Lonely Planet review
The inner palace complex of the Hanuman Dhoka was originally founded during the Licchavi period (4th to 8th centuries AD) but, as it stands today, most of it was constructed by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. The royal palace has been renovated many times over the years. The oldest parts are the smaller Sundari Chowk and Mohan Chowk at the northern part of the palace (both closed). The complex originally housed 35 courtyards and spread as far as New Rd, but the 1934 earthquake reduced the palace to today’s 10 chowks (courtyards). Cameras are allowed only in the courtyards, not inside the buildings of the complex.
Hanuman’s assistance to the noble Rama during the exciting events of the Ramayana has led to the monkey god’s appearance guarding many important entrances. Here, cloaked in red and sheltered by an umbrella, a Hanuman statue marks the dhoka (entrance) to the Hanuman Dhoka and has even given the palace its name. The statue dates from 1672; the god’s face has long disappeared under a coating of orange vermillion paste applied by generations of devotees.
Standards bearing the double-triangle flag of Nepal flank the statue, while on each side of the palace gate are stone lions, one ridden by Shiva, the other by his wife Parvati. Above the gate a brightly painted niche is illustrated with a central figure of a ferocious Tantric version of Krishna. On the left side is the gentler Hindu Krishna in his traditional blue colour accompanied by two of his comely gopi (milkmaids). On the other side are King Pratap Malla and his queen.
From the entrance gate of the Hanuman Dhoka you immediately enter its most famous chowk. Although the courtyard was constructed in the Malla period, many of the buildings around the square are later Rana constructions. During that time Nasal Chowk was used for coronations, a practice that continued until as recently as 2001 with the crowning of King Gyanendra. The coronation platform is in the centre of the courtyard, while the Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower looms over the southern end of the courtyard.
The rectangular courtyard is aligned north–south and the entrance is at the northwestern corner. Just by the entrance there is a surprisingly small but beautifully carved doorway, which once led to the Malla kings’ private quarters.
Beyond the door is the large Narsingha Statue , Vishnu in his man-lion incarnation, in the act of disembowelling a demon. The stone image was erected by Pratap Malla in 1673 and the inscription on the pedestal explains that he placed it here for fear that he had offended Vishnu by dancing in a Narsingha costume. The Kabindrapur Temple in Durbar Sq was built for the same reason.
Next is the Sisha Baithak, or Audience Chamber , of the Malla kings. The open verandah houses the Malla throne and contains portraits of the Shah kings.
At the northeastern corner of Nasal Chowk stands the Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple , with its five circular roofs. Each of the valley towns has a five-storey temple, although it is the great Nyatapola Temple of Bhaktapur that is by far the best known. Hanuman is worshipped in the temple in Kathmandu, but only the priests may enter.
In Nepali nasal means ‘dancing one’, and Nasal Chowk takes its name from the Dancing Shiva statue hidden in the whitewashed chamber on the northeasternside of the square.
The part of the palace west of Nasal Chowk, overlooking the main Durbar Sq area, was constructed by the Ranas in the middle to late part of the 19th century. Ironically, it is now home to a museum that celebrates King Tribhuvan (r 1911–55) and his successful revolt against their regime, along with memorials to Kings Mahendra (1955–72) and Birendra (1972–2001).
Exhibits with names such as the ‘Royal Babyhood’ include some fascinating re-creations of the foppish king’s bedroom and study, with genuine personal effects that give quite an eerie insight into his life. Some of the exhibits, such as the king’s favourite stuffed bird (looking a bit worse for wear these days!), his boxing gloves, the walking stick with a spring-loaded sword hidden inside and his dusty, drained aquarium, add some surreal moments. There are several magnificent thrones, plenty of hunting photos and the obligatory coin collection.
Halfway through the museum you descend before ascending the steep stairways of the nine-storey Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower (1770), which was extensively restored prior to King Birendra’s coronation. There are superb views over the palace and the city from the top. The struts along the facade of the Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower, particularly those facing out to Basantapur Sq, are decorated with erotic carvings.
It’s hard not to rush through the second half of the museum, full of dull press clippings about the rather Peter Sellers–looking King Mahendra, before conveniently glossing over the massacre of King Birendra by his son in 2001. The museum exits into Lohan Chowk.
Lohan Chowk & Other Chowks
King Prithvi Narayan Shah was involved in the construction of the four red-coloured towers around Lohan Chowk . The towers represent the four ancient cities of the valley: the Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower, the Kirtipur Tower, the Bhaktapur Tower (Lakshmi Bilas) and the Patan (Lalitpur) Tower (known more evocatively as the Bilas Mandir, or House of Pleasure).
The palace’s other courtyards are currently closed to visitors, but you can get glimpses of them from the Tribhuvan Museum, and they might reopen at a future date.
North of Lohan Chowk, Mul Chowk was completely dedicated to religious functions within the palace and is configured like a vihara, with a two-storey building surrounding the courtyard. Mul Chowk is dedicated to Taleju Bhawani, the royal goddess of the Mallas, and sacrifices are made to her in the centre of the courtyard during the Dasain festival.
A smaller Taleju temple stands in the southern wing of the square and the image of the goddess is moved here from the main temple during the Dasain festival.
North of Nasal Chowk is Mohan Chowk , a residential courtyard used by the Malla kings. It dates from 1649 and, at one time, a Malla king had to be born here to be eligible to wear the crown. (The last Malla king, Jaya Prakash Malla, had great difficulties during his reign, even though he was the legitimate heir, because he was born elsewhere.) The golden waterspout, known as Sundhara, in the centre of the courtyard delivers water from Budhanilkantha in the north of the valley. The Malla kings would ritually bathe here each morning.