Hanuman Dhoka - A must-visit attraction in Kathmandu

Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square

Kathmandu's royal palace, known as the Hanuman Dhoka, was originally founded during the Licchavi period (4th to 8th centuries AD), but the compound was expanded considerably by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century. Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate), with several complexes spread over an area of about five acres, is the social, religious and urban focal point of Kathmandu. The square is the complex of palaces, courtyards and temples that were built between the 12th and the 18th centuries by the ancient Malla Kings of Nepal. Sadly, the sprawling palace was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and damage was extensive. At the time of research, the main Nasal Chowk courtyard was open and the Tribhuvan Museum was close to reopening, with other buildings closed for reconstruction.

Even from the outside, the palace is impressive. Hanuman’s assistance to the noble Rama during the exciting events of the Ramayana has led to the monkey god’s appearance guarding many important entrances. Here, cloaked in red and sheltered by an umbrella, a Hanuman statue marks the dhoka (entrance) to the Hanuman Dhoka and has even given the palace its name. The statue dates from 1672; the god’s face has long disappeared under a coating of orange vermillion paste applied by generations of devotees.

Standards bearing the double-triangle flag of Nepal flank the statue, while on each side of the palace gate are gaudy stone lions, one ridden by Shiva, the other by his wife Parvati. Above the gate a brightly painted niche is illustrated with a central figure of a ferocious Tantric version of Krishna. On the left side is the gentler Hindu Krishna in his traditional blue colour accompanied by two of his gopi (milkmaids). On the other side are King Pratap Malla and his queen.

The Hanuman Dhoka originally housed 35 courtyards (chowks), but the 1934 earthquake reduced the palace to today’s 10 chowks. The place is home to dozens of monkeys Famous for Coronation of Nepalese Kings.

There is a 17th-century stone inscription in the Hanuman Dhoka that is on the wall of the palace with writings in 15 languages. It is believed that if anybody deciphers this entire inscription, the milk would flow from the spout, which lies just below the inscripted stone wall. Some people say that the inscription contains coded directions to a treasure King Pratap Malla has buried beneath Mohan Chowk of Durbar Square.


Hanuman Dhoka, Durbar Square


History of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square is the largest palace square in Nepal, located in the south of the city center. This Durbar Square was built in the cultural prosperity of Nepal’s history. And it is listed as a splendid "world cultural Heritage" for its unique buildings and sculptures. Because it has the most cultural and religious characteristics of Nepal, it has become a world-famous tourist attraction.

If you haven't been here, you can't imagine how lively and bustling this square can be. Since this square was once the seat of the royal palace until Shah Dynasty, the monarchs of successive dynasties built their ideal palaces and temples here. Over time, one after another beautiful palaces and temples were built around this square, forming an area with unique Nepalese religious and ethnic characteristics.

Durbar means "Royal Palace" in Nepali, so Kathmandu Durbar Square is used to be the center of the Malla Dynasty in the Kingdom of Kathmandu. The Malla Dynasty (1201-1769 AD) was the heyday of Nepal's art and cultural development, and it was called the "Renaissance" period of Nepal's classical culture. The Malla Dynasty ruled in Nepal for nearly 600 years. During this period, culture, architecture, and art once reached their peak.

The old palace was first built in the Lichawi Dynasty (464-879) before the 13th century, but it was not yet a palace at that time, and its scale was small. As a result, the history of Kathmandu Palace Square can be traced back to the 13th century.

After the death of King Jayayakshya Malla (1428-1482) in 1482, three of his sons held their own sides in the Kathmandu Valley and make themselves kings. Since then, Malla Kingdom has divided into three, Kantipur (now Kathmandu), Bhadgaon, and Patan. The kings of Malla have respected Hinduism and believed that everything was bestowed by God. In order to compete for the favor of the gods, the Three Kingdoms continued to build temples and launched architectural competitions. Three palace squares were built respectively in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon.


Ancient Hanuman Dhoka


Kathmandu Durbar Square

In 1769, King Narayan-Shah occupied the Kathmandu Valley and added four observation towers to the southeast of the square. All the successive kings of the Shah Dynasty lived in Hanuman Dhoka Palace until they moved to the new palace in 1886. However, major ceremonies such as the king's coronation are still held here.

After the continuous expansion in the Malla Dynasty and the Shah Dynasty, Kathmandu Durbar Square formed a complex of buildings consisting of 3 large open spaces and more than 50 palaces and temples. It can be said that the square in Kathmandu covers the classical Newari (the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley) buildings from the 16th to the 19th century, including the temple and palace.

On April 25, 2015, an 8.1 earthquake in Kathmandu caused damage to many buildings in the square. Due to the earthquake, most parts of the square are still under repair. Tourists are not allowed to enter. Fortunately, some places are still intact and worth a visit.


Durbar Square Kathmandu


Main structures in Hanuman Dhoka

Hanuman Gate

Hanuman Dhoka means 'Gate of Hanuman', the monkey god of Ramayana fame. Today, dozens of monkeys call this square their home. Hanuman performed herculean tasks on behalf of the other gods. The Malla dynasty's kings used Hanuman's image on their battle flags, and in 1672 placed his statue outside the Royal Palace to ward off evil spirits and diseases. The Hanuman Dhoka, therefore, has great historical and religious importance.

Nasal Chok

Your main taste of the royal palace will be this handsome courtyard inside the main entrance. Nasal Chowk was constructed in the Malla period, but many of the buildings around the square are later Rana constructions. During the Rana period, Nasal Chowk was used for coronations, a practice that continued until as recently as 2001 with the crowning of King Gyanendra here. The former coronation platform stands in the centre of the courtyard, while the damaged Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower looms over the southern end of the courtyard.

Beyond the door is the large Narsingha Statue, Vishnu in his man-lion incarnation, in the act of disembowelling a demon. The stone image was erected by Pratap Malla in 1673 and the inscription on the pedestal explains that he placed it here for fear that he had offended Vishnu by dancing in a Narsingha costume. The Kabindrapur Temple in Durbar Sq was built for the same reason.

Next is the Sisha Baithak (Audience Chamber) of the Malla kings. The open verandah houses the Malla throne and contains portraits of the Shah kings.

At the northeastern corner of Nasal Chowk stands the damaged Panch Mukhi Hanuman Temple, with its five circular roofs. Each of the valley towns has a five-storey temple, although it is the great Nyatapola Temple of Bhaktapur that is by far the best known. Hanuman is worshipped in the temple in Kathmandu, but only the priests may enter.

In Nepali nasal means ‘dancing one’, and Nasal Chowk takes its name from the Dancing Shiva statue hidden in the whitewashed chamber on the northeastern side of the square.

On display along the east side of the courtyard are the palanquins used to carry Queen Aishwarya during her wedding to Birendra in 1970 and later to transport her body to her cremation in 2001. Also displayed here is the royal throne.


Nasal Chok of Hanuman Dhoka


Mohan Chowk & Mul Chowk

There are two courtyards that are currently under renovation but should eventually reopen. The first square you reach after the Tribhuvan Museum is Lohan Chowk. This courtyard was formerly ringed by four red-coloured towers constructed by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, representing the four ancient cities of the valley. The upper parts of the Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower and Bhaktapur Tower (Lakshmi Bilas) collapsed in 2015, but the Kirtipur Tower and Patan (Lalitpur) Tower (known more evocatively as the Bilas Mandir, or House of Pleasure) are still standing.

North of Lohan Chowk, Mul Chowk was completely dedicated to religious functions within the palace and is configured like a vihara, with a two-storey building surrounding the courtyard. Mul Chowk is dedicated to Taleju Bhawani, the royal goddess of the Mallas, and sacrifices are made to her in the centre of the courtyard during the Dasain festival. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the square, but you can get views from the doorway in the northeastern corner of Nasal Chowk.


Mohan Chowk of Hanuman Dhoka


Hanuman Dhoka Palace Museum

The palace wing to the west of Nasal Chowk, overlooking the main Durbar Sq area, was constructed by the Ranas in the middle to late part of the 19th century after they wrested power from the royal Shah dynasty. Ironically, it later became a museum celebrating King Tribhuvan (r 1911–55) and his successful revolt against their regime, along with memorials to Kings Mahendra (r 1955–72) and Birendra (r 1972–2001). Sadly, this wing of the palace bore the brunt of the damage in the 2015 earthquake. The museum was due to open in 2018, though it is unclear at this stage whether such unusual treasures as the king’s favourite stuffed bird and his Land Rover, with the scars of an attempted assassination, survived the disaster.


Hanuman Dhoka Palacem Museum


Rising above the museum is the nine-storey Basantapur (Kathmandu) Tower (1770), which once stood like a beacon at the end of Freak St. Unfortunately, the upper tiers collapsed during the earthquake and the tower is closed to visitors while it is repaired with Chinese assistance.