on a unique synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Dynasties came and went. Trade and the arts flourished. Its deeply religious Newar inhabitants built fabulous cities and artistic temples that attracted devout pilgrims as well as rampaging invaders. In the late 18th century, following the founding of modern Nepal within more or less the present boundaries, Kathmandu was made the capital.
Seen from a distance in the early morning light, the long stretch of ochre brickwork blends perfectly with the landscape of gentle hills. Roofs are a double line of gray and a single temple rises into the sky like a beacon. At the foot of the hill, the sacred Hanumante River draws the southern border of the city of Bhaktapur.
Bhaktapur - which is almost as well known by its alternate name of Bhadgaon - is said to have been designed sometime in the 9th Century in the shape of Vishnu's conch by its legendary founder. King Ananda Malla. in fact, the backbone of the city is a double S-shape, directed east-west, opening here and there on squares with temples, shrines and sunken fountains. These open spaces were old village centers established along the ancient trade route to Tibet. Chroniclers of the time recall locations like Khopo, Khuprini bruma and Bhaktagrama, the latter name implying village (grama) status. After the 8th Century, these villages joined and grew into a town. This urban growth was the result of an evolutionary process rather than voluntary planning, or so legend would have us believe. Certainly, a concentric growth pattern, such as that of Patan, is absent in Bhaktapur.
The original center of Bhaktapur was the eastern square around the Dattatraya Temple. When the city became the capital of the whole Kathmandu Valley between the 14th and 16th centuries, there was a shift from east to west with the develop ment of a new palace area. There are in dications that the town was fortified by the mid-1 5th Century, as the new focus of the city moved to Taurnadi Tole with its Bhairav and Nyatapola temples.
Sometimes called "the town with a thousand golden roofs" or "the city of fine arts," most local people know it as Lalitpur: Lalita Pura, "the beautiful city."
The city of Patan is located on a high plateau above the course of the Bagmati River, just south of Kathmandu. Sometimes called "the town with a thousand golden roofs" or "the city of fine arts," most local people know it as Lalitpur: Lalita Pura, "the beautiful city." An essentially Buddhist city, Patan was built in concentric circles around its royal palace. Four main roads radiate from the palace to four directional stupas, earth and brick mounds said to have been erected by Emperor Ashoka himself. If true, this would make Patan the oldest Buddhist city in the world. Whether or not this is so, Patan has been an important town since very early times. Inscriptions from the 5th Century refer to King Manadeva's palace, the Managriha or "House of Mana," which might have been located in the area now called Mangal Bazaar, adjoining Patan Durbar Square. The city's great building period took place under the Mallas, particularly from the 16th to 18th centuries. Most of today's leading monuments were built or rebuilt at that time.
With no fewer than 136 classified bahals and 55 major multi-roofed temples, Patan is really the cradle of arts and architecture of the Valley, a great center both of the Newari Buddhist religion and of traditional arts and crafts.