Once the central shrine to the hippie and flower-power children of the sixties, Durbar Square in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu remains an evocative travel wonder. With an astonishing collection of over fifty immaculately carved, quasi-Oriental wooden buildings strung across three loosely connected squares, Durbar Square throngs with worshippers, workers and tourists.
Durbar Square is a place for soaking up time, watching people, chilling out and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of this area which once fronted the royal palace.
Women sell vegetables, fabrics and supplies neatly presented on old sheets spread on the ground in front of five hundred year old temples. Old men with leathery creased faces focus on a card game in the shade of another ancient temple. Rattly rickshaws rumble across the neighbouring streets while hawkers accost tourists with their varied collection of curios and handicrafts. The sweet aroma of spices and incense waft through the narrow alleys. Travellers, probably in preparation of a trek into the towering Himalaya, snap photos and wander aimlessly among the historic structures. A sprinkling of sadhus with their painted faces and brightly coloured robes present a strange mixture of religious spirituality and fund-raising enterprise encouraging photography for a heavily bartered fee.
The triple-roofed Maju Deval temple is a popular meeting point and sits across from the Kumari Bahal, which houses the Royal Kumari. This young girl is a living goddess and stays in her house except when she is paraded a couple of times per year on religious or ceremonial occasions to bless the people. She remains in this role until the onset of puberty with her first period which marks her return as a normal human and a new candidate is ritualistically selected.
The carvings on the various temples are extraordinarily ornate. Firstly they appear to be in a neat pattern but closer inspection shows each tiny face is carved with their own unique expression and character.
More striking is seeing the carvings on the pillars for the multi-layered roofs. Explicit carvings of sexual activities decorate the roofline. More startling is the intermix of men, women and animals in just about all imaginable (and several unimagined) combinations and sexual positions that adorn these historic buildings in all their technicolour glory. While clearly espousing tantric principles, a number of these depictions challenge any balanced thinking and are probably illegal. It seems bizarre that such extreme erotic imagery decorates these religious buildings in a region of such conservative sexual values.
Meander the streets and alleyways around the main square, enjoy the intricate carved wooden temples and palaces and take your time to let life unveil in all its Nepalese glory in this timeless history-rich travel wonder.