Patan, for a long time, has been a place of refuge for the writers of these pieces. But both the writers discover a different shade of the city, a discovery that adds to the love and fascination that they already have for this place.
Midnight in Patan
Patan Durbar Square is a place that is not easy to forget. But the persona it adopts during the hours neighboring midnight is the one I’ll always remember.
We take one of the many back alleys around the Square and start the tour an hour to midnight. For a city that has to bear with power-cuts for most of the day and night, the surroundings are magnificently lit. Save a few people making their way back home, there are no strangers I have to share the Square with.
With our hearts in this place, we let our minds wander off.
Any moment now, the gigantic lions that guard the temples will start blinking their ferocious eyes. The peacocks that decorate the wooden windows of sleeping houses will wake up from their slumber, the various manifestations of deities and demons worshipped by the Newars will come alive from the tundals they have been carved onto, and the Garuda kneeling in front of the Krishna Temple will soon take flight.
The golden bird perched on top of the Nagas that canopy the statue of King YogNarendra Malla, commissioned by the King himself, glistens in the incandescent yellow light. The dying king had announced he would be alive as long as the bird remained. As if granting the monarch a last wish, the bird doesn’t allow itself to leave.
An owl hoots. Dogs bark. Patan Durbar Square gently breathes: it inhales and exhales in tandem with the gentle night breeze. We can’t help but stop and stare. We sit, legs folded, on the dabali and look around us in awe. In front of us is the palace of the then Malla Kings –built with bricks, wood, and the sweat of the ancient city’s devoted craftsmen who knew not how to ask for payment.
In the quiet and calm that now blankets the atmosphere, we find peace. The kind that helps us let go. The woman with the dancer’s soul and I dance while the boy with the golden voice sings. We become the royal entertainers for the night.
Perhaps, the kings and queens are watching.
Time travelling in Patan
We started our tour from Patan Dhoka, walking down the narrow streets until we reached Pimbahal. From there, we took another alley; it’s mouth noticeable thanks to an old house with carved windows. The walls of the dwelling were cracked and it looked abandoned. “This house has been empty for as far as I can remember,” said Dilendra Raj Shrestha, District Governor of Rotary International District 3292 and our guide for today. He didn’t seem very worried about the condition of the structure. “It’s only the damaged part that needs to be repaired; the rest of it will function well enough. That’s the best thing about houses such as these,” he explained.
We passed a number of streets and alleys that either opened up to a bahal, a chowk, or a bahi. Sometimes, there would be a small opening that linked a big open space to a smaller one, which would, in turn, be further linked to an even smaller space and so on till it reached another big opening. As we traversed through these alleys, we learned that the first floors of the houses had tikijhya windows because that’s where the bedrooms are always situated. We also discovered that no two houses have windows with the same carvings.
Walking through these openings, we finally reached Dhakhwa Chowk. As we settled down to admire the mural-filled walls and carved windows, we were told that the four houses there, belonging to brothers,had no tikijhya windows because hiding from ones own family was not necessary. We then moved on to another chowk, containing identical looking houses constructed in a European style with a lion and a human face on each wall. Seeing the European influence, we gathered that they were from the Rana period. From there we walked into another chowk where all the houses were of concrete and looked distinct from each other.
Strolling across these chowks felt like travelling from the Malla to the Rana period and finally to the present time. And that’s exactly what Patan is good at doing. The inner city transports you to a point in history when the Malla kings ruled, and when art and architecture flourished. It is reminiscent of an era when each well and pond had a purpose, and when each patiand falchawaited for strangers to rest - a period that was Patan’s golden age.