Kathmandu’s Historical Ponds

By Royal Mountain Travel

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Thousands of people congregate around a pond in Handigaun in the month of Chaitra/Baisakh (mid March/mid April). The occasion is the famous ‘Gahana Khojne’ (Search for Ornaments) festival, an annual event that is known for the robust nature of its festivities. This famous pond (Gahanapokhari) in Handigaun in Ward No. 5 of Kathmandu Municipality is an important site in a locality rich in history and culture. Handigaun was once the ancient capital of Nepal during the reign of the Verma, Gupta and Lichhavi kings until the 8th century. One could say that the valley itself was born of a pond. According to mythology, the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake known as Nagdaha that was full of snakes. It was believed to have been drained by Buddhist sage Manjushree. Myths aside, in the architecturally rich eras of the Lichhavi (2nd to 9th century) and Malla (14th to 16th century) periods, numerous pokharis (ponds) were constructed.

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Nag Pokhari in Kathmandu. Image by Ico Kloppenburg/Flickr

One of Kathmandu’s biggest ponds was the Lainchaur Pokhari. It is no more and on it now stands the Nepal Scouts building. In Patan, among the ponds remaining today is the most ancient Guita Pukhu built by King Sarvananda. Lagankhel Pukhu built by King Ashok Varma is another old pond. Taudaha (in Chobar), Nagdaha (in Dhapakhel), Siddhapokhari (in Bhaktapur), Pim Bahapokhari (in Patan) and Kathmandu’s Ranipokhari, Nagpokhari, Kamalpokhari and Gahanapokhari are some of the better known ones among the valley’s remaining ponds. Most have a cultural significance. Taudaha, Nagpokhari and Nagdaha are visited during Nag Panchami in Shrawan (July-August); Ranipokhari, during Bhai Tika (October-November); and Gahanapokhari during Chaitra Purnima (March-April). The Taudaha Lake in Chobar, 6 km southwest of Kathmandu also holds importance for its rich diversity of flora and fauna.  It is the valley’s only remaining natural lake that still supports significant wetland birds.

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Budhanilkantha. Image by Oleg Bartunov/ Flickr

The Nagadaha in Dhapakhel VDC of Lalitpur District is a natural pond that covers an area of five hectares and eight kilometers southwest of Kathmandu is Matatirtha Pokhari which is visited once a year in April-May by those whose mothers have passed away. About eight kilometers north from Kathmandu, in Budhanilakantha, is a large 5th century stone statue of the Sleeping Vishnu reclining on a bed of snakes and seemingly floating on the water at the center of a small pond. It is one of the most interesting of all religious sites in the valley. In Kathmandu Ranipokhari is the best known. Its original Newari name was ‘Nhu Pukhu’ (New Pond). Dating back to the 17th century, it was built by King Pratap Malla to console Queen Anantapriya on the death of her youngest son. At the four corners of the pond are temples dedicated to Ganesh, Bhairab, Narayan and Saraswati. Nagpokhari in Naxal has a tall statue of a Naga King at its center. This pond, now well preserved and with a park around it, especially comes to life during Nag Panchami. Gahanapokhari is located but a short distance away. Kamalpokhari is also quite close to Nagpokhari.  Unlike the others, it does not hold much of a historical or cultural significance but it does add to the beauty of the general environment.

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Siddha Pokhari, Bhaktapur. Image by Subash Bahadur Bista/Flickr

Once upon a time, Bhaktapur too had numerous ponds or pukhus (in Newari). Today, there are still 33 of them in the city. Siddhapokhari or Ta Pukhu located at Dudhpati (at the entrance to the city), is said to have been built in the 15th century. Another big pond is Barhe Pukhu which is located at Kamal Vinayak on the northeast of the city. Ancha Pukhu to the north of the city has a stone image of a reclining Lord Vishnu at its center. Kancha Pukhu, to the south of the Dattatraya Square, is architecturally very interesting. One can see a perfectly reflected image of the Nayatapola Temple on its surface although it is situated over 500 meters away from the temple. Nagpokhari in the Palace of 55 Windows is encircled by writhing stone cobras rising up on pillars. Other notable ponds in Bhaktapur are Paleswon-Pukhu, Bhajya Pukhu, Guhya Pukhu, Bhanda Pukhu, Kaldah Pukhu and Dwinmaju Pukhu. There are 25 pokharis in the Patan today, with the major ones being Prayag, Jawalakhel and Pim Bahal. Pimbahal Pokhari was built in the 14th century and is one of the more famous ponds in Patan although in a decrepit state. Actually, Patan has had some trouble maintaining its historical ponds and many are now earmarked by the municipality for repair and renovation.

Title Image: Taudaha by Pawan Kawan/Flickr

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