Once upon a time, in the Kathmandu valley, wood was used as a building material. Back in those days, things were built to last. A wooden framework formed the essential part of the built structure, the beams, struts, pillars and entablatures formed an ingenious system of load distribution and roof support. And of course, there was a need to ornament ‘everything’. So, they used wood generously and carved it wherever it was used.
Sounds simple, but so intriguing and complex when you see some of the work. Apparently, the Newari (wood-carving community) craftspeople have detailed prescriptions for wood carving in medieval texts, which give exact and specialised instructions for every aspect of the craft. Now here’s the ‘catch-your-breath-moment’ no nails or glue were used and so the execution of the decorative work had to be very precise so that the countless tiny components of a pattern fit perfectly!
The three Durbar squares in the valley – the ones in Kathmandu city, Bhaktapur and Patan – have preserved the stunning architectural frameworks fittingly. While Kathmandu Durbar Square can get too populated, Bhaktapur and Patan are relatively less crowded and richer in terms of what you can see and absorb. When in Bhaktapur ask around for the delicious mishti-dahi (sweetened yoghurt) parlour and when in Patan the museum is a must-visit. You can also sit in its cafe, soak in the history and sip on a drink and be calmed!
In the last half century or more, wood is no longer used as a building material. Concrete came in and the need to swap the old for the new happened. The dwindling crafts community, now creates miniature souvenirs, photo frames and are engaged in restoration work. I bought a few frames myself. And it’s definitely a great souvenir to pick up from the valley.
It intrigues me to look at these carved wonders and imagine how aesthetics came so naturally to our ancestors and how it would be to live in an abode like this. My next post, is going to be about one such endeavour on restoration blended with Nepali culture and hospitality that gives you a sense of living in the past, in the present.
An outdoor resting area just outside Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Charming home in Bhaktapur, converted into a fruit stall
Grand entrances into the stories of the past
Colossal yet simple
Stone, brick and wood – tell me a better combination!
A view of the gorgeous Patan Museum, a must visit!
More prettiness when the light streams in and the carving makes patterns
Worn out and pale, yet rich
Carved doors, windows and pagodas, with the brass dome adding the perfect contrast
The busy and buzzing Kathmandu Durbar Square. Not to miss the windows and doors!