Patan City, also known as Lalitpur or the City of Fine Arts, is located a mere 8km from Kathmandu City and, as the alternative name would suggest, is best known for its traditional artisanal crafts and artistic heritage. At the center of it all is Patan Durbar Square; one of Kathmandu Valley’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is here that you’ll find the fruits of Lalitpur’s craftsmen on display and for sale. That means that not only does the city have a huge amount to offer visitors by way of culture and history, but it also means that you’ll be able to return home with something slightly more sophisticated than the ‘I Heart Nepal’ T-shirt.
It’s most likely that you’re headed to Patan from Kathmandu City Center and getting there is fairly easy – after all they’re only 8 km apart. We chose to hire a taxi for the entire day for USD 40 because we planned to hop between sites in Patan and Kathmandu. If you’re just looking for a one-way ride from Kathmandu, then you shouldn’t be paying much more than USD 4-5 and a return taxi can be picked up from Patan Durbur Square fairly easily. If USD 4 blows your mind/budget then buses to Patan costing about US 20 cents are also available from Ratan Park Bus Stop and stop just outside the gates of Patan. Obviously, bus routes tend to be subject to change and are much slower (taking 30 minutes); so make sure you check the latest routes before you stand outside in the blaring sun for a bus that no longer exists!
There’s no denying that the 2015 earthquake had a devastating effect on both the people and infrastructure of Patan. Having first visited before the earthquake it became immediately clear when I went back that the air quality is no longer as good and many of the major tourist sights remain in a state of earthquake damage rehabilitation. Although that doesn’t detract from the experience if photography is your thing just make sure you do your research beforehand on the current rehabilitation status of the sights to avoid disappointment as some of them are still shrouded behind scaffolding. I would also suggest you check out my guidance on pollution masks in my Kathmandu guide as it applies equally to Patan – never have my lungs been so grateful for me wearing a mask that made me look like I was auditioning for the part of Bain in Batman.
Unlike nearby Bhaktapur, Patan itself doesn’t have an entrance fee; but Patan Durbar Square does. At the time of writing the fee is USD 10 or 1,000 Nepalese Rupees. The ticket covers everything in the Square, including the Patan Musuem, and tickets can be purchased at numerous ticket booths dotted around the edge of the square. If you’re planning to visit on multiple days then make sure you convert your ticket (at no additional cost) to a week-long ticket. To do that just make sure you have your passport handy when you visit the ticket booth. If you’re thinking of hiring a guide in Patan then be careful; my understanding is that although they’re cheaper than other areas of Kathmandu Valley, the guides aren’t regulated in Patan and so the quality can be particularly poor!
Patan lies in the Kathmandu valley. The valley is a bit of a metropolis and also incorporates the cities of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur; both of which also have a huge amount to offer visitors. All three cities can easily be covered from the same base hotel, but in this particular post, I’ll just cover Patan (that’s probably a good indication of how much there is to see and do across Kathmandu Valley).
Patan Durbar Square: Patan Durbar Square is the cultural heart of Lalitpur and is where most visitors start their tour of the city. Of three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley (the others being Kathmandu Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbur Square) Patan’s is my favourite despite being the smallest of the three. The square is loaded with palaces, temples and monuments and the intricacy and quality of the craftsmanship reflects Patan’s status as the City of Fine Arts. Durbar Square’s main attraction is the Royal Palace; which houses three main Chowks (courtyards), and the Royal Bath at the center of the Sundari Chowk is particularly impressive. One of the highlights of the square is the people-watching. The Square is a hive of activity at all hours of the day, and for the photographers amongst you, the street photography opportunities are second-to-none. If, like me, you aren’t exactly inconspicuous when in photography mode (being ginger makes me stand out a little) then be prepared to be asked for money from anyone and everyone that might be within your frame. Best to carry lots of small change with you!
Patan Museum: If you’re only going to visit one museum in Kathmandu Valley then make it the Patan Museum in Durbar Square. Located behind the golden doors of the old residential court of the Royal Palace, the museum now houses traditional Nepalese art and exhibits highlighting Nepal’s cultural and religious history. The courtyard at the back of the museum also houses a small shaded outdoor café which is the perfect spot of tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of Patan. The museum is open daily from 10.30am to 5.30pm and entry is included in the Patan Durbar Square entry ticket.
Golden Temple: I think that ‘small but perfectly formed’ is the best way to describe the Hiryanya Varna Mahabihar Temple (Golden Temple is probably easier to pronounce). The three story golden pagoda was built in the 12th Century and is located within a courtyard which is also home to a large prayer wheel. The temple is also home to paintings depicting the life of Buddha. A small fee applies to enter the temple (and by small I mean not worth even thinking about) which is located about a 5 minute walk away from Durbar Square.
Other Temples of Interest around Patan Durbar Square: If I wrote about every temple in Patan separately then we could be here all day and this post would be several pages long. Put simply, there are a lot of temples of interest, but it’s possible to end up with ‘temple fatigue’, ‘temple blindness’ or what my wife refers to as ‘templed-out.’ Basically temples that would normally have you gasping in awe for several hours end up eliciting a more simple response of ‘meh’. As a result, I’ll list some other temples here that you might want to check out, time and sanity permitting: Kumbheshwor Temple (which has a pretty impressive 5-tier pagoda); Mahaboudha Temple; Rudra Barna Mahabihar; Temples of Red Machhendranath and Minnath; Accheshwor Mahabihar. Never fear, they’re all detailed in the free guide map you pick up when you pay for your entrance ticket to Patan Dubar Square!
Ashoka Stupas: Firstly, for the uninitiated like me, a Stupa is a Buddhist mounded structure typically containing relics (such as monk bones) that is used as a place of meditation and worship. Patan has four of them in the four corners of the city. If you’re planning to visit Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu City and you’re short of time, then you might want to skip the Ashoka Stupas. However, if you have time, then it’s worth sparing some time in your itinerary to visit one of the four on your way through Patan. After all, the stupas are in all four corners of the city so you can’t claim that you haven’t passed near at least one of them!
Kumari House: The Kumari House is, as the name would suggest, the house where the Patan Kumari is interned (my understanding is that the Kathmandu Kumari is the highest ‘ranking’ Kumari). The Kumari is a living goddess; a prepubescent girl selected by a council of Newari people chosen to be the living representation of the Taleju (or Durga) Goddess. In my mind the whole concept raises some interesting (and difficult) moral and ethical questions. If you want to read more about the selection process and the role of the Kumari before you visit then you might find this NPR article of interest.
Jawalakhel Tibetan Refugee Camp: Jawalakhel took a huge hit during the 2015 earthquake but its artisans are still on site spinning, dying and weaving Tibetan carpets of the highest quality (which can be purchased and shipped internationally). Take some time to visit the entire site – the artisans are more than happy to discuss their work with you and pose for photos! I’ve included the link to the Jawalakhel website in the additional resources section so that you can plan your visit ahead of time and learn more about the refugee camp and the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake.
Tribhuvan International Airport Website: http://www.tiairport.com.np/
Respro Ultra-Light Mask Website: http://respro.com/store/product/ultra-light
Jawalakhel Website: http://www.jhcnepal.com/