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This historic temple is said to be the oldest Hindu temple still in use in the Kathmandu Valley, but Changu Narayan was badly hit by the 2015 earthquake and the temple is closed to visitors while restoration is underway. A full description of the site is included here for when the temple reopens.

Built in the two-tiered pagoda style, the main shrine here is guarded on all sides by pairs of mythical beasts – lions, elephants and ram-horned griffons – and its roof struts feature some amazingly intricate carvings of Tantric deities. The statue inside shows Vishnu as Narayan, the creator of all life, but the beautifully decorated metal-plate doors are only opened for rituals and only Hindus may enter. The temple came very close to collapsing in the earthquake, and much work will be required to stabilise the structure.

The surrounding compound was badly damaged and the status of all monuments here cannot be verified until collapsed walls are removed. Before the earthquake, the following were the highlights.

The Garuda figure facing the west door is said to date from the 5th century, and in front of this statue is the oldest stone inscription in the valley, dating from AD 464, which recalls how the king persuaded his mother not to commit sati (ritual suicide) after his father’s death. Two large pillars carrying a conch and chakra disc, the traditional symbols of Vishnu, were damaged and are awaiting restoration.

Dotted around the courtyard are a series of extraordinary carvings dating from the Licchavi era, showing Vishnu in his various avatars (incarnations), but it is not clear if all survived the earthquake. Prior to the disaster, Vishnu appeared in the southwest corner of the compound as Narsingha (his man-lion incarnation), disembowelling a demon with his fingers, and as Vikrantha (Vamana), the six-armed dwarf who transformed himself into a giant capable of crossing the universe in three steps to defeat King Bali (look for his outstretched leg).

To the side of these images stood a broken slab showing a 10-headed and 10-armed Vishnu, with Ananta reclining on a serpent below (the plaque was divided into three sections – the underworld, the world of man and the heavens). In the northwest corner of the compound stood an exquisite 7th-century image of Vishnu astride Garuda, which is illustrated on the Rs 10 banknote.

The squat temple in the southeast corner of the complex is dedicated to the Tantric goddess Chhinnamasta, who beheaded herself to feed the bloodthirsty deities Dakini and Varnini. The temple was damaged and restoration is underway.

Down the steps leading east from the temple complex are the one-storey Bhimsen Pati, with its stone guardians, and the remains of a Malla-era royal palace.