Nepal—A Curious Land

Nepal has an ancient history, no doubt about it, it is often said that our Malla forefathers were living in comfortably built houses in well-functioning communities much before the Americans built log cabins in America. In other words, while they lived in tents, Nepalis, especially in Kathmandu Valley, lived like kings.

However, much of Nepal’s ancient history is unknown. Therefore, the discovery of an ancient life-sized statue in Maligaon of Kathmandu in 1994 was the cause of much fanfare. More so, because it had an inscription in an ancient script, which read thus: ‘Samvat 107 sri paramadeva pka maharajesu jayavarmma’. Heated debate between experts resulted in the final literal translation, which read thus: ‘The year 107. Among the Kings, the Fourth, Late Sri Jayavarmma.’ This was fuel for the fodder as far as the country’s history was concerned; a chapter was added, so to say.

You can view this statue of the once-famous king, a statue with the earliest Licchavi inscription ever found here, in the stone sculpture room at the National Museum in Chauni, Kathmandu. You may also observe many other ancient artifacts at this museum, making it worth a visit  However, as many know, it is not only at the museum that visitors can get a glimpse of Nepal’s rich treasure of objects d’art. The whole of Kathmandu Valley is often referred to as a living museum, with antiques on public display, and still very much in everyday use, in many old houses, courtyards, temples, and monasteries.

The three durbar squares of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, and their vicinity are major locations where you will get to practice your keen eye for detail as you study the hundreds of stone, metal, and wooden artifacts at every nook and corner. For the really clever tourist, one would suggest that carrying a notebook to note details as described by locals could be a rewarding exercise, for who knows, you could end up being a well recognized expert on the subject through your informative blogs on the internet. This is what is meant by the phrase, ‘a rewarding trip.’

Now, expanding on this, if you wish to gain still more insight into Nepal’s objects d’art, make it a point to spend some time at some curio shops around the three above-mentioned cities. While you won’t lack for a choice, the number of such shops being many, there are some which have better collections, besides, and equally importantly, more knowledgeable owners. In Kathmandu, such shops may be found in Thamel, Basantpur, and Durbar Marg, while in Bhaktapur and Patan, the durbar square areas are the places to focus on.

While most artifacts are based on religious subjects, for example, paubhas and thankas (religion-based paintings) and statues of gods and goddesses, there are other items that are worth putting on your cabinet in the sitting room back home, for their curiosity value—curios, in other words. Thankas and paubhas, of course, are prized souvenirs for the same purpose, that of tickling guests’ interest, and you can visit reputed places like Dharmapala Thanka Center in Durbar Marg and  Thanka House in Thamel for the same. Be prepared, however, to shell out big bucks for some really fancy pieces. Genuinely ancient pieces are rare nowadays, nonetheless, those on display, ancient or not, are a sight for sore eyes. Similarly, the glittering metal statues (some of the gilted) in a shop like Fabulous Handicraft Center in Thamel will cause your eyes to rest their wandering for some time. Prices could reach high plateaus but you can also get smaller sized, but as exquisitely crafted, items at affordable rates. One place that should be part of your itinerary is Patan Industrial Estate, where you’ll not only find a lot of showrooms, but where you could actually watch craftsmen at work. Two such places could be: Patan Woodcarving Industries and Arniko Sculpture Center.

Now, talking about curious, Shiva and Parvati Handicrafts in Thamel is a prime destination for spending a few hours rummaging through all sorts of intriguing bric-a-brac. Here, the owner is supposed to be quite an expert on the subject, so sit down with him over a cup of tea and chit-chat away. There’s another old timer, the owner of New Curio Shop, this too in Thamel, who’s also good to go. Here’s some stuff you’ll find in such shops, which should give you a good idea about what to expect: bells, musical instruments, boxes, masks, manuscripts, vessels, primitive figures, and clothes. Antique locks (bhote talcha), mana pathis (set of 8 measuring vessels of Licchavi period), dhungro’ (milking pails), Shaman sets (belt with lots of curious hardware worn by Tamang shamans), ‘lisnus’ (narrow wooden ladders of Trishuli), etc. etc.

The musical instruments are of course, indigenous, and inlcude dhyangro, bansuri, tungna, sarangi, narsimha, dama, dholke, jhyali, shehnai, tempu, kernel, etc. Tibet is a rich source for curios as well, and Tibetan stuff found here includes red wooden chests, leather boxes, thankas, old chairs, ancient carpets, and so on and so forth. Other things you may see in these shops are various types of weapons, ancient carved doors, old jewelry, etc.

Well, you get the picture? There’s plenty of good stuff out there, stuff you could never have imagined, in the curio shops of Kathmandu Valley. Things that will certainly make your guests back home exclaim with delight, “How wonderful!”

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