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Patan's crown jewel



PICS: KUNDA DIXIT

Siddhi Narsingh Malla was a devout king, so when he had a new palace designed in Patan he got his architects to plan a shrine to all the gods in the main courtyard.

When it was built in 1642, Tusa Hiti must have impressed everyone who visited. More than 50 stone carvings of deities adorned the stepwell into which crystal clear spring water gushed out of a shiny bronze spout guarded by figures of Laxmi Narayan and Garud. Above it all was a miniature stone temple that pre-dated the nearby Krishna Mandir, and is now thought to be an architectural model for it.

More than 360 years later, and having survived at least five major earthquakes, Tusa Hiti still impresses devotees and visitors. The pantheon of exquisitely carved gods is regarded as the crown jewel of Kathmandu Valley's Malla period.

Contrary to what the tour guides will tell you, the Sundari Chok was not a 'royal bath'. To take a bath in a sanctum sanctorum so densely packed with divinities would be considered sacrilege.

The Patan Royal Palace Complex, of which Tusa Hiti and Bhandarkhal Archaeological Garden form a part, is currently being renovated by the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), which has been involved in two decades of heritage conservation work in Nepal. KVPT received the UNESCO Heritage Award in 2005. KVPT's Nepal director, Rohit Ranjitkar, says: "This is the most important heritage conservation currently taking place in Kathmandu because of its religious and archaeological significance." When finished in three years time, the Patan DarbarĀ  Complex will be integrated with the Patan Museum, and the archaeological garden will open to the public as an inner-city park. The garden is an archaeological treasure trove because it was the dumping ground for debris after successive earthquakes. KVPT has already unearthed the foundations there of a building dating back to the 12th century.

BEAUTIFUL COURTYARD: Sundari Chok was built in 1642 by King Siddhi Narsingh Malla as part of the Patan Palace Complex. It is now being restored by the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) and is under scaffolding. KVPT's director Rohit Ranjitkar compares a photograph taken 110 years ago to ensure that the restoration is accurate.

In the picture, Ranjitkar is looking at a catalogue of photographs of the original Sundari Chok and directing a stoneworker from Panga as he delicately applies traditional clay and lime mortar to fix the figurines to the stepwell.

"This picture was taken 110 years ago, and this one was by the art historian Mary Slusser in 1968," says Ranjitkar, pointing to two photographs that he is using to assist the restoration. Two nag kanyas seen in the first photograph are already missing in Slusser's picture.

The stone figures are still intact, but a bronze Durga went missing 40 years ago. Then, one night in January this year, someone made off with the Laxmi Narayan and Garuda figures on top of the water spout.

"We have now come to the point in Nepal where we should keep only replicas of the 100 most valuable religious figures, and lock up the originals in museums. It's just not worth the risk anymore," says Ranjitkar. Important carvings could also be fixed to temple walls with concealed chains, as KVPT did with a priceless 9th century torana at Yethka Bahal in Kathmandu.

Upstairs, the entire structure of the third floor is being refurbished and made earthquake-proof. The Bhandarkhal Pokhari, with its pavilion and stone carvings, is being painstakingly restored too. Sundari Chok originally got its water from a natural spring in Lagankhel through an underground canal. This is being cleaned and restored after centuries of neglect.

Says Ranjitkar: "I just can't wait to see Sundari Chok looking like the day it was built, with clear spring water flowing out."

Kunda Dixit

The courtyard is a treasure trove of the Malla period, with its stone and wood carvings, and has survived five major earthquakes.

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MUSEUM PIECE

This meticulously crafted wooden model of the Cyasilin Mandap in Bhaktapur Darbar Square is now on display at the Munich Architecture Museum as part of an exhibition of noteworthy heritage restoration projects worldwide. The octagonal shrine was restored by a team led by architects Niels Gutschow and Goetz Hagemuller in the 1980s. The Bhaktapur Project not only renovated the town's temples and bahals but also preserved its urban landscape in collaboration with the local municipality.



1. Suzy
I just can't wait to visit Sundari chowk and the Bhandarkhal garden, if it is going to be open for public.


2. chandra Gurung
Excellent stuffs.

At the end of the day, it is upto the locals to protect their heritage. I hope the locals will also outlaw the traffic in those areas. I also hope that they would charge for the entrance to certain buildings (except for temples such as Krishna Mandir, which should be free to all devotees). Such revenues should be bought to purchase nearby land, and in an idea world, I would like to see the regions between Pulchok and Durbar Square be a large swathe of garden, where I could visit with my grandson:)


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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