Located in the southern part of Kathmandu, Patan is rich in history, culture, and craft. One of the three kingdoms that make what is known as the capital of Nepal today – the other two are Basantapur and Bhaktapur; all of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites – this neighbourhood is a unique amalgamation of old and new. From admiring intricately carved ancient temples to understanding traditional Newari architecture and craftsmanship, walking around Patan is like playing a game of hide-and-seek.
This is precisely the charm that this storied city brings to those who visit. Get lost in narrow alleyways, stumble into obscure courtyards and find yourself shifting between the ancient and the now.
Do as the locals
The best place to catch a glimpse of everyday life is at Patan Durbar Square – the heart of the old city. See old Newari men wearing traditional Dhaka hats lined up on a bench, street vendors selling prayer lights and marigolds, and women gathered together to knit. There is no better place than this public space to soak in the eclectic sights and boisterous chatter of the locals.
Insider tip: The best seats are on the steps of the Krishna Mandir (temple) where you’ll find yourself in the company of other locals who are also people watching.
Live like a local
Checking into one of Cosy Nepal’s charmingly affordable lodging will set you on the right track in acquainting yourself with the old parts of Patan — starting from the moment you set foot in one of their many unique rooms and apartments nestled in hidden alleys and secret courtyards. Unlike most hotels and guesthouses, Cosy Nepal sets itself apart with its well-designed spaces with modern amenities, and its admirable work towards conserving the architectural heritage that’s iconic of Patan. Thanks to their dedicated work, century-old homes that would have otherwise been torn down are revived and refurbished allowing ancient Newari architecture and history to live on.
Insider tip: Book yourself into their latest conservation project, the Imperial Duplex. The two-storey apartment was once the summer home of the formerly all-powerful Rana Family, who ruled Nepal for over a century.
Breakfast of champions
If there’s one thing to put on your food list that’s not commonly suggested in other travel guides, it’s the local Newari breakfast.
An assortment of deep-fried bread, the must-tries are gwaramari (plain doughnuts), malpua (sweet flat bread) and sel roti, circular bread made out of rice flour, served with a side of tarkari (usually potato and pea stew). All of them are best enjoyed with a glass of piping hot chia (milk tea).
Insider tip: Locals in the neighbourhood are early risers so this delicious fritters are usually sold out by 9.30am.
After breakfast, stroll down Mangal Bazaar and hit up the copper street. Lined with shops selling copperware, take the time to admire the extensive range of brass and copper products and the intricate handwork that goes into each piece. A skill passed down from generations, it takes artisans years to master the delicate and intricate technique that goes into metal crafting. Most of the copper pieces are hand hammered and hand-engraved, and are priced according to the weight of the metal used.
Insider tip: Even if you have no intentions of buying, this 200-metre alley is well worth exploring, especially for the ‘gram.
Off the beaten path
For something off the typical tourist track, drop into architecture and design studio, Metalwood. As the name suggests, metal and wood are the core materials the studio uses to make its range of modern and minimalist furniture and accessories. Take a tour of their space and see a talented crew of designers, carpenters and metal shapers at work.
Insider tip: If you’re willing to ship furniture back furniture from Kathmandu, their sleek line of accessories spanning vases, lights and their latest, a foldable copper tray table, would be great handcrafted additions for any home.
Tight on time for shopping? Head over to Yala Mandala, a one-stop shopping destination for everything handcrafted. This artisan village houses a boutique, art gallery and café in an old heritage home. You’ll find a wide selection of quality ceramics, knitwear, jewellery, paper products showcasing traditional Nepali craftsmanship with a modern touch.
Insider tip: For a mid-day perk-me-up, have a cup of masala tea at Yala’s garden café. Their pancakes are also the fluffiest in town.
The newest establishment to join the burgeoning food scene in and around Patan, Of Silk & Salt takes inspiration from the hippie trail of the Silk Road. Look forward to inventive dishes infused with Central Asian spices, Southeast Asian aromas, and dressed with hearty Nepali flavours.
Insider tip: Hop over to Of Silk & Salt’s quirky shop where you’ll find an assortment of hippie-inspired goods influenced by the owners’ travels around the world.
Despite the damage done by the 2015 earthquake, Patan still boasts some of the most beautiful temples and palaces in Nepal – locals don’t call the district Lalitpur (City of Beauty in Sanskrit) for nought. Once a fiercely independent city-state, it has now become a suburb of Kathmandu, and shines all the more brighter for it with its peaceful enivrons that can only be good for the soul.