This ancient city, once a kingdom in itself, is situated across the Bagmati River to the south of Kathmandu. Approximately 80% of the inhabitants are Newars who fiercely retain their identity, proud to be separate from Kathmandu. Though now virtually a suburb of Kathmandu, this was once a very independent city state and is still often referred to as Lalitpur (City of Beauty).
One of the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites, Patan is well worth a visit. Its origins are clouded in mystery, but it has a long Buddhist history. It claims its place as capital of the mythical Kiranti Dynasty and association with the great Indian emperor, Ashoka, who is credited with the building of the four grass-covered stupas surrounding the city around 250BC.
For many centuries Patan’s importance eclipsed that of Kathmandu and by the 7th century it was one of the major Buddhist centers of Asia, attracting pilgrims, scholars and monks from India, Tibet and China. Medieval Patan was the largest and most prosperous of the three Valley kingdoms. The town was ruled by noblemen until Lord Shiva Malla of Kathmandu took over control of the city in 1597, for a while unifying the Kathmandu Valley. Most of Patan’s magnificent architecture dates to the late Malla era (16th - 18th centuries).
Durbar Square Patan’s Durbar Square forms the center of Patan and offers the finest display of Newari urban architecture in Nepal. There are temples devoted to Shiva, Krishna, Ganesh and Vishnu, all actively visited by residents and visitors. At the northern end of the square, the ancient sunken water tap has been restored and is still in use with young girls filling huge jugs from the carved stone waterspouts.
The Royal Palace This forms the eastern side of Durbar Square and was originally built in the 14th century, expanding in the 17th and 18th centuries to its current size. The courtyards of the Royal Palace with their ornamented windows, columned arcades, shrines and sunken royal bath are amongst the loveliest in Kathmandu. Pre-dating the palaces in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, it was damaged by Prithvi Narayan Shah’s conquest of the Valley in 1768 and further suffered from the ravages of the 1934 earthquake. Part of the palace, formerly residence of the Malla kings, is now a museum.
Old Patan As well as shrines and temples, Old Patan boasts many beautiful courtyards and squares, with beautiful architecture. It comprises a small area of individual neighborhoods dedicated to metalworking, stone carving, and woodwork. One of the loveliest temples to visit is the Kwa Bahal or ‘Golden Temple’, a lavish, gilt-roofed shrine. The main façade is covered in gilt and silver, and the whole surrounded by images of real and mythical beasts, scenes from the Buddha’s life.
In April-May, the Rato Machhendranath festival is celebrated here, where a chariot containing a statue is moved across Patan to Jawalakhel, a mile or so away.