“Kathmandu is a place with more temples than houses, more gods and goddesses than people and more festivals than the number of days in a year”- Sir Kirk Patrick, first-ever Britisher to visit Nepal.
Do you go to a dentist when you have a toothache? Yes, sounds normal for most people but people in Kathmandu have a deity for reducing toothache.
When you visit the Kathmandu Durbar Square next time, take a 500m walk towards Thamel (make sure you take the right alley as there are so many of them leading to Thamel), and you will come across “Wassya Dega”, the deity that helps to get rid of toothache. Most dentists in the town are located nearby to capitalize on the number of potential clients that visit the site every day!
This is one example but according to the Hindu religion, there are 330 million gods and goddesses. Maybe a superficial number but no wonder there are so many temples in Kathmandu with a different tale, dedicated to a different deity for a different purpose and a different architectural style.
I am not going to delve too much into the history of Kathmandu and Nepal here, but focus more on the religious aspects and more importantly the features from which the city derives its nickname, “the city of temples”. The reason Kathmandu has a lot of temples, especially the Medieval durbar squares of Kathmandu valley, is the religious devotion of the past rulers, from the Malla and Shah dynasty which ruled pre 1779 and post 1779 era, respectively.
The fact that each dynasty and the clans within had a deity who they worshipped as a protector and the same applied to locals in every locality. Donating to build and preserve temples has been the most common form of charity among Hindus and in return, the temples have trusts (Known as Guthi) who do the social work and reforms in return.
Then besides the Hindu temples, there are so many Buddhist monasteries that co-exist in the most religiously tolerant manner, unrivaled by any other city in the world. In addition, the small number of churches, Mosques, and Gurudwara is evidence of the religious harmony that Nepal has always had and continues to exist today.
I will not discuss all the temples but some of the most interesting temples you should be visiting while you are in Kathmandu. If you are taking a cultural tour of Nepal, then you will come across these during your visit to Kathmandu. On the other hand, if you are trekking to the Everest base camp, Annapurna base camp, or the Manaslu circuit, then you can visit these temples during your free time before or after the trek.
The erotic temples in all three-durbar square, Jagannath Temple of Basantapur Durbar Square, Char Narayan Temple of Patan Durbar Square, Shiva-Parvati Temple, and Pashupatinath Temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square are symbols of the openness on these topics in the past. These depictions reveal to us the awareness and fantasies of the people in the past. These carvings are often associated with Tantra (a sect in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, hard to explain in 1 article), as protection against lightning and many other different myths.
If you climb the Swayambhunath temple from the eastern side (Not the 365 steps) then as soon as you reach the top you see the Harati Temple on the left-hand side. A small pagoda-style temple is worshipped with the belief that the goddess there helps cure children suffering from diseases, especially chickenpox. Come back to Kathmandu Durbar square and visit the Taleju temple, Taleju is the patron deity of the Malla dynasty, and this particular 3 story temple opens only on the 9th day of the Dashain festival (Mid October, but dates can change every year as it follows the lunar calendar). A huge crowd of devotees gathers to have a glimpse of the goddess on this day.
The other temple lies in the outskirt, it is not significant because of the temple but the sheer size of the deity inside. The Budanilkantha temple lies at the gateway of the Shivpuri national park, famous for bird watching in Kathmandu, Nagi Gompa, and also for short hiking in Kathmandu. The temple has a huge 5 meters long idol of Lord Vishnu sleeping on a bed of a large snake while floating on the cosmic ocean that is believed to have existed before the creation of the universe.
The last interesting temple I am going to discuss is the temple of Kaali (not the other goddess Kali), located on the western side of the Pashupatinath Temple (Next to the cremation sites). This temple has a statue that people believe rises a few nano centimeters every year and when the statue will rise above the ground, it is the beginning of the apocalypse (the actual story is very complicated so for an understanding apocalypse is the closet word that crossed my mind).
There are some honorable mentions such as the Changunarayan Temple, situated about 25 Km from Kathmandu city at a hilltop, also one of the oldest temples with the oldest scripture dating back to the 5th century, the Surya Binayak temple where the first rays of the sun hit the statue of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. Other interesting temples in Kathmandu include the Bajrayogini Temple in Sankhu, interesting because of its equal stature among Hindus and Buddhists. Krishna Mandir, in Patan Durbar square and the Mahaboudha Temple of the Thousand Buddhas, is believed to have been originally built in 1585 and has tiny carvings of Lord Buddha all around the temple.
The Old cities of Khokana and Bungamati also have some of the most interesting temples and myths. The patron deity of Kathmandu city, Machindranath is also worth a visit.
If you are an enthusiast of culture and religion, these temples are worth taking a tour while in Kathmandu, while visiting the temple Never miss the unique lifestyle, delicacies, and rituals associated with these temples. Since there are more than 3000 temples in Kathmandu valley make sure you see some of these in your next visit to Kathmandu. Make sure you ask your Tour operator to include these must-visit sites in Kathmandu to make your stay not only memorable but very interesting.