Lower City, Kathmandu
The area south of Bhimsen Temple to the Bagmati River is referred to as the "Lower City".Sights in the Lower City are further apart than in the city center, and there is not as yet an established tourist "trail". So walks here are relatively free from the attentions of professional beggars and souvenir sellers. Be warned that the Lower City is sometimes a far cry from Nepal's show-piece best. Many of its sights, still very much in use and part of the everyday scene, are nevertheless in bad repair.
Freak Street acquired its name in the late 1960s/early 1970s when Kathmandu became a Mecca for hippies and flower people attracted by the idyllic almost traffic-free city and seemingly unlimited supplies of hashish. Cannabis or ganja, Shiva's favorite herb which grows virtually wild here, is used by sadhus as part of normal religious practice. Older male villagers also enjoy a smoke when getting together for a game or a chat. In this congenial climate the influx of drug-seeking foreigners stimulated a thriving trade. Cannabis sellers on the streets and cannabis biscuits in the restaurants were not unusual. More and more hotels appeared. Freak Street became the tourist center of Kathmandu, until eventually overtaken by Thamel with its superior facilities.In 1973 King Birendra intervened to stem the tide by making the sale of cannabis illegal, and in 1976 its cultivation was banned. It can still be bought, especially in and around Freak Street and in Thamel, furtive whispers heralding offers of sale. But strictly enforced controls have largely halted the trade. Anyone acquiring or found in possession of the drug can usually expect a prison sentence. In exceptional circumstances they may get off with a very large fine.
Pachali Bhairava Shrine
On the banks of the Bagmati a massive pipal tree with cavernous roots casts shade over the open Pachali Bhairava Shrine. Pachali Bhairava is one Shiva's most powerful and fearsome aspects.Bhairava is said to have fallen in love with a girl of the khasai caste, turning himself into a handsome youth in order to win her hand. The smitten girl wanted to know who her lover was and whence he came. After much hesitation Bhairava prepared to reveal himself in his true colors, giving the girl grains of magic rice which she promised to throw over him to transform him back again. However when he appeared with his long mane and great fangs, she ran away in terror. He in turn hid in a cave beneath the pipal tree, sealing it with a rock, which some say is not a rock but a part of the god himself.The large rock featuring in the legend is now the principal symbol of the shrine, although worship usually focuses on a small gilded figure. In front of the temple is a bronze statue of Bhairava's bearer and companion Baital. Lying naked on his back, features contorted in an ugly grin, he accepts blood sacrifices on behalf of the god which are usually brought on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Pachali Bhairava - Festival
Pachali Bhairava is traditionally held to belong to the jyapu (farmers') caste, whose members join together with those of the khasai caste to celebrate the Pachali Bhairava Jatra held during Dasain. Various deities are carried in procession to Teku in Pachali Bhairava's honor. Because the god is easily angered the atmosphere at the shrine tends to become highly charged. Buffalo meat and blood are brought to placate him. There are almost always pilgrims and sadhus staying at the nearby dharamsalas (hospices), a sign that the temple is still very much alive. It is also well maintained, in marked contrast to the shivalayas in this part of the town.
The Tukan Bahal's small courtyard is a microcosm of Nepalese life: women do their housework in the open air, washing dries on lines, and children play. In the center stands a stupa with a pipal tree sprouting from the cube-shaped stone shaft (harmika) above the hemisphere, the tree roots slowly breaking up the masonry. The stupa, with shrines to the Dhyani Buddhas at the four cardinal points, is raised on a circular brick base, a common enough feature in Indian stupas but extremely rare in Nepal.Some superb reliefs survive on the base, one showing a pair of lions with a vajra, another two antelopes and the Wheel of Law, and a third a human couple worshipping a flower vase. A fourth, with an inscription probably dating from the 6th c., has been moved to the National Museum. The style of the reliefs still in situ suggests they are 7th or 8th c. The hemisphere of the stupa is almost certainly 14th c. Also in the courtyard are some votive stupas and a vajra (symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism).
There are more ghats beyond the suspension bridge linking Kathmandu with the Patan district to the east. A series of little shrines, some of them hidden in the courtyards of houses, terminate at the Teku Dhoban, a temple at the confluence of the Vishnumati and Bagmati. It was on this spot, made holy by the merging of the two rivers, that the goddess Mahalakshmi instructed King Gunakama Deva to found Kathmandu, saying that Kamesvara, an incarnation of Shiva whom Indra and other gods came daily to worship, had his abode there. Although today the sacred site on the Bagmati is more like a peaceful residential suburb, it continues to be the preferred place of cremation for both Buddhists and Hindus.Teku Dhoban is also a favorite spot during the Tij Brata Festival. Every year in August or the beginning of September large numbers of women gather here for the climax of the Festival, ending their fast with ritual ablutions to wash away their sins.
The Bhote Bahal is situated outside the boundary of the old Malla city, near the central prison, on land which had only recently been developed. It is traditional in style, its courtyard enclosed by two-storied buildings with a passageway through.A curious story surrounds the founding of the bahal, not so very long ago in the reign of Jung Bahadur. The Ranas acquired the site of an existing bahal, granting the displaced community a new home in return. But when the time came to move the religious symbol of the temple, it began to sweat, a clear sign of displeasure. No Newari would touch it in such circumstances and a Tibetan or Tamang lama was called in to help. Tamangs visiting the Valley today, perhaps to take part in a festival, always stay at the Bhote Bahal - hence its name (Bhote 5 Tibetan) and the reason for its location (outside the old city).
The courtyard of the Tindeval Mandir boasts a varied collection of sculptures ranging from Shiva with his trident to the Buddhist vajra. The temple itself is a shikhara with three towers, a rarity in Nepal. The base is decorated with terracotta reliefs incorporating various symbols, including nagas. On the Bagmati side of the temple, nearest the ghats, are a number of smaller shrines.The huge scale of the complex reflects its former importance and wealth. Around the steps leading down to the Bagmati cluster a vast assortment of sculptures of differing periods. A Brahmin residing with his family in the courtyard of the nearby pagoda happily provides information about the gods to anyone interested. Despite some excellent wood-carvings the tall pagoda is in wretched condition; one wing of the courtyard has already had to be demolished.
The Kalmochan or Satya Narayan Temple is unusual in showing the influence of Mogul architecture (the Moguls were a Muslim dynasty of Turko-Mongol origin who ruled in India from 1526 to 1857). It was begun in 1852 by the then Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and completed in 1873 by Jung Bahadur Rana. He came to power in the aftermath of a bloody massacre and is said to have buried the ashes of the murdered nobility in the foundations. The gilded griffins embellishing the four corners of the building are believed to have come from a temple to Vishnu which used to stand in Tundhikel. A statue of Surendra Bahadur Shah tops a column facing the temple, with an inscription listing his achievements. Access to the temple is from the Juddha Ghat.
Jasi Deval Ram Chandra Mandir
The Jaisi Deval, an enormous three-storied temple to Shiva built on an unusually tall stepped base, was founded by Lakshmi Narayan Joshi in 1695. As prime minister during the regency of the widowed Riddhi Lakshmi, whose son Bhupalendra was still a minor, it was Joshi who held the reins of power, a position he maintained by intrigue and assassination.Near the temple stands a stele with a Licchavi inscription. The Ko Hiti, an ancient sunken fountain on the west side of the square, is presumed to be a relic of an old village nucleus. South of the square a gateway leads through to the Ram Chandra Temple. Sixteen imaginatively carved erotic scenes on the roof struts provide a good example of this kind of art in Nepal.
Lagan Tole, where the Matsyendranath Mandir now stands, has been a religious site ever since the 8th c. Grouped around it are several bahals, in greater concentration than elsewhere. Lagankhel is thought to be the nucleus of one of Kathmandu's oldest settlements. During the annual Matsyendranath Jatra, the image of Shveta Matsyendranath is brought from the Jana Bahal and pulled thrice round the temple in a chariot. The god returns to the Jana Bahal in a litter, the chariot being dismantled and stored until the following year. Further north the walk ends at Freak Street.
East of the ghats on the banks of the Bagmati river a huge three-storied pagoda was constructed in 1818 by Queen Tripurasindari to commemorate Rana Bahadur Shah, murdered in 1806. A kneeling figure of the Queen can be seen on the column in front of the temple. The pagoda stands on a high stepped platform in the center of a rectangular court and is encircled by four shrines. A huge trident and statue of the bull Nandi announce the temple's dedication to Shiva. Along the Bagmati embankment runs the Juddha Ghat.
Adko Narayan Mandir
The modest exterior of the Adko Narayan Mandir reveals nothing of its great religious significance as one of the principal Narayan shrines in the Kathmandu Valley.
Nava Durga Mandir
Goats' tails hanging from the walls of the Nava Durga Mandir are relics of blood sacrifices made to the mother goddess.