Most of my friends look with shock when I talk about swimming in the Bagmati River during school lunch-breaks in my early years. It used to be a clean river; we picnicked on its banks and fished in the river. But, within a few decades, the river has turned into a stinky, lifeless gutter of garbage. However, not all has been lost. Many organizations are working to clean the river and restore the beauty of its banks and surrounding areas. Especially, the newly-built parks along the banks at Sankhamul offer a pleasant experience. However, if you are interested in history, art, and architecture, the heritage sites along the banks of Bagmati on the Thapathali–Teku Dovan stretch are a must-visit.
The bridge connecting Lalitpur and Kathmandu districts at Thapathali sees snarling traffic throughout the day, and not many passers-by notice a small park adjacent to the bridge at its north-west corner. Known as Chess Park, it attracts chess lovers from early morning till late evening, and regular tournaments are organized here. The bridge, built by Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher, is also known as Rato Pul, or ‘red bridge’, due to its color.
As you pass through the chess park and walk along the river banks, you will come across akhadas (rest houses built for saints and sadhus)—Dasnami, or Sanyasi, Akhada, Udasi Akhada, and Bairagi Akhada. The akhadas were built to offer accommodation and food to saints from respective sects visiting Kathmandu on pilgrimage. You can still see the sadhus staying in these akhadas, especially during Shivaratri, when they visit Pashupatinath Temple.
“Akhada is an open university for sadhus, where they’ve been getting trained since the Malla and Lichchhavi eras. People coming to Kathmandu for different work used to stay in dharmashalas and sattals (a resting/ gathering place) while the sadhus stayed in akhadas,” said Pushpa Das, the caretaker priest of one of the akhadas, who hails from Okhaldunga, but studied in Benares.
Nearby, you’ll see the Jung Hiranya Hem Narayan Temple being reconstructed with traditional materials like mortar, bricks, wood, and surki, containing brick dust and limestone. The temple was brought down by the 2015 earthquake. One of the most beautiful temples in Kathmandu, it derives its name from then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana and his queens Hiranya and Hem, followed by Lord Narayan, or Vishnu. Interestingly, Jung Bahadur and his queens’ names precede the god's name. To the east of temple is a statue of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s mount, and next to it is Jung’s statue on a pillar taller than the Garuda! It is said that he built this temple to seek penance for the killings at Kot Parva, where he killed many high ranking officials.
As you walk westwards, you’ll come across Tukucha Khola, also called Ichhumati. The river originates from Maharajgunj in the valley and meets the Bagmati at Kalmochan Ghat. Sadly, the river looks like an open drain. As you walk towards the main road, you’ll see a small door with a sign, Vaidhya Chowk, to the north of the road. The Vaidhyas came from Bhaktapur and started living here when one of them was summoned to cure an eye ailment of the queen of a Rana. This chowk is so-named because of Hutaram Vaidhya, an agricultural engineer turned activist, who dedicated his life to saving the Bagmati River. He is also called ‘Bagmati Ba’ out of respect for his commitment.
Walking for a few minutes westwards along the road, you’ll come across two 300-year-old Shivalingas established on the entrance to a road leading to the banks of the Bagmati. This road will lead you to Tripureshwar’s Mahadev Temple, built by King Rana Bahadur Shah’s wife Queen Lalit Tripura Sundari. The largest temple complex in the Bagmati area is being renovated, but when we enquired, the wood pieces were being carved by carpenters from Assam, and were not as detailed as the old ones. However, the gajur of the temple was being renovated by local artisans, led by Shailendra Tamrakar.
Further to the south is Hanumansthan, with a huge Hanuman statue. Nearby are Shivalingas, a statue of Uma Maheshwar, and a Chaitya belonging to either the later Lichhavi period or early Malla period.
As you head westwards, you’ll come to Chandra Ghat, named after then Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher. It houses a guest house meant for royal guests, now occupied partly by the District Police Office and partly by the eye hospital.
Further to the west is Juddha Ghat, followed by Purohit Ghat. If you carefully look at the bottom of the entrance of the sattal, you’ll see two conjoined lions having a single head. If you look at them sideways, you'll think that it's the statue of a single lion, the same from the other side! A French artist, Seb Toussaint, and Spag from the Outside Krew, painted graffiti on the walls of the sattal before the 2015 earthquake, and it created a huge uproar among the Kathmanduites. Everybody thought that the artist had defaced the ancient structure, but he said that he painted it after being requested to do so by the temple priest!
As you walk west, you’ll come across the main sattal, which has beautifully carved windows. Then, further west is Kaji Ghat, with a sattal and a Krishna Temple, followed by Hanuman Ghat, which houses a Ram Temple and another sattal. It’s a hub spot for old people to hang out in the early morning.
On the way to Teku Dovan is Pachali Ghat, and this stretch houses many beautiful temples like Bombikateshwar Mahadev Temple and Lakshmishwar Mahadev Temple at Pachali, and Jagannath Temple and Radhakrishna Temple at Teku. At Pachali Ghat, you’ll see sculptures of Buddha, ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Shivalingas, and Ashtamatrikas.
Teku Dovan is the confluence of two sacred rivers, Bagmati and Bishnumati. The confluence houses the shikhara-style terracotta Radhakrishna Temple and other stone sculptures of Hindu deities, along with Buddhist chaityas. The place is also called Chintamani Tirtha by the Buddhists. While you’re being awed by all these temples and sattals, don’t miss visiting Pachali Bhairav, one of the most revered shrines of Kathmandu Valley (http://ecs.com.np/features/history-and-mythology-of-pachali-bhairav). To learn in detail about the shrines in the Bagmati Heritage Walkway, read ‘The Bagmati: Between Teku and Thapathali – a Monument Guide’ written by Shaphalya Amatya, and follow the Bagmati Hangout group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BagmatiHangout/).