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Patan (Kathmandu) : The river runs though it.

Patan Travel Blog

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Shrouded god effigy by at Hanuman Ghat (I think?) by the banks of the Bagmati.

The dying of the sacred waters?

I begin the day with some formalities.  Checking the amount of the 'exit fee' at the Tourist Centre for when I depart Nepal (1,695 NPR!!!).  I soon head for areas clearly less trodden by tourist types.  Beginning in the car horn honking, dusty, fume-laden melee of the Bag Bazaar area with its bus station and great confluence of students, beggars, street stall vendors and transport touts.  Early morning eddies and currents of humanity trying to find it's flow through this - on the surface of things - chaotic city.  I recall that the girls from the Chitwan National Park go to college somewhere in the area.

My main aim today is to visit Patan, the 'Old City'.

State of disrepair... this shrine now reclaimed as the chap's (to the left) home.
  Some centuries ago it was the capital of Nepal but nowadays of course this is Greater Kathmandu and Patan, whilst in many respects a separate administrative zone, is to all intents and purposes subsumed in the larger spread  of Kath.  Many Patanese (if I may crudely dub them that?) consider Patan still to be a separate city.  Nepal's second largest if this were the case, nudging out Pokhara.  The rough border that designates the break between the bounds of Patan and Greater Kathmandu, the holy Bagmati River.

Although it's meant to be a fair old stroll I'm always happiest on my heels in these adventures.  It keeps you slow.  Guarantees you might get usefully and enlighteningly lost whilst on route to the Destination.

  This is fine.  This is good.  Remember people.  Slow it down.  Take in your peripheral vision.  You're rarely truly lost when you're lost when travelling.  You're just Somewher Else instead.  And that's fine.  And so it goes as I amble along, away from the wide, traffic choked streets of the main city down towards the rivers edge.  You may have read a previous entry of mine concerning the Pashuputinath and its famous Hindu burning ghats and temples [ entry # 70 ] ; today I am heading for the less renowned series of funerary ghats that line the lower concourse of the Bagmati as its concourse parts the city. 

I stroll past a bustling little beehive of a local school down a dirty passageway and turn west, parallel to where I believe the river to be heading.

Wooden temple recessed by the Bagmati.
  A narrow shanty-shack lined 'street' pulls me along here, immaculately dressed girls and boys in blazers, trousers, blinding white shirts and blouses and pleated skirts and ties pass me; bemused, amused, bashful and occasionallyy blushing as they head to school.  Their spotlessness at complete odds with their surroundings and a clear show of the pride invested in their education whilst they remain free from the necessity of labour.  I too appear even more deeply out of place.  Not eyed with suspicion, but certainly with strange regard.  Foreigners do not often stroll through here it seems.  My camera is quite shy for a while, as am I.  Dogs lounge, comatosed in the dust.  Chickens cluck and peck about in the dirt for fallen seed.
Burning ghat crematorial platform, by the Bagmati.
  The areas inhabitants talk by the trackside whilst undertaking their daily chores.  Sifting rice and dhal for stones; scrubbing and beating clothes for cleanliness (still how do they get those uniforms so immaculate?!); peeling garlic cloves.

It's hard to know where the crematorial ghats begin although I'm certain from my map that I must be in the right area.  Hindu statuary and the occasional shrine start to appear.  But a lot of what's surviving here - culturally speaking - seems to be in an advanced state of neglect rather than reverance.  In fact, some of the larger shrines have been occupied now as bunk rooms or storage spaces by those who are presumable otherwise homeless here.  I suppose religion is sanctuary amongst its other functions?  This too seems true of the interiors of certain temple courtyards accessible along the river bank.

  Whilst the sand-drifts of domestic possessions left lying about the temple grounds, over time becoming one with the Time-dusted colour and texture of their confines, may belong to custodians and carers of the temple grounds, the old, old wooden-carved facade of the main temple structures seem to shrink back from the material infringement on their sanctity nevertheless. 

The ghats, or what I assume must be the ghats are in a sorry, sorry state of disrepair.  Only a large pile of wood blocks, planks and kindling besides one of them testifies to their continued use at all.  My six year old 'Rough Guide to Nepal' hints at long term plans for the areas regeneration but this clearly hasn't commenced at all.  At one point I pass by a forlorn looking iron-gated complex, chained closed with a large, rusty padlock that looks as if it hasn't been troubled by a key for sometime.

A sludgy split in the Bagmati concourse.
  This is the entrance to the 'Save the Bagmati Trust'.  And herein probably lies a contributory truth behind the whole areas deterioration.  The poor state.  The declining, I think near flat-lining health of the sacred well-spring, the Bagmati itself.

It's a common obvious point for 'outside' observers to look and to pass comment on the glaring contradiction of the near unimaginable filth and deep-seated concepts of spiritual purity and cleanliness that often co-exist in the existence of such great 'holy rivers' as the Bagmati, and its notable bigger sister, the Ganges.  The practical, environmental realities slowly imposing themselves on centuries old traditions of water-borne reverance.  Filth 'n' faith 'n' pride.  A difficult relationship to reconcile.

The Hiranya Varna Mahavihar aka 'Golden Temple', Patan
  One that troubled one of my favourite writers, V.S.Naipaul in the musings of his several books of the Indian subcontinent. 

A none too pretty, muddy, marigold-spangled slick at Pashuputinath itself, the waters of the Bagmati struggle on south-westerly with its heady cargo of burnt body and ash, wood, general waste and flood of animal faecal matter to this point.  And here it seems the river is practically dying.  Its waters have receded far, far from their original grand breadth.  This has left the ghats stranded.  Beached and belleaguered many, many tens of metres from the banks of the broken-souled, the soiled Bagmati.  Cracked stone steps, once used to descend for bathing to the waters edge now peter out into dry grass field lands.

Monkey & chains ( I know not what this symbolises) at the 'Golden Temple'
  Whole football pitches for kids able to exist now between the ritual and the river.  Further down the river still, in the distance, can be seen some of the uglier industrial areas of kathmandu and they undoubtedly have their part to play in the suffering of the waters.  Nepal, one of the most water rich nations in the world, is still struggling to keep the Bagmati in healthy state its waters being siphoned off at unsustainable rates to fuel industry and the water requirements of a rapidly expanding urban populace.

Rows of stone alcoves which probably once contained carved statuary of the many avatars of Vishnu and other members of the large pantheon of Hindu/ Buddhist gods, or Shiva-linga stones, now are feeding troughs for scrawny homestead cattle.

Kumbeshwor temple, Patan.
  Well, the cows are sacred too I guess.  Some forms of crows or other more predatorial birds circle above the river's grey, tired flow.  Urban vultures, smelling the dying below, the carrion waters flow.  Crossing the metal pedestrian bridge across the Bagmati, this stretch of the southern bank is a literal refuse collection site.  Whether lifted directly from the river or not, low-caste Nepalese sift through piles of plastics, papers and metals.  A begrimed civic recycling scheme.  Hey, don't flinch at it.  There's a lot to be learnt in the so-called 'developed world' when it comes to respect and resourcefulness when it comes to not letting material goods go entirely to waste.  But, still the river groans, and maybe receives the excess, unusable detritus from this site too?  Offerings the river gods, presumably are not so happy to receive.
I loved this statue...sooo delicately poised between the fingers... a single grain of rice. Not sure what that symbolises?... maybe one of yous can educate me :)

Patan : Durbar Square and its surrounds

As stated, Patan, the old Nepalese capital and administrative centre retains a lot of its own identity.  This exetends to some extent to architectural form as well as civic laws and traditions.  For example, they have their own Kumari (Living Goddess) whose traditions and treatment again differ from those of her more restricted Kathmandu counterpart.  As in Kathmandu it's 200 NPR entry and a sticker upon your breast for right of access to the Old City area and Durbar Square.  The sticker making 'spot the tourist' an even easier game than usual.  This time of year, 'we' seem increasingly thin on the ground anyways.  Once at Patan Durbar Square this unfortunately means that attentions from woulbe guides and kids requesting sweets/ Ruppee or dollars are even more intense than usual.

Durbar Square, Patan.
  Annoying, but understandable.  You have to be polite and let most of this 'attention' slide, but I notice again that I am becoming much more snappy and peevish in such situations than I used to be.

Patan is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is indeed rich in very old (15th & 16th Century) temples, shrines, pagodas and stupas.  It's rare you'll find yourself on any street for long before spotting a temple entrance hunkered down amidst the shops and homes.  A roadside Shiva-linga or other devotional statue.  A square hidden in a residential area containing stupas, prayer wheels and bells.  It's qute a fine art, interpreting your map succesfully (and often unsuccessfully) whilst trying to keep an eye out for the particular entrance you're looking for.

Polluted Bagmati (detail)
  One of Patan's most famous, ornate and beautiful pagoda-temples, the Hiranya Varna Mahavihar or  'Golden Temple' is completely hidden and accessed onl through a dingy, darkened corridor or even less conspicuous back door.  You'd just as easily expect to find a money lender or cheap and questionable eatery at the end of it rather than a place of deep devotional power.  Many of Patan's temples have become overrun by the old-style urban jungle in this manner.

There is the Grand Palace spread along the south of Durbar Square.  The stone-carved Krishna Mandir pagoda and its brother structures by its side.  In the surrounding area; Kumbeshwor, one of only two freestanding 5 tiered pagoda temples in the Kathmandu Valley;  the Mahabouddha or 'Temple of 1,000 Buddhas', the only entirely terracota constructed temple in Nepal and the incongruous and fabulous statuary collection of the Rudra Barna Mahavihar temple.

The poor, tired old Bagmati river with waste.

Time to stroll back towards the river and across it now, and back towards the northern end of Greater Kathmandu for I'm weary and the day is growing long.  As I cross a different bridge, time for one last sobering glance into the dreary waters of the Bagmati.  The waters here a blackened, constant stream of animal (and presumably human) waste matter.  Plastic bags, bottles, metal cans and motorcycle helmets congregate upon the waters surface.  Maybe the rivers waters and soul will be reinvigorated by the rains that are yet to come, and maybe, just maybe by a growing sense of environmental awareness and responsibility within humankind which, like the rains, is also yet to arrive whilst being much needed.

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Shrouded god effigy by at Hanuman …
Shrouded god effigy by at Hanuman…
State of disrepair... this shrine …
State of disrepair... this shrine…
Wooden temple recessed by the Bagm…
Wooden temple recessed by the Bag…
Burning ghat crematorial platform,…
Burning ghat crematorial platform…
A sludgy split in the Bagmati conc…
A sludgy split in the Bagmati con…
The Hiranya Varna Mahavihar aka G…
The Hiranya Varna Mahavihar aka '…
Monkey & chains ( I know not what …
Monkey & chains ( I know not what…
Kumbeshwor temple, Patan.
Kumbeshwor temple, Patan.
I loved this statue...sooo delicat…
I loved this statue...sooo delica…
Durbar Square, Patan.
Durbar Square, Patan.
Polluted Bagmati (detail)
Polluted Bagmati (detail)
The poor, tired old Bagmati river …
The poor, tired old Bagmati river…
View of the Kathmandu Valley and c…
View of the Kathmandu Valley and …
Martyrs Gate, Kathmandu.
Martyrs Gate, Kathmandu.
Riverside shrines.
Riverside shrines.
Shrines & Shivas trident by the B…
Shrines & Shiva's trident by the …
Duckling farmer, by the Bagmati.
Duckling farmer, by the Bagmati.
Recycling centre dump by the Bag…
Recycling centre 'dump' by the Ba…
5 pointed Stupa, north of Patan.
5 pointed Stupa, north of Patan.
Old and the New.
Old and the New.
Golden Temple statuary.
'Golden Temple' statuary.
Grrrrrr!  Golden Temple , Pata…
"Grrrrrr!" 'Golden Temple' , Pat…
Golden Temple
'Golden Temple'
Kumbeshwor temple : one of only 2 …
Kumbeshwor temple : one of only 2…
Krishna Mandir, Durbar Square, Pat…
Krishna Mandir, Durbar Square, Pa…
The Mahaboudda temple of a thousa…
The Mahaboudda 'temple of a thous…
Temple of a Thousand Buddhas the…
'Temple of a Thousand Buddhas' th…
Procession through Patans streets.
Procession through Patan's streets.
A colourful palanquin is carried w…
A colourful palanquin is carried …
The Royal Palace, Durbar Sq. Patan
The Royal Palace, Durbar Sq. Patan
So cute!  sadly this balloon is …
"So cute!" sadly this balloon is…
Durbar Sq. Patan.  The old capital…
Durbar Sq. Patan. The old capita…
The dirty concourse of the holy …
The dirty concourse of the 'holy'…
Temple (detail)
Temple (detail)
Patan
photo by: Stevie_Wes