When you are in Kathmandu, and looking for to experience the history of Nepal, here are top 5 places in Kathmandu, mostly for history lovers, that you must visit so as to widen your artistic horizons.
Okay, so Kathmandu, at present, is not the Shangri-La as it once was. Modern development (lots of concrete structures and mostly the noisy traffic) has been the bane for this once a pristine city that was known for its lovely scenic beauty, impressive traditional architecture, and round-the-year cool climate. Nevertheless, even if these are things of the past, the Kathmandu City still has its charms, two of them being its beautiful art and craft.
1. National Museum, Chauni, Kathmandu
2. Baber Mahal Revisited, Thapathali, Kathmandu
3. Patan Museum, Patan Durbar Square, Patan
4. Simrik Atelier, Patan Dhoka, Patan
5. Park Art Gallery, Pulchowk, Patan
Baber Mahal Revisited, Thapathali, Kathmandu
After the fall of the 100-year-old Rana regime in Nepal (1846-1951), King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah declared the nationalization of all the Rana divas’ of Nepal in 1966. The 250-roomed Baber Mahal in Thapathali of Kathmandu was once such Durbar. However, the owners were permitted to keep some parts of the sprawling Durbar, the cowsheds and the guard quarters, for themselves. A descendant of the family, Gautam SJB Rana, decided to make the most of this partial property. With help from Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, architects Eric Theophile and Dr. Rohit Ranjitkar, he managed to transform what had once been a decrepit cowshed into one of the finest shopping malls in Kathmandu, now well-known as Baber Mahal Revisited. The project began in 1995 and finished in 1997. The design was conceptualized around five courtyards around which are 22 shops and four restaurants. In addition, it also has one of the more reputed art galleries in the country, Siddhartha Art Gallery, that’s run by curator Sangita Thapa, and is much sought after by artists to hold their exhibitions. As a result, you’re likely to find one exhibition or the other organized most days of the year. It’s a fine place to view a mostly contemporary painting by Nepali artists.
National Museum, Chauni, Kathmandu
National Museum in Chauni, Kathmandu is established in 1938, and located opposite the army headquarters (army hospital) in Chauni, on the way to the famous Swyombhunath Stupa. The National Museum, at first sight, appears to be in a somewhat dilapidated state; it being located in an ancient-looking Durbar of bygone days. However, it is a treasure trove of traditional Nepalese art and craft. The museum is divided into, mainly, three blocks. The starting point is the stone, terracotta, and metal craft section that has numerous artifacts, including some of the earliest stone figures found in the country.
One such is the five-foot tall limestone statue of Ansu Verma, the first king of the Lichhavi Period (fourth to twelfth century). This, and a headless figure of a Matrika (mother goddess), discovered in the ancient settlement of Handigaun in Kathmandu, is said to be the most ancient stone figures found in the country. A subsection consists of terracotta and metal statues, the latter particularly fascinating, looking at them through an art connoisseur’s eye. The Newar artists and sculptors of The Kathmandu Valley have been renowned through the ages for their skill and creativity, and in addition to woodwork and stone craft, are equally adept in metal sculpting. You’ll see plenty of their amazing work in the museum.
Another section is dedicated to Buddhist art and artifacts. It’s a genuine fountain of knowledge for anyone looking for answers to some of the most complex aspects of Buddhist symbolism. For instance, you’ll find plenty of pau:bha paintings (traditional religion based paintings) here that are full of deep meaning. You’ll get an insight into things like the wheel of life and Buddha’s Teachings through the intricately detailed paintings. Similarly, you’ll get a better understanding of Mandalas of Nepal, and the purpose of different types of mandalas. The third section has many subsections displaying botanical and zoological specimens, historical artifacts, including a collection of rare coins and stamps of Nepal from the ancient times to this date, trophies, and weaponry used by the Brave Gurkhas in World Wars, etc. The corridors are lined with photographs of Kings of Nepal, Prime Ministers, and other historical personalities. Doubtless, the National Museum is worth a visit to know more about Nepal history, and its art and craft.
Patan Museum, Patan Durbar Square, Patan
Patan Museum established inside the famous Patan Durbar Square is, perhaps, the best place to go to if you want to know more about the various Buddhist deities of Nepal. A couple of hours visit inside the Patan Museum will turn you into an expert at identifying deity images simply by looking at their postures, from the posture they are seated, their hand gestures, the item(s) they are holding, and so on. Patan Museum is, especially, a very informative institution in this regard. But that’s not all. The location of the Patan Museum on the first and second floors of one of the royal palaces of the Malla Kings in Patan Durbar Square adds to its exoticism.
The Austrian-Nepali joint effort to preserve Patan Durbar Square was launched in 1982, and the museum was inaugurated in 1997. It was designed by famous Austrian architect Gotz Hagmuller, who has even written a comprehensive book (Patan Museum: The Transformation of a Royal Palace in Nepal) on its making. The museum has nine galleries, containing around 200 artifacts.
Simrik Atelier, PatanDhoka, Patan
Founded and run by Lok Raj Chitrakar, Simrik Atelier in Patan Dhoka (Patan Gate) is one of the leading exponents of pau:bha painting in the country. The artist’s most famous works are on permanent display in the Furukawa Museum of Asian Art in Tokyo. If you visit Simrik Atelier, you’ll get to know all about the art of pau:bha painting. How the canvas is strung, how the colors are made by crushing different kinds of stones, how the initial sketching is done, and so forth. You’ll probably see a couple of his students engrossed in painting in the fine details that are an inherent part of pau:bha painting.
Park Art Gallery, Pulchowk, Patan
Park Art Gallery was established in 1970 by pioneering watercolorist Rama Nanda Joshi (1933-1988). It was the first independent art institution to impart art education in Nepal. The original gallery was once located in Ratna Park in central Kathmandu and was a landmark in its own right. Later, it was shifted near to his home in Puklchowk in 1975. In 2006, his family decided to renovate and re-launch the gallery in his memory. The gallery has two departments. One is a room where the late Joshi’s watercolors are on permanent display, while the other department has on exhibit works by leading contemporary artists of the country. Exhibitions and workshops are a regular feature of the gallery that also specializes in making artistic frames. Interested appreciators may buy the work of artists in this very own institution, as well.