The 3 Ancient Kingdoms of Kathmandu Valley

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Kathmandu Valley used to be divided into the three kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. The heart of each of these kingdoms was the Durbar Square, around which the royal palaces and temples were arranged. Today, the sprawl of the capital city of Kathmandu has nearly swallowed all three of these Durbar Squares, so it’s possible to visit them all in one day.

The three palace squares are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all fantastic displays of the unique architectural style of the Newar people who are the original inhabitants of this valley. Most of the current structures are from the 1600s, but are built on the foundations of much older structures which were built around the main crossroads and thoroughfares used since ancient times. They are open-air museums with each containing many squares, courtyards and temples arranged around the palace. The palaces have turned into museums, but the temples are very much still in use. Sadly all three squares sustained heavy damage from the earthquake in 2015, and reconstruction will be ongoing for many years.

Nyatapola Temple in Taumadhi Square, Bhaktapur.

Kathmandu Durbar Square
Entrance Fee: 1000 NPR per person
Getting there: Located in the heart of Kathmandu, you can walk or take a short taxi
Time: Allow at least 2 hours

If you find yourself walking around Thamel, the area heavy with hotels and tourist trinket shops,  you’re likely to happen upon Kathmandu Durbar Square. It’s located just at the south end of the main North/South streets that make up the Thamel area. Traffic is still allowed on some streets in this area, so be careful and take your time wandering around to be sure you didn’t miss any of the squares. One of the highlights is the Kumari Bahal, the home of the Kumari, a young girl known as the “living goddess,” as she is believed to be inhabited by the goddess Taleju. You can visit the courtyard of the home, and may even see her looking out the window, but photos are strictly prohibited. Each of the three Durbar Squares is home to a Kumari.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

The Kumari Bahal is the house of the living goddess, the Kumari, while she is inhabited by the goddess Taleju.

The Taleju Temple can be seen in the background here, with the entrance to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Square just beyond the tree.

Hanuman Dhoka Palace Square gets its name from the statue of Hanuman that guards the entrance. You can see that there is still a lot of reconstruction happening from the 2015 earthquake.

Old sages dress up in the square to pose for tourist photos. Bring some small change with you to get a photo!

A group of women singing in Kathmandu Durbar Square.

This Kal Bhairav statue was discovered in a field in the 17th century. It is believed that people die if they lie in front of this statue.

Patan Durbar Square
Entrance Fee: 1500 NPR per person
Getting there: 10 minute taxi ride from Kathmandu, around 700 NPR
Time: Allow at least 2 hours

When we visited Patan, we were with a guide on our city tour provided by Mosaic Adventure as part of our Everest Base Camp Trek. We only had a limited amount of time, so we really only got to visit the Palace and the Palace Museum. The museum displays many old traditional Nepali arts like bronze and repouss√© religious objects.  

Patan Durbar Square

Sundari Chok is one of three courtyards inside the palace. The sunken tank is named Tusha Hiti.

Palace windows looking down into the square below.

Entrance to the Palace Museum.

Newar architectural carvings are unique to Nepal.

A 12th century copper gilt Buddha on display at Patan Museum.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Entrance Fee: 1500 NPR per person
Getting there: 30 min taxi ride from Kathmandu, about 2500 NPR round trip
Time: Allow at least 3 hours, plus 1 hour driving time from Kathmandu

Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square is located in the town of Bhaktapur, about 15 kilometers from Kathmandu. To get there, you can take a 30 minute taxi ride from Kathmandu. We arranged a 2500 rupee round trip price with our taxi driver, who waited 3 hours while we saw the sights before returning us to Kathmandu. 

Bhaktapur is the most quiet of the three, with less traffic and less modernization. It’s easy to imagine what life would have been like in its golden age, as so little has changed. In addition to the main Durbar Square, there are three other city squares that have been well preserved, including Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Square and Pottery Square.  

Taumadhi Square

The Palace of Fifty-five Windows is now a national art gallery (tickets cost extra).

The Golden Gate, which leads to the Taleju Temple.

Golden Gate detail

Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla

Pottery Square

The Peacock Window

If you love ancient sites, the three Durbar squares are going to be one of the highlights of your visit to Kathmandu! Saving this post for later? Pin it below!

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