PATAN, NEPAL: Intrigued by an open door and a welcome sign I crossed the threshold into a marble entrance. My curiosity had gotten the better of me, I wanted to know what was inside, and if I would be allowed to go in. Greeted by a man who spoke no English but could see my questioning expression he signaled to me to come in. Did I need to leave my shoes with him before I walked through the next door? I stopped to read the inscriptions aligned to the photographs on the wall, hoping there was something in them to tell me what I needed to guide me to my next step. This is the Golden Temple.
Quick, where is the guidebook?
Also known as Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, Sanskrit for “Golden Monastery” once you walk into the temple courtyard you understand the “golden” applied to the name. Everything is indeed golden: the walls, the roof, the ornaments, the entire facade, embossed with images of Buddha. A black cat is shooed away by a caretaker. This is because when the temple was built by King Bhaskardev the temple’s Kwapadya (or main icon) appeared in a dream and told him its desire was to move to a place where mice chased cats. One day the king saw a golden mouse chasing a cat and so this spot is where the temple was built. Rats are allowed to roam freely, as are tortoises, which I did not see. Apparently the belief is the universe rests on the back of a tortoise.
The metalwork on this building is amazing, all intricate and very old. Built in the twelfth century, it has withstood the most recent earthquake with surprising littl to no damage that I could see. Unlike the other shrines and temples across Kathamandu and Patan, many requiring scaffolding to hold them up, or where reduced to a pile of bricks and rubble, but too sacred to move just lie in the spot they fell. This temple stands proudly, the sun glaring on the roof.
Consulting the guidebook again, I learn that the golden ribbons hanging from the top of temple roof down are meant to provide slide for the gods to descend from heaven to answer the prayers of worshippers.