On a wooded hillside, south of Bhaktapur, is the fascinating and very popular temple of Surya Vinayak, the Sun Ganesh. Chosen by meticulous calculations of the court astrologers of the Lichchhavi King, Vishnu Deva Varma, many centuries ago, the site is so placed that the first rays of the rising sun strike the golden, masked image of the elephant-headed deity. By so doing, Surya the Sun God pays homage to Ganesh and seeks blessings for his day's journey across the heavens.
There must have been an artist among those astrologers because the site is outrageously lovely. There is a view across the roofs and temple towers of Bhaktapur to the great snows beyond, behind which the sun rises. Immediately below the forested shrine are terraced fields through which the track to Surya Vinayak climbs dustily between old rest houses and a gentle village. The final ascent is up a stairway tunnelling through green.
A king gifted the ceremonial bell to Surya Vinayak, two devotees donated the intricately worked gilded lintel and a golden mask for the deity. I wonder who offered the pair of late Victorian water hydrants that stand on either side of the main shrine? They look incongruously at home among stone images of devotees and lions.
In recent years it has become fashionable to be married at Surya Vinayak. But the families who throng the temple are praying for the well-being of their offspring for the God has a reputation for curing retarded children. The forests around the temple are known to be rich in healing herbs.
(Excerpted with permission from My Kind of Kathmandu, HarperCollins, 1994.)