Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake to Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

Here are a few of the images we paddled into on our twelve-day exploration of the Pikitigushi River system from Cliff Lake down to Windigo Bay in Lake Nipigon,  followed by our island-hopping route down to Echo Rock, and our paddle up the west shore of the Lake past Jackfish Island and into Wabinosh Bay and up the Wabinosh River to Waweig Lake. It was a route that had a bit of everything and lots of history to mull over.

The GPX file is in my Dropbox folder. Download it here – 2018 Nipigon Tracks. GPX

Mattive Outfitters Beaver at the dock

The weather was not the greatest and the wind made for extra work and worry – but looking at the pix, I think we were lucky to have made the journey!  More details and maps  – and images – to come in the following weeks.

de Havilland Beaver control panel

Cliff Lake – an aerial view from the north

Cliff Lake Campsite across from Dewdney’s Pictograph Site #264

a newly-constructed (since our last visit in 2013) bench on top of Pictograph Site #264

Dewdney’s site 119 – the moose image and smudges

passing by the Thunderbird at Site #262 at the south end of Cliff Lake

passing by the Thunderbird at Site #262 at the south end of Cliff Lake

pictographs at the south end of Cliff Lake (site #262)

See the two posts below if you want to know more about the Cliff Lake pictographs. Few people know that the lake has one of the Canadian Shield’s most significant collections of Anishinaabe rock paintings.

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake -Part One:  Selwyn Dewdney Takes Us on A Tour

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake – Part Two

abandoned cabin on Ratte Lake – our home for a night

The Bear Camp on the Pikitigushi – our tent is on the right

After the Bear Camp and our visit with the Boucher Bros., we would not see anyone for the next ten days as we paddled down the river and on Lake Nipigon.  We also did not see any moose or woodland caribou or black bears; we did come across some paw prints on the various beaches we landed on.  You will have to scroll down to the end of the post to see the one incredible display of nature we paddled into – a gathering of perhaps 150 pelicans at the bottom of a set of rapids.

deadfall on the lower Pikitigushi

lunch stop on the meandering Pikitigushi

We dealt with four major logjams on the lower Pikitigushi. None had a portage trail around them so we had to come up with solutions of our own!

“Houston, we have a problem!” – a logjam in need of a bypass

sandbar campsite on the lower Pikitigushi

checking out the last set of waterfalls on the Pikitigushi – above Mud River rail stop

Windigo Bay Lake Nipigon coming up – a cabin at the mouth of the Pikitigushi

Our tent spot on one of the Britannia Islands – 9 square meters of flat ground!

lunch stop on Billings Island

campsite on Geikie Island

Geikie Island campsite – another view

one of a hundred shots we took of the setting sun on Geikie

our campsite on the west side of Kelvin Island

approaching Echo Rock on a wet and cold – and windy – morning

getting close to Echo Rock Lake Nipigon

looking up to the top of Echo Rock

graffiti on Echo Rock

pelicans on Lake Nipigon

early morning on Wabinosh Lake

We spent some time on the shores of Wabinosh Lake looking for remains of a WWII German POW (Prisoner of War) camp.  It was apparently on the west side of the Wabinosh River as it comes in from Waweig Lake.  We would later learn that we were expecting to find something – the remains of an actual POW camp with barbed wire and everything else –  that never actually existed!

WWII POW Camps in the Armstrong Station Area – The Real Story!

the Wabinosh River above the Highway 527 culvert


The following posts cover the various sections of our canoe trip down the Pikitigushi and on Lake Nipigon:

From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon:  Logistics. Maps, and Day 1 – Cliff Lake

From Cliff Lake To Lake Nipigon:  Days 2 & 3 – From Cliff Lake to The Bear Camp

From  Cliff Lake  To Lake Nipigon:  Days 3, 4, &5 – From The Bear Camp To Windigo Bay

Island Hopping Lake Nipigon  By Canoe From Windigo Bay To Echo Rock

Canoeing From Lake Nipigon’s Echo Rock To Waweig Lake

Posted in Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, Wabakimi, wilderness canoe tripping | 2 Comments

Pashupatinath: Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple

Related Posts: The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Temples & Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

From the tourist ghetto in the Thamel district, four of the Kathmandu Valley’s major UNESCO World heritage sites are within easy access.  Back in 1996 Laila and I walked to all of them on our first visit to Kathmandu. Swayambhunath is 3 kilometers west, Patan about four kilometers south. On subsequent visits, I’ve gone by tuk-tuk or taxi, thanks to the air pollution which puts  Kathmandu among the ten worst cities in the world. Many locals wear air filter masks as they walk about.

Pashupatinath is a 4.5-kilometer ride from Thamel east towards the airport. As one of the Hindu world’s major pilgrimage sites, it is an eye-popping experience for first-time visitors to Nepal from Europe or North America who are unfamiliar with Hindu worship and ritual.  It can also be quite mystifying since the required context to understand what is going on is often missing.

[See the end of the post for some recommendations on what to read and watch before your visit.}

The site is made up of the main temple – the Pashupati Mandir – and a number of other shrines, temples, ghats, and sleep space for visiting pilgrims along the banks of the Bagmati River.  On the satellite image above, the red arrow shows the location of the main temple. The river here plays the same religious role that the Ganges River does in northern India, especially Varanasi.  As with the equally polluted Ganges,  believers still bathe in its karma-erasing waters.

The one lasting memory visitors will have is of the cremations taking place in public view on the banks of the river.  I took the photo below back in 1996; it shows mostly tourists sitting on one side of the river and watching a cremation ceremony on the other.  Noteworthy is the fact that no one is pointing their camera lens in that direction.  In 2018 more people, including locals, were using their smartphones to take snapshots of the goings-on.  A decade of always-available devices has led to a change in attitude towards the quick taking of images by foreign visitors and by Nepalis themselves.

Pashupatinath- tourists watching cremation ghats

Another memorable aspect of a Pashupatinath visit are the sadhus who frequent the site, seemingly posing for tourists in choice locations with all the appropriate props. The “sadhu” – a wandering ascetic who has renounced the things of this world –  in the image below looked like Krishna blowing into his flute as I took the photo. No sooner had I done so that he was approaching me for a “donation” for the image!

The steps which lead up to Gorakhnath on the east side of the river is one popular spot. Be ready to hand over 50 rupees! You have to wonder if this is just a day job for locals dressed as mendicants!

Pashupatinath sadhu

Most of the site is accessible to all, including non-Hindus.  Only the main temple complex and the stretch of the river below it is off-limits.  The temple itself was built in the mid-1600s by the ruler of Bhaktapur, Bhupatindra Malla.  He is the same king who commissioned the building of The Palace of the Fifty-Five Windows and the column with his statue on top which sits in front of the Golden Gate on Durbar Square.

There is evidence of earlier temple structures standing on the same sport going back to about 400 C.E. (that is, about 1600 years ago).  After that, myth takes over and sometimes there is more than one story to explain the same thing in a totally different way!  It does not seem to rattle the devout pilgrims.  As the early Christian philosopher Augustine put it – “I believe in order that I may understand.”

The image below is of the core of the site.  It shows a walled off area with a square Pashupati Mandirstructure on the east side of an open space. The red dot in the image indicates where I took the photo below.  Walk past the “Entrance for the Hindus only” sign to the other side of the gat and you are inside the complex and looking at a large statue of Nandi, Shiva’s bull. Then come the temple and the steps leading down to the river and the cremation ghats. I have not found any video footage or photos taken inside the main temple area. It may be that cameras are not allowed.

pashupatinath Nandi figure

West entrance to Pashupatinath Mandir – Nandi bronze statue visible – see here for the source of the image taken by Peter Akkermansin May 2007

And what is inside the temple itself that warrants such exclusive access?  One story vaguely recalled is that there is a one-meter tall Shiva lingam inside engraved with a face on each of its four sides and with a fifth “invisible” face on the top.  The stone lingam is Shiva’s penis and supposedly fell to this spot from the home of the gods up there in the sky.  I’m not sure what prompted it to fall off or what it says about the composition of the rest of his body.

Pashupatinath – “entrance for the Hindus only”

The name of the temple comes from two source words – pashu (“animals”) and pati (lord or master). So – the Master of the Animals.  Locals pronounce it as pash patti, omitting the “u” sound.  Here is one of a dozen different accounts of how the site came to be –

At the present place where the temple of Pashupati rests, there used to be a mound. A cow frequented this mound and offered her milk there. A cowherd noticed this strange occurrence and out of curiosity, dug at this spot. As he began digging a great light poured out. The light had come out from a linga with faces of Shiva carved on four sides. The people built a shrine to shelter this linga. This shrine came to be known as Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva in his incarnation as Pashupatinath, the protector of animals. [online source here]

The next few images were all taken from the east bank of the Bagmati looking over to the Pashupatinath Mandir and surrounding buildings. The copper base but gold-covered roofs of the temple set the scene, as does the cremation area – Arya Ghat – at the bottom of the steps leading from the elevated temple area.

The first image I took in 2006; the beige/yellow walls have received a white paint job more recently!

a view of the main Pashupatinath temple from the Bagmati Khola east bank

The middle of the three shrines at the bottom of the temple steps above Arya Ghat seems to garner the most attention from Hindu visitors.  I am not sure what is inside.  I have not been able to confirm my hunch that a stone Shiva figure – named Virupaksha –  is inside. It is an ancient sculpture said to have Mongoloid features which apparently predates the arrival of the Shiva cult some 1500 years ago.

the Shrine at the bottom of the steps from Pashupati Mandir

On the steps of the ghat, onlookers watched a woman perform prescribed death rituals for the deceased – her husband or father? – wrapped up in the golden cloth and stretched out on the board sloping down to the river.  In the Hindu world, it is the eldest male who plays the main role in the cremation rites of the deceased.

At the top of the board is a Shiva lingam that is the focus of her devotion.  At the bottom of the board, some white cloth covers the feet of the corpse. Dipping the feet three times into the waters of the sacred river, a tributary of the Ganges River,  is another essential element in the ritual.

onlookers at the Arya Ghat watch a woman perform cremation rituals

See the end of this post for a link to an informative YouTube video which explains the cremation ritual as it is practised at Pashupatinath.

Pashupatinath Temple -Arya Ghat

The Bagmati is not a river fed by glacial streams so in April when I was there this year its level was quite low.  Thanks to the monsoon season (June to August), the water level rises considerably and the river appears to be cleaner during the autumn. I was surprised to see garbage floating down a river held to be sacred. The litter along its banks and in the forested slopes on the east side were also depressing to see.

a view from the north of the two footbridges over the Bagmati at Pashupatinath

There are to footbridges that take you from one side of the river to the other. We had come into the site from an entrance at the southeast corner after our guide parked his vehicle nearby.

Next to the southernmost bridge on the temple side of the river is a minor temple,  the Vatsala Mandir.  It s central object is  a stone bowl representing a female version of Shiva; it  attracts many devotees and petitioners.

the Vatsala Mandir and the spire of the Pashupati Mandir to the right

Vatsala mandir - strutwork on the lower roof

Vatsala Mandir – strutwork on the lower roof

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins - work in progress May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins –

On the wall of the Vatsala Mandir, a dancing corpse looks down at the pilgrims and tourists with his erection. Dead but still very much alive!

On Durbar Square in Bhaktapur is another temple dedicated to Vatsala; it was one of those which was completely destroyed in the 2015 Earthquakes.


dancing male corspe figure on the wall of the Vatsala Mandir

dancing male corspe figure on the upper wall of the Vatsala Mandir

tourists and believers at the Vatsala mandir in Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath – tilak being applied to a young boy

mother and daughter pose for a photo by the Vatsala Mandir in Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath – October 2006 view of the Vatsala Mandir from the other side of the river

Directly across the river from the Pashupati Temple is the row of identical shrines you see in the image below. There are eleven in all and inside each is a stubby cylinder.  It represents Shiva’s penis and is the focal point of worship. The stone vessel in the Vatsala Temple probably represents the yoni, the female equivalent of the lingam.

the Bagmati River at the core of the Pashupatinath site – temple on the left and chaityas on the right

looking through the row of Chaityas with Shiva linga at Pashupatinath – east bank of the Bagmati

Pashupatinath – the row of Shiva lingam October 2006

Back on the temple side and to the north, the rocky rise above the Surya Ghat is called Kailash Hill. Above the river bank are caves where sadhus stay during their time at Pashupatinath.  The ultimate time to visit the site  both for devout Hindus – sadhus or not – and  photographers keen on capturing an incredible expression of world culture would be during Maha Shivaratri.  (In 2018 it was in February.)  Check out YouTube for some fascinating footage. About a million people show up!

Surya Ghat at North end of Pashupatinath site

a view from the north end of the Pashupatinath site

Pashupatinath Temple Complex from the north side

Pashupatinath Temple monkeys

Pashupatinath – view of the chaityas from the Temple side of the river

Pashupatinath – Bagmati River and Arya Ghat view from the east side

Pashupatinath – a view from the steps leading to Gorakhnath Mandir

There is much more to see at the site and the one hour that I spent there was just not enough.  See below for the explanation – and my suggestion on how to do the site justice.

Useful Links:











A guidebook – even if you are Hindu but especially if you are not – is essential to provide some context and explanation to what it is you are looking at.   My digital copies of Lonely Planet Nepal and The Rough Guide To Nepal were on my iPad and I would consult them before setting off for my visit.  They both include brief sections on Pashupatinath and useful maps of the site to help you plan your trajectory.

I had one other source on my iPad and it proved to be the best of all – the 2017 pdf copy of David Ways’ Kathmandu Valley Guidebook.

I turned to the book often during my week visiting the various sites around the Kathmandu Valley and benefitted from the research he has done but was also directed to interesting places and features that I would otherwise have missed.

Unfortunately, my visit to Pashupatinath was with a guide and a small group.  Our visit lasted about an hour and I did not get a chance to explore the site the way I wanted to. I should have stayed behind when they moved on to Boudhnath or gone back on my own a few days later and spent the three or four hours there that Pashupatinath deserves.

My advice to you, especially if you are into photography – take a taxi to the site and visit it on your own, preferably in the late afternoon and towards dusk and ramble around looking for neat perspectives and angles to shoot from and stopping every once in a while to read your guidebook and figure out where you are.

Pashupatinath Cremation Ritual on YouTube:

Click on the image below to access a YouTube video explaining the basics of a Hindu Cremation ritual at Pashupatinath:

My Other Kathmandu Valley Posts:

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

Pashupatinath: Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple 

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

Posted in Cultural Focus, Easy Travelling, Nepal | Leave a comment

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan May 2018: Part 2 – The Golden Temple and Vicinity

Previous Post:  The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square

After a brief coffee break at the north end of Durbar Square, I headed north to visit a couple of worship sites – one Buddhist and the other Hindu – that make clear that traditional religious practices still matter to the inhabitants of the town and those pilgrims who come from away to make offerings and petitions.

Patan – N of Durbar Square

Hiranyavarna Mahavihara (“The Golden Temple”)

The so-called Golden Temple was the first stop on my brief side trip from Durbar Square.  Its official name is Hiranyavarna Mahavihara and its Sanskrit roots mean this –

  • Hiranya – golden
  • varna – colour
  • Maha – great
  • vihara – monastery.

The complex, dating back to about 1400,  functions as a Newar Buddhist monastery, though it only hosts daytime visitors since there are no longer any resident monks staying there.  I am not sure if that also applies to the on-duty pre-pubescent priest (if that is his actual title) whom I saw while I was there.

Patan – entrance of the Golden Temple

The street facade of the monastery features guardian figures and a nicely done stone entrance. When you step inside and past the two elephants with riders on the other side your view is captured by the image below.  A Thunderbolt (dorje) sits in front of a small shrine which fills the middle of the courtyard. It brings to mind the dorje at the top of the steps in front of the Swayambhu stupa. Behind the courtyard shrine is the main temple, whose top two of the three roofs are visible.

Patan’s Golden Temple – courtyard shrine

prayer card delivery system at the Sule Paya

Also visible in the image above and the next two below are metallic streamers.  Known as pataka, they are apparently there for the convenience of the gods so that they can descend easily in response to the petitions of the pilgrims who have come! At the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, I have seen something similar. There I saw a wooden boat on a pulley system into which believers put their petition cards.  The boat is then pulled up into the sky so that the gods can more easily access the petitions!  Such is the enduring appeal of belief in the gods!  We are a long way from the historical Buddha’s advice:

33. “Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge. ( Digha Nikaya, Sutta 16. Mahaparinibbana Sutta. see here for the source of the quote)

another view of the courtyard of the Golden Temple complex in Patan.

On the perimeter of the courtyard is one eye-catching shrine after another, each with evidence of being active and visited.  This monastery courtyard with its many exquisite metal sculptures and mini-shines is a living museum and may be the most atmospheric religious shrine I have visited in Nepal.  In making my rounds,  I also realized that I have little chance of understanding the complexities of the living Newar Buddhist tradition.  Who are all these gods and why do they command such reverence?


shrine on the perimeter wall of Patan’s Golden Temple

the prayer wheels on the courtyard perimeter Golden Temple Patan

Patan Golden Temple guardians at the corners

fierce dragon head at Patan’s Golden Temple

the Great Bell in the Golden Temple courtyard – Patan

Patan Golden Temple – Vishnu figure?

Patan Golden Temple shrine figure

Behind the small courtyard shrine – to the right of the Taleju Bell pictured above – is the central shrine built into the ground floor of the three-roofed pagoda.  I need to go back one more time to get a decent shot of the entire temple!  What you see below behind the metal fence are the base of the temple and the shrine in a space framed by more amazing stonework, the torana above the doorway lintel especially so.

dorje with Sri Sakya Muni Shrine behind closed gate

devotees arranging offerings at one of the main Golden Temple shrines in Patan

The heavily draped figure is apparently of the historical Buddha in the “Touching The Earth Pose”.  Given the name of the complex – Hiranyavarna Mahavihara –  I wondered if the Hiranya (golden) Varna (colour) refers to the Buddha statue’s skin colour. Varna is also the term used to describe Hinduism’s four hereditary social classes and would seem to have originally been based on skin colour.  The darker-skinned Dravidian inhabitants got the bottom slot and the conquering Aryan invaders,  the top three.

Patan. Golden Temple. Sri Sakya Muni statue close up

While I was there I got a quick look at that month’s temple priest (if that is his title). Like another religious role in the Kathmandu Valley – that of Kumari – he is a prepubescent youth.  Unlike the Kumari who keeps her position for five or six years, the boy here serves for a thirty-day period and then is replaced by another under-twelve-years-old boy.

Patan Golden Temple boy priest at the Sakya Muni shrine

I could have spent another two hours at the Golden Temple. I could also have wandered into the rooms of the courtyard and even checked out the second floor but I decided to leave the locals gathered there undisturbed by yet another nosy tourist with his camera.

I stepped back out onto the street and headed a bit further north to the Kumbeshwar Temple and the Baglamukhi Temple to its side.  I was moving from Buddhist complex with its Newar spin to a Hindu temple complex with a Newar spin! The five-storey main temple is dedicated to Shiva; the smaller but very popular Baglamukhi Mandir to the goddess of that name.  She is, I think, a manifestation of the goddess Durga. I happened to be there on a Thursday, a day supposedly special to the goddess.    Also part of the complex are two hiti, water tanks with water believed to come from Gosain Kunda, some forty kilometers away and a major attraction to pilgrims.

Walking up to the Hindu temples there was yet more evidence of the damage caused by the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015. It will take a generation for the people of the valley to recuperate from them.

residential buildings north of Patan’s Golden Temple

flower vendor in front of the Baglamukhi Temple

Along with the Nyatapola Mandir in Taumadhi Tol in Bhaktapur, the Kumbheshwar Temple is a five-storey structure. In May of 2018, it still had scaffolding around it as workers repair the damage from 2015. The lineup to the left of the Mandir snakes all the way to the Baglamukhi Temple. (Both Google Map and Apple Map spell it Banglamukhi; another less common spelling is Bagalamukhi!)

a line up to the shrine at Baglamukhi Mandir

the front of Baglamukhi Temple in Patan – a full moon puja in progress

Baglamukhi Temple – full moon puja

tree shrine at the east side of the Banglamukti Temple compound

I eventually exited the temple complex on the other side and headed back to Durbar Square. Along the way, I passed yet more temples and residential buildings with evidence of earthquake damage.

temple in Lalitpur (Patan) north of Durbar Square – May 2018

metal sculpture inside streetside shrine Patan May 2018

Patan temple north of Durbar Square May 2018

Garuda figure under a parasol in front of Patan Temple – May 2018

As you get closer to Durbar Square, the tourist shops – all seemingly selling the same stuff –   start appearing.  The north end of the square has a number of restaurants.  It is also where you access the Patan Museum.  My look at Durbar Square can be accessed here –

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square

Having just landed in Kathmandu the evening before, after a twenty-hour flight from Toronto, I was flagging!  I would find a rooftop café for yet another cup of coffee before making a quick visit to the museum and then returning to my Lazimpat room at the Hotel Tibet, a very comfortable place to stay while I waited for my Upper Mustang trek to begin.

Other Posts On The UNESCO Heritage Sites Of The Kathmandu Valley:

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square


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Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda At Night

Previous Post: Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda – The Golden Heart of Myanmar

During my one week’s stay in Yangon, I visited the Shwedagon three times, once in the late morning and twice in the late afternoon.  While there is no bad time to visit, clearly certain days and certain times will be busier and more atmospheric than others.

Something magical happens as dusk approaches.  I say that even though My visit coincided with the once every five years regilding the main stupa.  As you can see in the image below,  the central stupa was covered with bamboo matting!  In spite of that,  the combination of the fading light and the increasing numbers of people – monks, nuns, locals, visitors from afar –  upped the wow factor and created an experience I will not soon forget!

My previous post (see the link above) has more explanatory text and maps.  Here I’ll let the images of the two late afternoons into evenings that I spent there do the talking!

shwedagon at dusk

Shwedagon – bamboo matting and all – as dusk approaches

the NE corner of the Shwedagon terrace as dusk approaches

monk at Shwedagon under a Buddha statue

monk at Shwedagon under a Buddha statue

Shwedagon Buddha statues

Shwedagon Buddha statues

Buddhist women’s group walking around the Shwedagon

Shwedagon and child hlding Buddha image shrine on the right

one of the eight days of the week stations at the Shwedagon

one of the eight birthdays of the week stations at the Shwedagon

Yangon families sitting on the Shwedagon terrace at dusk

traffic on the Shwedagon terrace at dusk

monks lighting candles around the Shwedagon

Shwedagon terrace and Naungdawgyi Pagoda

Shwedagon in the later evening


My Other Myanmar Posts:

“Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas

Sule Paya – Yangon’s Downtown Heart

Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda – The Golden Heart of Myanmar

Ballooning Over The Plains Of Myanmar’s Bagan

The Uninspiring Buddhas Of Myanmar’s Bagan

A Morning Stroll Through Mandalay’s Zay Cho Market Area

Pindaya’s Shwe-oo-min Pagoda & The Cave of the Ten Thousand Buddhas

Myanmar’s Inle Lake – Things To See and Do – Day One

Myanmar’s Inle Lake – Things To See and Do – Day Two

A One-Day Tour of Bago, Myanmar – Checklist of Must-See Sites

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda – Myanmar’s Tallest Stupa

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the Rebuilt Kanbawzathadi Palace

An Afternoon In Bago – Visiting the Reclining Buddhas

An Afternoon In Bago – the Mahazedi, the Shwegugale Paya, and More

Posted in Buddhism, Easy Travelling, Myanmar | Leave a comment

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square

Related PostThe Temples of Lalitpur (Patan) Before & After The Quakes

Patan’s Durbar Square suffered significant damage in the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquakes. The post linked above shows what it looked like before and immediately after the earth stopped shaking.

My perfect Newar Buddha from Patan! – Vajrasattva seated on a lotus with vajra and bell

In April 2018 I paid a return visit to the town. The last time (November 2006) I had spent half my time there looking – obsessing? –  for that perfect Buddha statue!  This time I just focussed on documenting the state of the square and the nearby streets and temples to the north.

Durbar Square:

Patan’s Durbar Square is a compact and small space compared to Kathmandu’s sprawling version, even if it has the same 1000 NPR entrance fee.   It is certainly much easier to manage! On the west side are a half-dozen temples; the Royal Palace complex faces the temples on the square’s east side.  The image below – an aerial shot taken from the south –  shows what it looked like before the 2015 quakes.

Patan’s Durbar Square Before the 2015 Quakes – see here for the source of the image from the Nepali Times and more interactive information

And just below is a shot I took in 2006 from a rooftop café on the south end of the square. It no longer looks quite like this.  A couple of temples have collapsed completely and others have suffered significant structural damage.

One temple which survived without damage was the Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval). It will be where most tourists begin their Durbar Square visit.  Since 2006, the Patan tourism officials have put the ticket booth in front of it.

Patan - Durbar square

From the ground level perspective of the shot below, all looks the same in 2018. I took a few shots of the octogonal-shaped temple (mandir) dedicated to Krishna and slowly made my way to the other end. As for the Krishna Mandir, it was built in the 1630’s thanks to the king’s belief that he had seen the god and his consort Radha standing at that very spot one evening. Given its location, these days it is a popular spot for tourists and locals to sit and watch Patan walk by.

looking down Patan's Durbar Square from the south end - May 2018

looking down Patan’s Durbar Square from the south end – May 2018

Patan Durbar Square - south end - Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval)

Patan Durbar Square – south end – Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval)

Just across from the Krishna Temple along the Royal Palace exterior wall are a series of stone statues, with ones depicting the monkey-god Hanuman and Ganesha among them. (At least, I think that is Ganesha draped in the red covering!)

stone statues at south end of Patan's Durbar Square

stone statues at the south end of Patan’s Durbar Square

Ganesha stone statue Patan Durbar Square

Ganesha stone statue Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square stone sculpture

Patan Durbar Square stone sculpture

As I walked further down the square from the Krishna Temple, the reality of 2018 became more evident.  It basically has the look of a construction site!  Two temples collapsed completely –

  • Hari Shankar Mandir – a three storey temple originally built in 1706
  • Jagan Narayan Mandir – the oldest of the square’s temples dating to 1566

Even the ones that remained standing are surrounded by scaffolding and fences.

Durbar Square Patan May 2018 - scaffolding everywhere!

Durbar Square Patan May 2018 – scaffolding everywhere!

looking to the south end of Patan's Durbar Square

looking back to the south end of Patan’s Durbar Square

The Harishankara Temple Rebuild on Durbar Square Patan May 2018

The Hari Shankar Temple Rebuild on Durbar Square Patan May 2018

The Yoganarendra Malla column with the statue on top, which collapsed in 2015, has been put back up and work is proceeding on the Hari Shankar Mandir.

Patan May 2018 - Yognarendra Malla Statue and Stone Pillar restoration

Patan May 2018 – Yoganarendra Malla Statue and Stone Pillar restoration

The architectural jewel of the square – and a living temple for the Newari Hindu community – is the Krishna Temple at the north end of the square. In the images above and below it is the temple with the scaffolding going up to the top.

looking down to the north end of Patan's Durbar Square - may 2018

looking down to the north end of Patan’s Durbar Square – may 2018

Every once in a while I looked up to the top of the temple in amazement as workers scampered about without harnesses and rope on the metal pipe rigging (an upgrade from the traditional bamboo) in their flip-flops!

workers on the top of the Krishna Temple – Patan Durbar Square April 2018

On the Royal Palace side of the Square, photogenic doorways, statues, paintings, and strut work had me framing image after image as I walked north towards the Bhimsen Mandir.

an entrance on the Royal Palace side of Patan’s Durbar Square

Bhairab painting on Patan Durbar Square wall - May 2018

Bhairab painting on Patan Durbar Square wall – May 2018

Patan Durbar Square May 2018 roof strut wooden sculpture of Taleju

Patan Durbar Square May 2018 roof strut wooden sculpture of Taleju

The Bhimsen Mandir marks the north end of the square. At its entrance two stone lions keep guard. Non-Hindus are not allowed entry!

Patan Durbar Square North end Bhimsen Temple entrance with lion guards

the Torana above the entrance to the Bhimsen Temple on Durbar Square Patan

Just across from the Bhimsen Temple is a rooftop café from which I got the following shot of the square.  Visible from left to right are the Royal Palace’s Taleju Temple, the top of the scaffolded Krishna Temple,  the Vishwanath Temple, and the Bhimsen Temple on the right.  In the foreground, the brick-lined sunken water tank is the Manga Hiti. The two wooden pavilions between the water tank and the square – the Mani Mandap – collapsed in 2015 and were being rebuilt in early 2018.

looking southwest over Patan’s Durbar Square from a rooftop café

A look back at the restaurant on the fifth floor of the building you see in the image below and then it was on to the Royal Palace.

I did spend about an hour in the Patan Museum with its impressive collection of Buddhist-inspired cast bronze statuary.  The museum opened in the late 1990’s after a renovation of the northern section of the palace with Austrian aid.   A later post may focus on what I saw and why it is a worthwhile use of your time unlike, for example, a visit to Kathmandu’s disappointing National Museum

Patan Durbar Square northeast corner

Inside The Royal Palace:

Of the various sections of the Royal Palace, the two I focussed on were Mul Chowk and Sundari Chowk.  They are located at the south end of the Royal Palace and was where the royal family lived until the dynasty came to an end with the arrival of the Gorkha army in 1769.  That year would also be the end of Patan as the capital of a small independent kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley.

Mul Chowk

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard – door and flanking statues

Flanking the elaborate doorway are statues of two Hindu goddesses, with Jamuna on the left and Ganga on the right.

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard door

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard – lock on the door

Patan Royal Palace courtyard statue

Patan courtyard statue close up

Sundari Chowk

In Sundari Chowk,  there is more elaborate stone and woodwork. The Tusha Hiti a sunken fountain dating back to the time of King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in 1647.

an elaborate torana – Royal Palace Patan

Patan Royal Palace water spout

Patan Royal Palace water spout close-up

Bhandarkhal Garden

Behind Sundari Chowk is Bhandarkhal Garden with the pool of water you see below.  In the background, the tops of two of the Royal Palace’s temples – the Degu Talle and the Taleju Mandir – can be seen.

Patan Royal Palace pond

Parts of the Palace complex were roped off in early 2018 while work continued in its restoration.  I took a brief coffee break before continuing with my Patan tour.  I was headed north of the square to a Buddhist monastery/temple complex known as the Golden Temple; I also wanted to visit the Hindu  Banglamukti Temple.

Next Post: Patan April 2018: Part 2 – The Golden Temple and Vicinity

Related Posts: 

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

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Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 2: Taumadhi Sq., Potters’ Sq., and Tachapal

Previous Post:  Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

The return visit to Bhaktapur continues!  While Durbar Square is undoubtedly the one site that all visitors will see, there is more!  Just around the corner from the square is Taumadhi, the real heart of the town and the place where locals meet and hang out. And not far away is Potters’ Square – that is, a newer version which no longer includes pottery manufacture thanks to twenty years plus of cheap imported Chinese plastic bowls!

Taumadhi Tol

The key mandirs on Taumadhi Square dominate the view below – Nyatapola on the left and Bhairab on the right. The two-storey building in the foreground is a recent construction; it houses a restaurant. I took advantage of a second-floor table to get some shots from a different perspective as I had lunch, though the shot below was taken from the fourth floor Garuda Bar on the southwest corner of the square.

The 30-meter high and five-storey Nyatapola Mandir was built around the year 1700 C.E. (i.e., 300 years ago) and has remained standing through the various earthquakes which have rattled the Kathmandu valley.

Bhaktapur Nyatapola view from the rooftop restaurant

view of the east side of the five-storey Nyatapola in Bhaktapur

Across from Nyatapola Mandir is the Bhairab Mandir, a three-storey temple with a shrine at the front that always seems to have devotees.  A smaller temple on the side collapsed during the earthquake. On the other side of the square, a commercial block also suffered significant damage but is still standing.

a view of the Bhairabnath Temple from the top of the Nyatapola steps

At the northeast corner of the square sit the wheels of the cart used during the annual Bisket Festival to carry the box containing the head of Bhairab! See the internet-sourced image below for a look at the cart in action!

wheels of the Bisket Festival cart in Taumadhi Tol

wheels of the Bisket Festival cart in Taumadhi Tol

Bisket Festival - cart in Taumadhi Tol

internet-sourced image of the Bisket Festival with the cart in Taumadhi Tol – see this Himalaya Times article for the source

Taumadhi Tol – steps of the Nyatapola and Bhairab Mandir to the right

Newari matrons at the Bhairab Mandir shrine on Taumadhi Tol

I saw the red-draped matrons in the image above in front of the Bhairab Mandir shrine. Then I looked across the square to a group of young women in their late teens.  Given that 40% of Nepalis are under 25, I wondered where traditional Nepali culture was headed as it collides with a more enticing set of images and narrative.

Taumadhi Square – younger Newaris with a modern focus

Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Tol Bhairab Mandir – the central exterior shrine

the central image of the Bhairab shrine – Taumadhi Tol

looking down the steps of the Nyatapola in Taumadhi Tol Bhaktapur

From the top of the Nyatapola Mandir, I got a backside view of the lions, elephants, and the wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu at the bottom of the steps – missing are the two griffins and the two goddesses Singhini and Byaghrini which are behind me.

Torana above one of the Nyatapola’s doors

Nyatapola Torana detail – central image of Taleju

Nyatapola sculpture on temple exterior

mask on the wall of the Garuda Bar overlooking Taumadhi Square in Bhaktapur

vegetable market on the edge of Taumadhi Square Bhaktapur

a view of Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Square from the east

Bhairab Mandir in Taumadhi Square May 2018 evening shot

the northeast corner of Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Tol at dusk – on my way home to Tachapal

Potters’ Square:

A short walk down the narrow street in the image below – past the restaurants and the guesthouses – and I am in Potters’ Square.  it looks very different in 2018 than it did on my first visit in 1996.  Gone are the finished clay pots that covered a part of the square; gone are the pottery makers.  The local industry is on its last legs thanks to cheaper modern alternatives – i.e., plastic ware from China.

the street from Taumadhi Tol to Potters' Square

the street from Taumadhi Tol to Potters’ Square

The square looked like a construction zone in May of 2018 with piles of gravel and bricks here and there.

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 – it is a mess!

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018 shrine

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 shrine

detail from the torana of a Potters Square shrine

thangka shop - young women painting

thangka shop – young women putting paint to the mandala outlines

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018 puppets hanging around

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 puppets hanging around

Potters Square - Bhaktapur May 2018 wall shrine

Potters Square – Bhaktapur May 2018 wall shrine

Potters; Square - Bhaktapur May 2018

Potters’ Square – Bhaktapur May 2018 – piles of gravel and a couple of dozen clay jars

shrine Potters Square - Bhaktapur May 2018

shrine Potters Square – Bhaktapur May 2018

a collapsed corner of Potters Square in Bhaktapur

Tachapal Tol (Dattatreya Square)

At the end of my visit – I had just completed a three-week trek from Upper Mustang down the Phu Valley – instead of spending my last two days in Kathmandu, I stayed in Bhaktapur.  It was a good choice;  I got the quiet of the town instead of the traffic and pollution of the capital.  The place I stayed at was the Peacock Guesthouse on Tachapal Tol, an area of the town I had not visited before.

Tachapal predates the other squares in the city and goes back to the 1300’s; the building with the Peacock Guesthouse in it is of the same age – an example of classical Newari construction.

At the top of the square is the main attraction –  the Dattatreya Mandir. Dattatreya built in the 1420s when Bhaktapur was still the capital of a kingdom ruled by Yaksha Malla, who controlled the entire valley.

Bhaktapur Tachapal Dattatreya Mandir

Bhaktapur Tachapal Dattatreya Mandir

In front of it is a pillar with a winged Garuda figure on top.   The Garuda faces the two human figures – the very same wrestlers I saw at the Nyatapola in Taumadhi Tol.

dusk on Tachapal Square Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Dattatreya Square May 2018 dusk

At the opposite end of the square from the Dattatreya Mandir is a two-storey temple which I somehow managed not to get a shot of!  A block of buildings from the 1300’s and 1400’s included my Peacock Guesthouse, as well as the restaurants whose signs you can see in the image below.


Bhaktapur Tachapal Peacock Guesthouse

Bhaktapur – Tachapal Peacock Guesthouse

Bhaktapur’s Peacock Guesthouse courtyard – now the restaurant seating area –

courtyard of the Newari building next to the Peacock Guesthouse

the way to Peaceful Restaurant next to the Peacock Guesthouse on Tachapal Tol

the street off Tachapal Tol in Bhaktapur with the Peacock Window

the Peacock Window above the street near Dattatreya Mandir

I really enjoyed my two nights and a full day in Bhaktapur.  Being able to walk around the town at dusk after all the day visitors had left was a special treat, as was going for an early morning stroll as the various squares were just coming to life for the day.

The town suffered significant damage in 2015 and with my focus on the public buildings – the temples and royal palace – in the old town area, I only got a partial picture of the full extent of that damage.  Hopefully, the townspeople have been able to access the funds received from international sources to aid in their own residential reconstruction projects.


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Bhaktapur Three Years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Related Post: Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Earthquakes – Is It Worth The $10.U.S. Entry Fee?

How has Bhaktapur coped since the Earthquakes of 2015?

A few months ago I uploaded this post – Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur – with images of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square and Taumadhi Tol from the years before and just after the Gorkha Earthquakes of April 2015. The post also provided some historical context and imagery that I won’t repeat here!

Instead, I’ll focus on what I found on my third visit (May 2018) to the town on the east side of the Kathmandu Valley.  Unlike Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, which suffered greater damage and where little rebuilding has taken place, Bhaktapur is in better shape.  Only Potters’ Square is still a mess.  Its Durbar Square is also more pedestrian-friendly, a real treat after dodging the relentless waves of motorcycles in Kathmandu.

A visit to the main Bhaktapur sites – Durbar Square, Taumadhi Tol, Potters’ Square, and Tachapal Tol –  will cost 15,000 NRP (that is about $15. US!) for those visitors who are not from SAARC countries or from China.  They get to pay 5000 NRP.

Since I was spending two nights at the Peacock Guesthouse at Tachapal Tol in the eastern part of the town,  I got the “free” extension to my visitor’s ticket which made the cost seem more reasonable.   Spending my last two days away from the traffic and big city feel of Kathmandu for the quieter charms of Bhadgaon (as the city is called by its inhabitants) turned out to be a good decision.

A visit to Bhaktapur will usually begin at the ticket office near the entrance gate on the west side of Durbar Square.  On the map below it is on the upper left-hand side.

Before entering the square, I first treated myself to a cup of coffee at the 4th. floor rooftop café of a building on the edge of the square. It was about 8:00 a.m. and not at all busy yet.

a view of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square from the west

visiting Buddhist monks on the morning food round

Then it was down to the entrance gate and the west end of the square.  As you walk in, the Royal Palace is on the left (north). On the south side of the square are a couple of restaurants, including the one from whose patio I snapped the shot of Gopi Nath Temple below.

Gopi Nath Temple – aka Jagannath

I went over to see the two superb stone sculptures near the entrance. They are of Ugrachandi and Bhairab and date back to the rule of Bhupatindra Malla, whose own statue is on the stone column in front of the Sun Dhoka in the middle of Durbar Square. It was also during his reign that the Palace of the Fifty-Windows and the Nyatapola in nearby Taumadhi Tol were built.

Ugrachandi statue at the west end of Bhaktapuir's Durbar Square

Ugrachandi statue at the west end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

Bhairab - the Kathmandu valley's favourite blood-thristy vengeful god

–  Bhairab – the Kathmandu valley’s favourite blood-thirsty vengeful god – statue in Durbar Square Bhaktapur

Walking up the brick base of the Gopi Nath Temple, I looked down the square. In front of the temple is a Garuda figure on a stone column. Also visible is the bamboo scaffolding by one of the three temples that collapsed in the 2015 Quakes.

the column in front of Gopi Nath Temple (aka Jagannath)

While not a lot of buildings collapsed completely, a number did suffer structural damage. Cracked or buckling walls were in evidence, as were the wood beams set up to bolster them. As I walked by the poles set up on the side of the National Art Museum (once a wing of the Royal Palace)  I thought -“You really think these are making a difference?”

looking to the east end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

Bhaktapur – entrance to National Art Museum

Unfortunately, the Museum was not open on the two days I was in the city. It is apparently worth the extra 100 NRP admission.  Maybe next time!

Heartening to see on a wall on the square was this poster about a sterilization and anti-rabies vaccine campaign for street dogs in the city.  I saw fewer dogs than in Kathmandu and the ones I did see seemed in good shape, including the dog below!

Bhaktapur Durbar Square – a handsome fellow in the classic downward dog pose

The Golden Gate (aka Sun Dhoka) is considered to be the finest single artistic creation in the Kathmandu Valley. I took a few more pix and then stepped inside, past the wooden wall buttresses and past the salvaged stonework in the courtyard.  Damage inside the Royal Palace compound, as well as  “no photography” and  “only Hindus” rules, meant I exited soon after entering!

Bhaktapur – Durbar Square Golden Gate (Sun Dhoka) May 2018

Bhaktapur – Sun Dhoka torana – Taleju and Garuda figures













Bhaktapur – Royal Palace – salvaged stonework being stored during reconstruction

Facing the Golden Gate is the  Bhupatindra Malla column.  After three visits over a twenty year period, I finally thought to take a shot of the top of the column!

the top of the Bhupatindra Malla column in Bhaktapur

Next to the column and the Taleju Bell is the Vastala Temple. It collapsed in 2015 and is in the process of being rebuilt.  The prominent use of bamboo poles perhaps indicates the use of traditional methods of construction!

the rubble in front of the Vastala Temple Bhaktapur – Durbar Square May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins – work in progress May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins – step guardians May 2018

a view of the east end of Bhaktapur Durbar Square May 2018

Just east of the Golden Gate on the north side of the square is the Palace of The Fifty-Five Windows. In the image below it is in the background, with the  Chyaslin Pavilion in front of it.

Chyaslin Pavilion and the Palace with some of the 55 Windows!

east side of the Palace of the 55 Windows  – cracks and stucco damage from the Quakes

At the east end of the square, just beyond the Chyaslin Pavilion, are two temples which collapsed in 2015, leaving only their multi-levelled brick plinths, and even they were somewhat damaged.  Both are now being reconstructed.  In the case of the Fasidega Mandir, it may even turn out to be an improvement!

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) in May 2018

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) – human figures at bottom of stairs

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) – human figure on the east side of stairs

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir on the left and Fasidega Mandir plinth on the right

The temple on top of the Fasidega plinth collapsed in the 2015 Quakes. A new temple in shikhara-style will apparently replace the unloved white dome-like structure.  Other than having cleared away the debris, there was no sign of rebuilding in May 2018.

Fasidega Mandir plinth with step guardians

Stone Lions at the east end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

I walked back into the square and walked south, past the Shiva Guesthouse where my wife and I had stayed in 1996 on our first visit.  From our room, we could look down on the square and the Vatsala Durga Temple, the very temple that had figured prominently in the 1993 Bernardo Bertolucci movie Little Buddha.  Apparently cast members, including Keanu Reeves, had stayed in the guesthouse during the filming.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square Shiva Guesthouse

Just south of the  Vatsala Durga Temple ruins is the Pashupatinath Mandir, which escaped the quakes with little damage. I turned around and went into the Shiva Guesthouse restaurant for a bite to eat before continuing my ramble through the various squares of the town.  Coming from two days in Kathmandu, I felt like I was decompressing, thanks to the quiet and relative absence of advertising and motorcycle traffic.

looking north towards the Pashupatinath Mandir and the Shiva Guesthouse

My coffee break over, I walked past the two destroyed temples at the east end of the square and down the street connecting it with Taumadhi Tol.  I was hoping to see the Nyatapola Temple, the tallest in the valley, still standing!

See the next post for the pix –

Next Post: Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 2: Taumadhi Tol, Potters’ Sq., and Tachapal Tol


See also the following Kathmandu Valley Posts:

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – The Temples of Patan (Lalitpur)

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Mapping Bolivia’s Cordillera Real Trekking Routes

This upload is mostly an expansion of the map section from my introductory post on Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice. It only deals with the maps available for trekkers keen on an independent walk down the Cordillera Real from Sorata to Huayna Potosi and beyond.  See the intro post for more on the best time to go, reputable trekking/climbing agencies, and acclimatization suggestions.

Related Post: Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice

A trekking group’s first decision will be which side of the Cordillera it will walk down –

  • the east side – the Classical Route
  • the west side – the newly developed “route” which avoids

The Classic East Side Route 

Trekking In Bolivia coverYossi Brain, whose climbing guide to Bolivian peaks (Bolivia: A Climbing Guide, 1999) remains a useful source twenty years after publication, also did a trekking guidebook.

Trekking In Bolivia: A Traveler’s Guide, released in 1997, was perhaps the first book in English to provide a comprehensive introduction to Bolivia’s trekking possibilities. With Brain, as well as Andrew North, and Isobel Stoddart as the authors,  it was published by The Mountaineers. 

The route that they describe is what I will call the “classic” one. It begins in Sorata at the north end of the Cordillera Real and then heads to the east side of the mountain range for seven or eight days before cutting across to the west side near Condoriri and then continuing on down to Botijlaca on the north side of Huayna Potosi.  Most trekking agencies in La Paz still offer this trek – or sections of it – to prospective trekkers.

Here is a map of a typical itinerary for the classic route from north of Sorata down the east side of the range (until Day 7 when it cuts through the Cordillera for the west side) –

Bolivia's Cordillera Real  - Classic east side trekking route

Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Classic east side route

Andes Pitkethly

Another book, The Andes: 28 Treks and Climbing Peaks, written by Val Pitkethly and Kate Harper and published in 2009, describes a version of this mostly east-side of the Cordillera trek.  Since Google Books has a copy of their book online, you can read what they have to say here. (Just go back to page 94 for the start of their six-page treatment.)


Here is the map from The Andes: 28 Treks…  It starts in Sorata unlike the one above.

(The book is, by the way, an incredible goldmine of South America trek possibilities  if you’re looking for inspiration!)

The CLassic Trans-Cordillera Real Trekking Route

  • Day 1 – La Paz – Sorata
  • Day 2 – Sorata – Ancoma
  • Day 3 – Ancoma – Cocoyo
  • Day 4 – Cocooyo – Chajolpaya
  • Day 5 – Chajolpaya – Chacapa
  • Day 6 – Chacapa – Palca
  • Day 7 – Palca – Huarihuarini
  • Day 8 – Huarihuarini – Lake Kottia (aka Laguna Khotia)
  • Day 9 – Kottia Laguna – Laguna Ajuani
  • Day 10 – Ajuani – Jurikhota
  • Day 11 – Jurikhota – Cerro Austria – Laguna Chiari Khota
  • Day 12 – Base Camp Condoriri
  • Day 13 – Condoriri – Liviñosa
  • Day 14 – Liviñosa – Chacapampa (Botijlaca) – La Paz

Wikiloc, a route-sharing app, has a couple of versions of the classic route available.  Click on the map image to access the one uploaded by isards de la Cerdanya in April 2011.

wikiloc route image - Cordillera Real 2011

Click on the map image to access the Wikiloc site – or click here.

A more recent Wikiloc upload of the same classic route as done by Moebius1 in July 2014 and can be accessed here.

I used the Wikiloc app for three weeks of hiking in the Bariloche area and found it to be a worthwhile investment. See here for more info on ios or android versions.

A Point of Clarification –  Chakapampa or Botijlaca?

Some trek itineraries use the name Chakapampa (or Chacapampa with a “c” instead of a “k”) to indicate the end point; others use the name Botijlaca.  Both are correct.  Chaka Pampa literally means “the flat place with a bridge”.  It was there that the electric company built the hydroelectric plant called “Botijlaca”. Andean Summits is one of the agencies that use the name Botijlaca in its itineraries.

The New West Side Route:

Why A New Route?

Given increased mining activity in the Sorata area, as well as on the east side of the Cordillera, the Andean Summits team, as well as others, have developed an alternative route that stays on the west side of the Cordillera until the last full day of the trek.

Instead of the traditional first eight days of the classic route which goes north and east from Sorata, this one heads southeast from Sorata to Millipaya and Alto Llojena and then on to Lago San Francisco.  Doing so, it avoids the mining roads and the potential for trouble in the sometimes boisterous mining communities on the east side.

our Cordillera Real Trek Route – the west side alternative

This is the route we did. Often the “trail” is no more than shepherds’ paths and llama tracks up and down and across valleys; just as often we were relying on our guide’s experience (he has done the route several times) and the GPS track on his Garmin device. To restate the obvious, this is not at all like walking the Huayhuash Circuit trail or along the Inca Trail or the trails in Torres Del Paine Park.

KML/GPS Track of Our Route:

Here is the track created by my Spot Connect with its once-every-ten-minutes location when it was working as it should.  It recorded 449 individual GPS waypoints during the two-week trek.   On occasion (see the map below) it missed recording a location for an hour or more so it is less than perfect!

GPX Viewer - Outdoor View of Cordillera Real Route

my GPS waypoints in GPX Viewer (Outdoors View)

north of Lago Warawarani - the worst section of my recorded Route

the worst section of my GPS track – the section north of Warawarani

If you have a better track and would not mind sharing, please email me!  I’d be happy to post a link to it here for the benefit of future trekkers keen on experiencing what you and I did!  

You can download the route from my Dropbox folder  –

Kml format (199 kb)

GPS format (221 kb)

The kml file will open in Google Earth and will provide incredible 3D views of the terrain you will be traversing;  I opened the GPS file in my GPX Viewer app (available in both ios and android versions).  The two images above are from the app, which I set in Outdoors view.

Note: comments from Felix and other trekkers who used my file will provide excellent feedback on how reliable the track is.  Read through the comments at the end of this post –  Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice


1. A New Map of The Cordillera Real De Los Andes

I found a copy of the Liam O’Brien map in a La Paz bookstore called The Spitting Llamaat Linares 947. Titled  A New Map of The Cordillera Real De Los Andes, the map is a 2009 reprint of the original from 1995.  The scale is 1:135,000.  It is unclear if any changes were made in the reprint; the glacier limits shown on the map are based on Landsat images from 1989 and 1992 and are thus about twenty-five years old.

One thing the map definitely illustrates is the confusing state of transcribing Aymara names into English.  For example, the massif referred to as Chearuku or Chiaroco on other maps appears as Ch’iyaruq’u on the O’Brien map.  Ancohuma becomes Janq’uma. It will probably take a few more years before a uniform English spelling of the various peaks and valleys of the Cordillera develops. Using Spanish language rules to transcribe Aymara sounds into English seems a bit silly.  Until the dust settles, Google a different spelling and you often get a different set of websites!

2. NIMA (US Govt Defence Dept Agency) – 1:100,000 maps

NIMA - US Govt

Another map set is that published in the late 1990’s by NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency),  a U.S. Govt agency and branch of the Defence Dept.

Bolivia - topo index for Cordillera Real Norte

The 1:100,000 maps which cover the Sorata to Illimani stretch of the Cordillera Real can be downloaded below –

You can purchase the above maps at $20. U.S. a sheet from, a North Carolina, U.S.A. business that has been selling maps since 1982.  Or – you can do what I did and download them from the University of Texas’ online map library and print off the parts you need yourself or just upload them to your iPad for paper-free use.


3. Alpenverein Maps – Cordillera Real Nord and Sud

One more map possibility:  There is a 1:50,000 German Alpine Club map – click on the title for the information – TREKKING MAP – CORDILLERA REAL NORTH / ILLAMPU (BOLIVIA) | ALPENVEREIN. It covers a small area, as the image below shows. It may be more appropriate for those planning a summit of Illampu than for those planning a 120-km walk down the cordillera’s east or west flank.

Nord sectionThere is a second map which covers the area of the Cordillera around Illimani.

The two maps were published in 1987 and would be the oldest of all the maps mentioned here.

You can find a copy of the map at The Maps Company. See here for their list of Andes maps.

4. Day-By-Day Trip Report With Satellite Images, Elevation Charts & Photos

My series of posts on each day of our trek also has maps, elevation charts, satellite images, and photos which would be of help in finding your way down the Cordillera without too much drama!

We began our trek, not in Sorata (2700 m) but off the highway (3900 m) about fifteen kilometers south of the town.  Starting from Sorata would add an extra day to the trek.

You can access the day-by-day posts with the following links –



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Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Earthquakes – Is It Worth 1000 NRP?

See also: Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

Is A Durbar Square Visit Worth the 1000 NPR?

Of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu’s Durbar Square took the biggest hit. It is also the site where, three years after the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015, the least progress has been made in reconstructing the seven temples which were totally destroyed and repairing the many buildings which suffered less serious structural damage.

Kathmandu Durbar Square entry fees

Note: 1000 Nepalese rupees are worth about $10. U.S.

That $10. U.S. ticket is the fee charged easy-to-identify “foreign nationals”.  Interestingly, Chinese visitors also get dinged for the 1000 NPR entrance fee. At Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, they pay at the SAARC rate, one third of “foreign nationals”.  Locals pay nothing;  other South East Asians (citizens of nations who belong to the SAARC) pay 150 NPR.

Over the past decade, the entry fee charged non-Nepalis to walk around the public square has risen substantially.  Where the money actually goes to is an open question!  Here is the  record of the fee increase over the last decade:

  • 2007 –   200 rupees
  • 2009 –   350 rupees
  • 2010 –   500 rupees
  • 2012 –   750 rupees
  • 2015 – 1000 rupees!

I took the photo below in 2006 – it shows the Trailokya Mohan Mandir; on the left side of the image are a couple of pillars of the neo-classical Gaddi Baithak.

Kathmandu- rickshaw drivers at rest by the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

The photo below was taken shortly after the Gorkha Earthquakes of April 2015;  the Trailokya has collapsed, as has the larger Maju Dewal, and the nearby Narayan Temple. Still standing, but with some structural damage, is the Gaddi Baithak.

A.P. photo of Kathmandu’s Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple soon after the 2015 quake

A drone image I sourced online can be seen below. I labeled the various buildings.

Finally, the image below from my April 2018 visit shows the columned facade of the Gaddi Baihak covered with a green tarpaulin. The plinths of the Trailokya Mohan,  the Maju Dewal, and the Narayan Mandirs can be seen, as well as some rubble belonging to the Narayan Temple next to the Shiva Parvati Mandir, which survived the quake.

So – given all the damage, is spending 1000 NPR for an entrance ticket to the square worth it?  As is often the case, it all depends!

Option A – Give In and Get the Ticket!

If you plan on wandering about the area for a couple of hours and occasionally sitting on temple steps and watching Kathmandu life go by, then – yes – get the ticket. The square is Kathmandu’s living room and a fascinating place to experience the present chaos and the past glories of Nepal’s capital city.

The 1000 NPR is a rip-off given that you get no sense that most or any of your “generous contribution”  has made any difference in reviving the square to a semblence of its former glory.  However, given all the money you spent just getting there from your home (my return airfare was $1600.), arguing about the difference between what you want to pay and what you have to pay seems a waste of time.  Better to just swallow your disgust and accept that as a tourist who is visibly from a wealthy country you will be expected to cough up $$. The entrance fee isn’t going to be going anywhere but up, regardless of what we may think about it.

The more you read up about the area and its significance before you go, the more you will get out of it.  A decent hardcopy guidebook like The Rough Guide To Nepal with its 6-page section on “The Old City” and accompanying map may be all you will need as you wander around, stopping occasionally to sit and read the relevant bits of the guidebook.

Option B – Visit During Off Hours!

Not everyone is into dilapidated four-hundred-year-old buildings or the history behind them. Certainly, if you are only going to spend a half-hour there or if you really object to the 1000 NRP on philosophical grounds –  you can find something else to spend 1000 rupees on.

What you could do instead is visit the square before the ticket booth opens at 8:00 a.m. or after it closes at 5:00 p.m. – your dawn or dusk photos could turn out to be pretty neat! Note – earlier or later is better since you will be less likely to be chased by a uniformed ticket enforcer!  You may save 1000 rupees but convenient it is not.

Option C – Get A Multi-Day Pass!

katmandu Durbar Square Visitor Pass

Even better, if you plan on spending a couple of days in Kathmandu before and/or after your trek, you can make your day pass a multi-visit pass for free.  Chances are pretty good that you will be walking through the square on your way to somewhere else during your stay.

Take the ticket you just purchased at one of the ticket booths and walk over to the KMC Site Office on Basantapur Square (the row of buildings on the other side of the square from the Royal Palace).  You’ll need to show your passport and have a passport photo so the clerk can create a card for you.  It only took a couple of minutes the morning I got mine!   Now you can experience the Square at different times and on different days and the 1000 NPR cost doesn’t seem so bad!

see here for the source of the map image

I approached the square from Ganga Path on the bottom right-hand side of the map above. The ticket booth is difficult to miss and if you do, someone will be chasing after you anyway. Now that you have your ticket, you walk down the large open space – Basantapur Square –  pictured in the image below.  Apparently, the area once housed the royal family’s elephant stables but those buildings are long gone.  The space now serves as a venue for vendors to spread out their goods on blankets and low platforms.  The office where you get your ticket extended for the duration of your stay in Nepal is in that row of buildings running down the south (left) side of the square in the image.

Kathmandu Durbar Square – south

Durbar Square Kathmandu – vendors with goods

On the north side of the square is one side of the old Royal Palace. The monarchy in Nepal was abolished in 2008 and even before that the Royals had abandoned this palace complex for a newer and more private residence to the north.  Still, this palace – the Persian word is Durbar – is the heart of the old city and has many of the oldest buildings.

The entire length of the palace complex on the north side of Basantapur Square suffered structural damage. The governments of China and of the USA have taken on the restoration of parts of the complex, with the Chinese focusing on the SE corner of the palace and Basantapur Tower while the Americans are sponsoring work on the Gaddi Baithak, an early 20th C. addition to the palace complex.

Basantapur Tower – Chinese-sponsored rebuild

Kathmandu Gaddi Baithak restoration April 2018

Kathmandu – Royal Palace – view of columns

As you walk to the west end of the square – and corner of the Gaddi Baithak – you come to the home (the Nepali term is “ghar”) of the Kumari. Guarded by a couple of lion statues, the door to the house leads into a central courtyard. (All the fencing in the area meant I did not bother trying to frame a shot!)  Visitors are allowed to enter the Kumari Chowk of the house but are forbidden from taking photos of the Kumari herself.  She is believed to be the embodiment of the goddess Taleju. a favourite deity of the Malla and later dynasties which ruled the Kathmandu Valley.

From the moment of her selection until her first menstrual period she spends most of her life within the confines of the house.   The tradition began in the late 1600’s and has survived the fall of the monarchy,    The last Kathmandu Kumari, Matina Shakya, served as Kumari from 2008-2017 when she surrendered her role to the current Kumari, Trishna Shakya. (The search is confined to members of the Newari Shakya community.) In the time of kings, she served as a living talisman of the monarch’s legitimacy.  See the following mini-essay for an in-depth look at the history and significance of the Kumari.

The Future of Nepal’s “Living” Goddess: Is Her Death Necessary?

woodwork above Kumari House entrance

Kumari House courtyard

visitors to Kumari Ghar waiting in the courtyard for her appearance

Torana above interior courtyard door in Kumari house – the 10-armed Taleju

On the southwest corner of the Royal Palace complex is another open area.  It is the one illustrated in the first few images of this post.  It obviously took quite the hit in 2015.

Kathmandu Durbar Square – Ticket Counter

Steps away from the ticket booth – one of six placed at the various entrances to the square – are the ruins of the Kasthmandap, completely collapsed in the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015. For centuries the open pavilion served as a resthouse for traders and travelers on the route from the Ganges Valley to Tibet. Indeed, it is thought to be the source of the town’s name.

I recall staring through the fence at a pile of rubble and wondering whether I should bother taking a photo!


Remarkably little reconstruction has occurred in the three years since the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015.  Nearby flower sellers displayed their garlands on sheets of plastic.

I walked up five flights of stairs to a rooftop restaurant where I took the shots below; in both cases, I am looking south

Maju Dewal temple base Durbar Square Kathmandu April 2018

Maju Dewal mandir on the left with smaler still-standing Ashok Binayak behind

A few minutes later as I walked by the Shiva Parvati Mandir – one of the temples still standing – preparations for a ceremony of some sort seemed to be in progress. I looked at the young girl dressed and looking like I imagined the Kumari in the house across the square might look.

Kathmandu Durbar Square north – ceremony

From the Shiva Parvati Temple the route continues past the Taleju Bell on one side and some exquisite woodwork on the other.

three-storey corner building with the windows of the 32 virtues

classical Newari strut work on a Durbar Square building in Kathmandu’s Royal Palace area – the north end

As you walk into the third open area of the Durbar Square site, the Pratapa Malla Column comes into view and behind it the Jagannatha Mandir.  In the image below you see them, as well as the Hanuman Dhoka at the right-hand side. What you don’t see is the unforgettable stone image of Bhairab.  He is the six-armed and rather fearsome representation of Shiva, complete with human skulls in the crown on his head and a corpse on which he is dancing!  He always seems to be the object of some devotion.


Bhairav shrine Durbar Sq N Kathmandu

Pigeons are plentiful in this corner of the site with bird feed sellers stationed around the King Pratap Masll column providing just the encouragement the birds need to stick around!

Durbar Square – north section – pigeon central –

Durbar Square – north section – pigeon central – another view

pillars and struts of a temple in Durbar Square – north section

Kathmandu – Durbar Sq N woodwork

The following photo was taken somewhere near Hanuman Dhoka. It looks like a small shrine built into a wall. It is one of the stranger collections of idols I have ever seen.  If you know the story let me know in the comment section below.

In front of the Agam Mandir is the veiled statue of Hanuman, the monkey-god who was Ram’s faithful side-kick in the Hindu epic Ramayana.  The statue – and the living god he represents – was placed there to prevent evil spirits from entering the palace compound through the gate (dhoka is the Nepali term).  I’m not quite sure of the logic here but to protect humans from that deadly stare a veil was placed over the statue.

Hanuman Dhoka and statue

Walking through the Hanuman Dhoka, you enter Nasal Chowk, the courtyard used for coronation ceremonies during the period of the monarchy.

Nasal Chowk looking south towards Basantapur Tower

Chinese information board on their restoration project

In the image below the coronation platform is on the bottom left; at the top is a five-storeyed temple Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir.  it is one of three such in the Kathmandu valley,  the others being the Kumbheswor Temple in Lalitpur and Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur.

inside Nasal Chowk with five-storey Panch  Mukhi Hanuman Temple

Back through the Hunuman Dhoka and I continued my walk out of Durbar Square, past the ticket booth that marks the square entry and on to Indra Chowk.  I was going up to the Thamel area, Kathmandu’s tourist ghetto.

I visited the Durbar Square area three times during my stay in Kathmandu. The multi-pass card was definitely worth the minimal effort to get it, especially since it doesn’t cost any extra than a one-day pass!

There are still things I missed seeing this time.  If there is a next time, I wonder how much progress will have been made in the interim.  Given how things seem to work in Nepal, my guess would be that it will take a decade or two for the restoration to be complete, during which time everything else will be that much older and worn out.

Taleju Temple behind Lions’ Gate

Kathmandu Durbar Square N – the Lions” Gate to Taleju Mandir

Kotlingeshwar Temple (left), Mahavishnu Mandir (center), and Kakeshwar temple (right)

Kotlingeshwar Mahadev Mandir on the north side of Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Below is the Kakeshwar temple;   it was rebuilt after the 1934 earthquake with a shikhara-style top placed on a Newari-style ground floor.  Behind it are the Taleju Mandir and a wing of the royal palace complex.

Kakeshwar temple with the Taleju Mandir behind it

Not far from the Kotlingeshwar and Mahavishnu mandirs is another ticket booth.  Walk past it and head north and you are on your way to Thamel, passing through the Indra Chowk pictured below.  The streets pulsate with life and commerce and small street shrines to Shiva and Vishnu and other Hindu deities.  Yes, it can be chaotic, especially with the honking motorcycles and automobiles, and the air pollution is bad but after a third visit to Durbar Square in twenty years, I can’t help but say – Wow, what an amazing place Kathmandu is!  Is it worth 1000 NRP? Absolutely!

Indra Chowk Kathmandu – just north of Durbar Square

the way up to Thamel from Durbar Square and Indra Chowk

Related Posts:

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – The Temples of Patan (Lalitpur)

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Temples & Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – ” God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

This gallery contains 30 photos.

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley continues to captivate!  This May was my third visit. I spent a week there – a few days before and three after my Upper Mustang trek.  I revisited most of the UNESCO World Heritage sites to see how they … Continue reading

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