Nepal, Kathmandu Valley
3rd cent BC - 6th cent AD

GE Map of the Kathmandu Valley

History of the Kathmandu Valley
3rd cent BC - present

Four stupas around the city of Patan, said to have been erected by legendary Charumati, the daughter of Ashoka (3rd cent AD) attest to the ancient history of the valley. As with the tales of the Buddha's visit, there is no evidence supporting Ashoka's visit, but the stupas probably do date to that century. The Kirats are the first documented rulers of the Kathmandu Valley; the remains of their palace are said to be in Patan. The Licchavi Dynasty (400-750 AD) whose earliest inscriptions date back to 464 AD were the next rulers of the valley and had close ties with the Gupta Dynasty of India. The Malla Dynasty ruled Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding area from the 12th cent AD until the 1768 AD, when the Shah Dynasty under Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley as he created present-day Nepal.

To this very day the Valley is an anachronistic mixture of old-fashioned Buddhists and Hindus. All temples are in full use. Only in South India can one find comparably mystic tantric sanctuaries as here. "Red sacrifices", if not human sacrifices, abound and make the modern visitor shudder. The Valley's shrines are crowded with excellent sculpture, mostly bronze castings but also older stone carvings.
Kathmandu has two sister cities: Patan-Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, once separate pricipalities, with distinctly different ethnic character. Bakhtapur is inhabited by Newaris, who are the traditional builders far beyond the Valey's borders. Patan has many Buddhist shrines, and is the city of the artisans.
Most Westerners come to Nepal to climb the mountains. Even long-time western residents have never visited the ancient sanctuaries in walking distance of Kathmandu.
For the Vajrayana Buddhists the valley is a sacred
beyul, a sanctuary and refuge for all lost and despaired people.
Only some representative examples of temples are shown here. For greater details on the sanctuaries of the Valley download the GE-file Power Places of the Kathmandu Valley.kmz


Chabahil Vihara
3rd cent AD

The oldest stupa (Charumati Vihar) in Kathmandu Valley is at Chabahil
Photo and text from RWFG's website

The Bodhnath Stupa
4th cent AD

Bodhnath Stupa in the center of its mandala
Photo Panoramio

In the Kathmandu Valley the Buddha's eyes watch from the bumpa
Photo Rolf Gross

Kathmandu Swayambunath Stupa
4th cent AD

The earliest record of the Swayambunath Stupa dates it to the 5th-century. Archaeolo­gists believe that there was a shrine here as far back as 2,000 years ago.

The platform on top of the hill is crowded with temples, two monasteries, votive stupas, and priceless devotional metal sculptures in daily use. Photo Rolf Gross

Sankhu Vajrayogini Bahal
6th cent AD

The Sankhu Vajra Yogini Shrine is ancient, it dates at least from the 7th century AD maybe earlier. Huntington dates it to the 4th-3rd cent. BC(!). The entire site is referred to as Gum Bahal. A dark, mysterious place on a lovely wooded hillside. It has changed back and forth between Buddhists and Hindus several times. Presently the Buddhist Sankhu Newaris claim the free-standing upper pagoda, the Hindus a lower lying structure connected with Bhairava (Siva). Access for and photography by outsiders is limited. The Vajra Yogini pagoda houses some of the best Nepali sculptures anywhere.

Sankhu Vajra Yogini Shrine
Photo Panoramio

The main shrine.
Photo Panoramio

Bungamati, Buddhist Bungadaya Shrine
6th - 7th cent AD

Bungadaya in the Buddhist shrine at Bungamati is the most ancient (6th-7th cent AD) and most venerated form of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara in the Valley and the protector deity of Patan, an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. Half a year he resides in his neglected Shikara temple in the village of Bungamati, the other half in the Ta Bahal in Patan. To the Hindus he is Rato Masyendranath, the guru of Gorakhnath and the siddha patron of Patan.

The South-Indian priest of the Bungadaya Temple in the background,
Photo from

Twice every year the image of Rato Masyendranath is carried in procession between its two abodes. The image is from wood in the form of a 5-year old boy, his face painted on the body. For the procession he is dressed in red.

The ancient figure on his voyage
The photo was cropped from Kevin Bubriski and Keith Dowman, "Power Places of Kathmandu",

Vishnu-Narayan Sanctuaries
6th - 11th cent AD

Budhanilkanth Vishnu Sanctuary
6th cent AD

One of four Vishnu Narayan sanctuaries around Kathmandu where the god sleeps on the earth-snake in a water basin dreaming up the world. Vishnu Narayan was the protector of the Napalese Royal House.

Vishnu lying on the earth snale dreaming up the World
Photo by Kevin Bubriski and Keith Dowman, "Power Places of Kathmandu", 1995

another photo of tna Budhalnikanth Vishnu Naranyan

Changu Narayan
8th cent - 11th AD

Photo Panoramio

The gilded spire of the Vishnu Temple on a slope above the Bhaktapur plain can be seen for miles. If you visit no other sanctuary in the Valley, go here. Especially on a weekend when the locals visit the shrine.
This large temple escaped destruction by all invading armies. Its courtyard is a veritable museum of ancient stone sculpture. (11th cent)

Vishnu measuring the earth in three giant strides:

Vishnu as Nrsimhadev kills the demon Hiranyakasipu

The Trinity of Brahma and Vishnu dreaming up the earth on the snake.
Photos RWFG.

Shiva Sanctuaries
6th - 10th cent AD

4th cent AD

Pashupatinath is more sacred than Varanasi. It has always been one of the sacred burial grounds in the Himalayas. Here a pious Hindu from the Valley would like to die and be cremated on one of the many Ghats. The main temple, dedicated to Siva the Destroyer is inaccessible to non-Hindus. From a small belvedere across the river one can watch the proceedings without distrurbing anybody....

The sactuary from up-river of the Bagmati

A dying man has been brought by his relatives to a building right above the ghat. His daughter chases the flies away, her husband reads the scriptures.

An old man awaiting his death.
Photos RWFG's website

Kathmandu, Teku-Pachali Bairava Shrine
4th cent AD

Photo from Kevin Bubriski and Keith Dowman, "Power Places of Kathmandu", 1995
The ancient residence of the most dreadful Bairava (frightening form of Shiva) in Kathmandu.

Bhaktapur Akasha Bairava 4th cent AD

Photo Panoramio

This is the principle Tantric Shivaite shrine on the subcontinent. Also refered to as Nyatapola this 5-tiered pagoda is dedicated to Akasha Bairava, fierce Siva from the Sky. Here Bairava is represented only by his head - which his wife Mahakali cut off - his body fled to to Benares.

Shivaratri at Pashupatinath
The Night of Shiva

In March 1989 we returned to Pashupatinath before sunrise to watch the celebrations of Shiva Ratri, the Night of Shiva. For days the pilgrims, mostly Indians, had been migrating to Kathmandu by bus or on foot. A huge crowd clogged the access roads to the sanctuary. The Nepali police tried to keep order. We were not made welcome by the police, and as non-Hindus would not be allowed to enter the sanctuary proper. We tried to cut across the meadows below Pashupatinath where thousands had camped during that night.
Getting to the left bank was a daunting task — despite of numerous lime-pit-toilets the ground was covered with piles of human excrements a few feet apart.... Finally we crossed the river by way of the bridge to the airport...

...and reached the "visitors gallery" across from the sanctuary, where we found ourselves surrounded by young Nepalis as curious as we were.

When the sun rose in the hazy muck the great purification began. Everyone tried to secure a spot by the sacred water. The military had dammed the Bagmati and had created a lake below the ghats.

The great washing and bathing

The encampment of the Indian Saddhus.

Photos RWFG's website