Best Sight Seeings:

Friday, April 23, 2010

London "The UK capital top attractions"

London, capital of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, seat of the royal family, Parliament and government, lies in a gently undulating basin enclosed by hills, on both banks of the Thames some 50mi/75km above its estuary into the North Sea. The "Greenwich Meridian", longitude 0°, runs through the London suburb of Greenwich. London is not only the financial and cultural center of Great Britain but also one of the most interesting cities in the world, a real metropolis, where people from all different countries have made their contribution to a cultural melting pot which finds expression in music, theater, dance, literature, and not least, gastronomy.

London Eye

The British Airways London Eye is a millennium celebration structure added to the city. It is the world's highest observation wheel and despite its Ferris wheel appearance, this is not just a children's ride. Individual glass capsules, which can be entered as a group or booked privately, offer spectacular views of London. on a circular tour that rises up to 450 feet. "Flight time", as it is called, last 30 minutes and takes passengers on a circular tour that rises up to 450 feet.

Flight times can be booked in advance.

Big Ben

At the north end of the Houses of Parliament is the Clock Tower, which ranks with Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge as one of the most celebrated London landmarks. The tower is 98m/320ft high, with a flight of 334 steps leading up to the clock, which has dials 7m/23ft in diameter and minute hands 4m/14ft long. The bell, "Big Ben" said to be named after Sir Benjamin Hall, which strikes the hours, weighs 13 tons. The sound of Big Ben has become known throughout the world as the time signal of BBC radio.

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall was spared by the fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster. The 79m/250ft long and 30m/90ft high hall was rebuilt by Henry Yvele during Richard II's reign. Its most impressive feature is the oak hammerbeam roof (late 14th century), restored after damage during the last war. Westminster Hall has been the scene of great historical events. From 1224 to 1882 it was the meeting place of the highest courts in the land and witnessed many famous trials, including those of Richard II (1399), Sir Thomas More (1535) and Charles I (1649). Here, too, Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector in 1653.

From Westminster Hall a staircase leads down to St Stephen's Crypt (officially the church of St Mary
Undercroft), the crypt of the old St Stephen's Chapel (1327).


Greenwich, one of London's most attractive suburbs, lies 10km/6mi downstream from London Bridge on the south bank of the Thames. It is famous for its Observatory (through which runs the Greenwich Meridian), its large Park, the National Maritime Museum and the old Greenwich Hospital which now houses the Royal Naval College. In Greenwich itself, the streets, pubs, church (St Alfege) and market are well worth exploring.

Under the title Historic Maritime Greenwich are included the historical places and museums in Greenwich; the Queen's House, the East and West Wings which were added to it in the 19th century housing the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park and the museum ships "Cutty Sark" and "Gipsy
Moth IV".

Queen's House

Queen's House is a building of great interest in its own right. A Palladian mansion, designed by Inigo Jones - imitated in many other houses of the period but never equalled - it is a masterpiece of Classical architecture, notable for its symmetrical proportions, harmoniously contrived detail and finely executed marble floors, wrought-iron ballustrades and carved and painted ceilings. The house, begun in 1617, was commissioned by James I as a residence for his wife, Anne of Denmark, but was abandoned after her death. In 1629 Charles I had it completed by Inigo Jones for his wife, Henrietta Maria. The latter, who had fled during Cromwell's domination, returned to the palace in 1660. With Greenwich Park as its garden Queen's House epitomises the entire art form of royal residences. After six year's renovation, which cost five million pounds, Queen's House was reopened in May 1990.

Thames Flood Barrier

The Thames Barrier, which crosses the river near Woolwich 13km/8mi east of the City of London, was inaugurated on May 8, 1984. This technical masterpiece, 520m/569yd wide, is the largest movable flood barrier in the world. Nine piers were sunk in the river bed and between them are 10 steel gates. The powerful hydraulic lifting rams take 30 minutes to move the gates into position. Downstream eight smaller barriers were constructed, which can block off some of the tributaries of the river. By this means a guarantee against flooding of large areas of Kent and Essex in a catastrophe can be assured. The Thames Barrier was necessary because the risk of flooding has been intensified by the gradual sinking of eastern England and an increase in
the storms in the North Sea and the English Channel. British experts are of the opinion that in a few decades even larger flood barriers must be built.

Visits to the actual barrier are not permitted but there are good views from a riverside walk. In the visitors' center there is a most interesting audio-video show concerning the construction and functioning of the Thames Barrier.

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum, covering the history of the two World Wars up to the Gulf War, was founded in 1920 and moved to its present premises in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, Lambeth, in 1936.

The building which houses the museum, formerly the original 'Bedlam', Bethlehem Royal Hospital (a lunatic asylum), has been revamped and adapted to include such features as an enormous glazed atrium. Two ship's guns stand at the entrance to the museum. External sites belonging to the museum are HMS Belfast, the Cabinet War Rooms and the aircraft museum at Duxford near Cambridge.

The hub of the museum is the large exhibition hall housing aircraft, tanks and artillery from the two World Wars. These include Field Marshal
Montgomery's command tank, a Mustang fighter aircraft, a German one-man submarine and German V1 and V2 rockets. St Paul's may be seen through a giant periscope from the First World War.

Visitors can have a close-up view of aircraft from the gallery encircling the hall. Paintings from the period of the two World Wars are displayed in the upper rooms.

The basement rooms house a chronological display of the First and Second World Wars containing weaponry, uniforms and medals.

Also in the basement, the Trench Experience recreates life in the trenches during the First World War, while the Blitz Experience gives a vivid impression of air-raid conditions in the London "Blitz" of the Second World War (not recommended for young children or those of a nervous disposition!).

To discover what it was like to fly on a secret mission with the RAF, Operation Jericho simulates a Mosquito fighter bomber's night raid over northern France during the Second World War.

Royal National Theatre

In 1976 the National Theatre Company, founded in 1963, acquired a home of its own in the new South Bank development; until then it had been temporarily accommodated in the historic Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo Road. The Royal National Theatre, lying close to the south end of Waterloo Bridge, forms part of the South Bank arts center which also includes the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, the National Film Theatre with its two cinemas, the Museum of the Moving Image and the Hayward Art Gallery of modern art. Designed by Sir Denys Lasdun, it is a massive concrete structure containing three theaters with a total of 2,400 seats, two restaurants, buffets, eight bars, 49 air-conditioned dressing rooms (room for 153 actors), scenery and wardrobe stores, offices, workshops and parking for 400 cars, together with foyers, galleries and riverside terraces. In the interior decoration full use is made of the concrete as a stylistic element. Although the first effect may be confusing, the theater is excellently planned to allow both actors and theater-goers to get from place to place as quickly as possible.

All Hallows by the Tower

Originally founded in 675, it is the oldest church in London. It was rebuilt in the 13th-15th century, badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War and restored in 1957. The Saxon period is represented by the remains of a seventh century arch and a cross. The crypt (undercroft), which houses a museum, dates from the 14th century. The brick tower (1658) is an example of Cromwellian ecclesiastical architecture; the spire was added in 1959. All Hallows has been the Toc H guild church, an organization of Christian fellowship founded in Belgium.

Notable features are the statues of St Ethelburga and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (who was baptized in the church) above the north porch (1884), a 16th century Spanish crucifix in the south
aisle and a number of 15th-17th century tombs. The new font (1944) is carved from stone from Gibraltar.

Bank of England

The "Old Lady of Threadneedle Street" is the national bank of the United Kingdom - guardian of the national currency, adviser to the government in financial matters and responsible for the amount of money in circulation, withdrawing old banknotes from circulation and issuing new ones. It also influences the level of interest rates, though in August 1981 it abandoned the practice of publishing a minimum lending rate (previously "bank rate"). The national gold reserves are kept in its vaults. The Bank of England was incorporated by royal charter in 1694 as a private company in order to finance the war against Louis XIV of France, and was brought under government control only in 1946. The majestic building which it occupies was designed by Sir John Soane; begun in 1788, it was completed in 1833. Between 1924 and 1939 it was radically rebuilt by Sir Herbert Baker, who preserved Soane's facade and Corinthian columns but erected a new seven-story complex behind them. The statues above the main entrance are by Sir Charles Wheeler. Visitors are admitted only to the banking hall, and then only by prior arrangement.

Sir John Soane's major work (transitional) using shallow domes rather than semi-circular domes which were more typical of Renaissance architecture.

London Bridge

"London Bridge is falling down," says the old rhyme. In fact London Bridge has never fallen down, though it has twice been pulled down and replaced by a new bridge. The London Bridge of the rhyme was a 12th century stone bridge lined on both sides with houses, which were later removed to make room for recesses in which pedestrians could take refuge from the heavy traffic on the narrow carriageway. In 1831 this bridge was replaced by a new one, which by the 1960s had become inadequate to cope with the flow of traffic and was due in turn to be superseded by a more modern bridge. The 1831 bridge was then bought by an American (under the belief, it was said, that he was acquiring Tower Bridge), transported across the Atlantic and re-erected
at Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Remains of a Roman bridge have also been found in the area. The present London Bridge was opened to traffic in 1973.

Southwark Cathedral

A "monasterium" stood here in the reign of King Edward the Confessor who died in 1065, but no record of the foundation survives. In the ninth century the nunnery became a house of Augustinian canons. A large Norman church, of which some remains are still visible, was built in 1106 by Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, and after this was destroyed by fire it was rebuilt in Gothic style in 1207 under Bishop Peter des Roches. It was a house for Augustinian canons until the Reformation. From the 13th century date the lower part of the 55m/165ft high tower (the tower itself is 15th century), the crossing, the choir and the ambulatory. The nave, added later in the 13th century, was rebuilt in 1469 and after a partial collapse in 1838 was re-erected by Sir Arthur Blomfield in preparation for the church's new role as a cathedral (1905). Since that date this has remained a parish church, but has also been the center of a diocese which covers South London and a third of Surrey.
There is a monument to William Shakespeare, dating from 1912. His brother Edmund (d. 1607) and Lawrence Fletcher, who together with Shakespeare and Burbage rented the Blackfriars and the Globe Theatres, are buried in the church.

London Monument

This tall column, 61.5m/202ft high, was erected between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire. It stands exactly 61.5m/202ft from the spot in Pudding Lane where the fire started. Although attributed to Wren, it was probably designed by Robert Hooke. The view from the platform, just below the golden urn (311 steps up), is somewhat obscured by office blocks. The column is topped by an urn with a gilded flaming ball, 14m/42ft high.

Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange building was founded by Thomas Gresham in 1566. He is commemorated by a statue on the east side of the 60m/197ft high tower and by the weather vane in the form of a grasshopper, the heraldic device of the Gresham family. The building was burnt down in 1666 and again in 1838. In 1844 Sir William Tite designed the Exchange in its present classical form. Above the gable tympanum is a relief by Sir Richard Westmacott representing "Trade and the Freedom of the Exchange". Traditionally from the top of the steps the new monarch is always proclaimed, a declaration of war announced and the conclusion of a peace treaty made known. The carillon in the tower plays daily at 9 a.m., noon, 3 and 6 p.m. English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish,
Canadian and Australian traditional tunes.

St Helen Bishopgate Church

St Helen's is one of the finest and most interesting churches in the City. Originally built in the 12th C, it was altered between the 13th and 14th C, and has been preserved mainly in its 14th C form. It has two parallel naves of equal size, one originally reserved for the nuns of the convent to which the church belonged, the other for the lay congregation. Features of particular interest are the monument of Sir John Spencer, Lord Mayor of London (1608), on the south wall; the pulpit and altar; the canopied tomb of Sir William Pickering, ambassador to France in the 16th century; and the table-tomb of Sir John Crosby (d. 1475).

St Katharine's Dock

Decorated sailing ships heralded the opening of St Katharine's Dock near Tower Bridge in 1827. Its future became uncertain, however, as sailing vessels increased in size beyond its capacity. St Katharine's Dock became the pilot area for redevelopment and was achieved without sacrificing any of its original character: old warehouses were converted to dwellings; the Dock Master's residence, the Dickens' Inn (1800) and the Ivory House, originally a store for ivory constructed in an Italian style, were renovated. New buildings were concealed behind old facades and accommodated institutions, such as the World Trade Centre. The area was saved from becoming a slum and transformed into a lively new quarter while retaining its old charm.

Tower of London

The Tower was built by William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings to protect London, to overawe its citizens and to enable shipping on the Thames to be watched. The original Tower, built about 1078 and surrounded by a ring of walls with 13 towers, is now known as the White Tower. The fortress was enlarged and strengthened in the 12th century, and again in the 13th and 14th. It was restored in the 19th century.

The history of the Tower reflects the history of England. It has been the place of confinement of many historical personages, among them King David II of Scotland (1346-57), King John the Good of France (1356-60), King James I of Scotland (1406-7), Charles, Duke of Orleans (1415), Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I (1554), Sir Walter Raleigh (1592, 1603-16, 1618) and William Penn (1668-69).

Many famous people, too, have been executed or murdered within its walls, including Henry VI (1471), Sir Thomas More (1535), Henry VIII's queens Anne Boleyn (1536) and Catherine Howard (1542), Thomas Cromwell (1540), Jane Gray, the "Nine Days Queen" (1554), and the Duke of Monmouth (1685). The last executions carried out in the Tower took place during the Second World War, when a number of spies were shot here.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, opened in 1894, is one of London's best known landmarks, with its two neo-Gothic towers rising 65m/200ft above the river. The two heavy bascules or drawbridges bearing the roadway can be raised in a minute and a half to allow large ships to pass through (a rare occurrence nowadays, since cargo vessels now moor farther downstream). Since 1975 they have been raised by electric power. There is also a museum housing the older hydraulic machinery which is still maintained in working order so as to be available in case of emergency. The glass covered walkway, 43m/142ft above the Thames, gives a splendid view of the river. Both towers contain an interesting exhibition employing animatronic characters and other special effects to
explain the history of the bridge.

It was designed by Horace Jones and engineered by Wolfe Barry.

Barbican Centre

Barbican Centre is situated about ten minutes' walk north of St Paul's Cathedral, between Barbican and Moorgate. The name "Barbican", a towered outpost on city walls, refers to this former site of Roman and Medieval fortifications. The development, which took more than 10 years, was originally planned by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in 1955 and comprises flats for more than 4,000 people (including three tower blocks about 120m/394ft high) together with the integrated Barbican Centre which was opened in March 1982. The outdoor attractions include a lake, lawns, fountains and terraces. The only pre-war building still standing is the restored St Giles' Church (originally built in 1390) where John Milton is buried. Here also are
the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a girls' secondary school and the science faculty of the City University. The new Music Performance Research Centre offers a facility to tune into London concerts and opera performances.

The chief attraction, however, is undoubtedly the arts and conference center, the largest of its kind in Europe. The Barbican Hall (for concerts and conferences), which has 2,026 seats and simultaneous translation equipment, is the permanent home of the London Symphony Orchestra; the Barbican Theatre with 1,166 seats is the London base of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In addition there is a studio theater ("The Pit") holding 200, the Barbican Art Gallery for temporary exhibitions together with a sculpture court, a municipal lending library, rooms for seminars, three cinemas, two exhibition halls (the Blue Exhibition Hall and the Red Exhibition Hall on the other side of Beech Street), a conservatory and restaurants.

Museum of London

Museum of London, housed in a magnificently designed new building in the Barbican area of the City, was opened in 1976, bringing together the collections of the old London Museum, previously housed in Kensington Palace, and the Guildhall Museum.

The museum covers the whole range of London's 2,000-year history, with displays of Roman remains, including pottery and bronzes, Anglo-Saxon material, furniture, clothing, documents and musical instruments of the Tudor and Stuart periods, a cell from the old Newgate prison, reconstructions of Victorian and Edwardian shops and offices. There is an audio-visual presentation of the Great Fire of 1666, and exhibits illustrating the history of local authority services, schools and places of

Old Bailey

The massive building officially known as the Central Criminal Court (built 1902-07), the principal criminal court for Greater London, is more commonly referred to as the Old Bailey, after the name of the street in which it stands. On top of the dome is a figure of Justice, with her sword and scales, but not blindfolded. The building was restored after suffering severe damage during the last war. Until 1903 the site of the Old Bailey was occupied by Newgate Prison, for a long time London's chief prison. From 1783 to 1868 public executions were carried out in front of the prison. Entrance to the new courts is from the Old Bailey building; courts in the old building are entered from Newgate Street.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral, seat of the Bishop of London and "parish church of the British Commonwealth", is the largest and most famous of the City's churches. The place where the present-day cathedral stands was the site of a Roman temple of Diana and in the seventh century of a church. In its day one of the richest churches of the world, was Old St Paul's, a great Gothic church with a spire 170m/500ft high which was badly damaged by fire in 1561, partly rebuilt by Inigo Jones in 1627-42 and finally destroyed in the Great Fire (1666). The present cathedral, begun in 1675 and completed in 1711, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The plan was approved only after long wrangling with the church commissioners, who turned down Wren's first two designs. The result was a compromise between Wren's original idea of a dome and the commissioners' preference for a plan in the form of a Latin cross. As finally built, however, St Paul's is Wren's masterpiece - a harmoniously proportioned Renaissance church 170m/515ft long and 75m/227ft wide across the transepts, with two Baroque towers 67m/212f) high and a magnificent dome rising to a total height of 111m/365ft. Since the repair of damage suffered by the cathedral during the last war and the cleaning of the facade to remove the accumulated grime of 250 years, St Paul's has been restored to its original majestic beauty, and even the external sculptured decoration by Francis Bird, Edward Pierce and Grinling Gibbons can be seen and appreciated.

British Museum

The British Museum, which also houses the British Library, is one of London's greatest tourist attractions. The Museum itself has one of the finest collections in the world covering the art and antiquities of Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire, Southern and Southeast Asia, China and the European medieval period. The Library has additional exhibition rooms. The private collections of Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (d. 1724) and Sir Hans Sloane (d. 1753) formed the basis of the Museum. Founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753, the Museum was accommodated from 1759 in Montague House before moving to its present Neo-classical building, erected between 1823 and 1857. This was designed by Robert
Smirke and completed by his brother Sydney, who was responsible for the circular Reading Room and the dome. The main facade is 123m/403ft long and has a colonnade of 44 Ionic columns. On the north side is the King Edward VII Building, erected in 1907 to 1914. Parts of the museum are now housed in separate buildings, including the Museum of Mankind and the National History Museum.

The museum is one of Great Britain's most notable neo-Classical buildings.

Lincoln's Inn

Lincoln's Inn is one of the four great Inns of Court, the others being the Middle and Inner Temple and Gray's Inn. It is named after a 14th century Earl of Lincoln who founded a school for the training of lawyers, and first appears in the records under its present name in 1422. Celebrated members of Lincoln's Inn have included Sir Thomas More, William Pitt, Horace Walpole, John Henry Newman, George Canning, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone and H. H. Asquith. The complex includes buildings dating from the 15th century onwards, the 19th century Library and New Hall (dining hall), the Chapel and numerous barristers' and solicitors' chambers, as well as the large and beautifully kept gardens. The gardens and the Chapel are open to
the public. The Chapel, originally built by Inigo Jones in Gothic style (1623), was radically restored by Wren in 1685. Notable features are the old oak pews, the 17th century Flemish stained glass (restored) and the18th century pulpit. The open crypt below was for many years the meeting place of barristers and their clients. The New Hall (1845) has a huge mural, 15m/45ft high, by G. F. Watts. In the same building is the Library (founded 1470), which has a collection of over 150,000 law books. Other elements in the complex are the Stone Buildings (18th century), dwelling houses occupied by barristers; the 17th century New Square, with barristers' chambers; the picturesque Old Buildings (16th and 17th century); and the Old Hall (built 1491, restored 1924-28), which was occupied until 1883 by the Court of Chancery.

Sir John Soane's Museum

The unusual feature of Sir John Soane's Museum, in the house which belonged to the celebrated architect and collector Sir John Soane, is that everything has been left as it was at the time of Soane's death in 1837, from the furniture and furnishings to the arrangement of the smallest trinkets. The general effect is perhaps a little untidy and overcrowded, but at the same time this gives the museum a particular charm of its own.

Apart from this, the collection is well worth visiting in its own right. Of the numerous works of art in the collection, the ceiling paintings in the Library and Dining Room by Howard, which also contain a painting by Reynolds and the portrait of John Soane by Lawrence, are most impressive. The Picture Room, specially constructed to display a great number of pictures, contains 12 of Hogarth's paintings (the series "The Rake's Progress" and "The Election"), several works by Canaletto, and Soane's designs.

Wellington Museum / Apsley House

The house has recently undergone major refurbishment to restore it to its appearance during the time of the First Duke.

The house contains the First Duke's magnificent collections of paintings, including Velázquez's "Waterseller of Seville", ceramic and silver dinner and dessert services presented to him by the grateful kings and emperors of Europe, presentation plate, sculpture, orders and medals, swords and batons, and other Wellington memorabilia.

Some 83 of the 200 pictures in the collection come from the Spanish royal collection which Wellington captured from Joseph Bonaparte at the Battle of Victoria (1813) and which subsequently were presented to him by the King of Spain. Masterpieces by Velázquez, van Dyck, Correggio, Rubens, Bruegel and Murillo were in Joseph Bonaparte's baggage train. There are also Dutch genre paintings and contemporary British paintings including Wilkie's "Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch" and portraits of his comrades at arms and Napoleon and his family.

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace, the private residence of the monarch from 1689 to 1760, is now in part open to the public. Much of it is still occupied by members of the royal family and pensioners of the Crown occupying "grace and favor" apartments. The original house was purchased by William III, who commissioned Wren to convert it into a royal residence, and the rebuilding was completed by William Kent in the reign of George I. The last king to reside in the palace was George II. Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and received the news of her accession here, and Queen Mary, grandmother of the present Queen, was also born here. William III and Mary II, Queen Anne and George II died in the palace.

Natural History Museum

The original collections of Sir Hans Sloane, comprising 50,000 books, 10,000 preserved animals and 334 volumes of pressed plant species, were augmented over the years by thousands of new
exhibits. Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook around the world, was a particularly keen collector; the artist Sydney Parkinson donated three volumes of his zoological drawings and 18 volumes of botanical watercolor studies. Charles Darwin also donated many specimens from his expeditions. Nowadays there are over half-a-million new acquisitions a year.

London's Natural History Museum has been transformed from a Geological Museum into three floors containing six permanent exhibitions that bring to life the history of the planet Earth. The new Earth Galleries examine many aspects of the earth's history and features such as meteorites, volcanic erruptions, tidal waves and other natural phenomena.

Victoria & Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum is part of the great complex of museums in South Kensington (the others being the Natural History Museum, the Geological Museum and the Science Museum). The idea of the "V and A" came from Prince Albert, and the museum was originally financed from the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Museum was opened in 1857 in the building which now houses the Bethnal Green Museum. The foundation stone of the present building was laid by Queen Victoria in 1899, and it was formally opened by Edward VII in 1909 as the national museum of fine and applied arts. With its extensive collections of material from many countries and many periods it is one of the world's great art museums.

Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum

Madame Tussaud's famous waxworks exhibition was originally established in Paris in 1770, moved to London in 1802 and transferred to its present site in 1884. The collection of figures of the famous and infamous of the past and present is kept constantly up to date, and in 1979 a new Chamber of Horrors was opened to satisfy the public appetite for ever more gruesome exhibits and displays. The visitor will encounter Henry VIII and his six wives, the present Queen (who, like most of the contemporary figures represented here, gave special sittings to the waxworks artists) and royal family, leading figures of the French Revolution such as Robespierre and Marat (modeled from their severed heads by Madame Tussaud immediately after their execution
), 20th century statesmen including Churchill, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, television and sporting personalities. Jack the Ripper and other notorious criminals have their place in the Chamber of Horrors. The Battle of Trafalgar is re-fought in a striking tableau, and Nelson dies on the "Victory" amid the thunder and smoke of cannon. In 1993 a new attraction opened, the "Spirit of London", an audio-animatronic journey through London from medieval times to the present day; witness the Plague, Great Fire, the last World War and the "swinging sixties".

London Zoo

London Zoo, founded in 1829 by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphrey Davy, is one of the oldest and most famous zoos in the world and is one of London's most popular attractions, with more than one million visitors a year. Run by the Zoological Society of London, it is also a research institution, dedicated to the breeding and thereby saving of endangered species. Particular attractions are rare Asiatic lions, a special display of nocturnal animals, and from the summer 1994 a children's zoo. The main entrance is on the Outer Circle.

Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, one of the most valuable art collections ever presented to the nation by a private person, is housed in 25 galleries of a mansion built for the Duke of Manchester in 1776-88 which, in spite of much subsequent alteration, still gives an excellent impression of the appearance of a great town house of the period. The basis of the collection was laid by the third and fourth Marquesses of Hertford. The son of the fourth Marquess, Sir Richard Wallace, added to the collection, which was bequeathed to the nation by his widow and opened to the public in 1900. Since then nothing has been changed, for it was a condition of the bequest that the collection should be kept intact, "unmixed with other objects of art". The
collection contains an extraordinarily wide range of works of the highest quality in many different genres. Many of the rooms have pieces by the celebrated French furniture designers Boulle (1642-1732), Cressent (1685-1768) and Riesener (1734-1806).

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is one of the great centers of London life and one of its noisiest and busiest traffic intersections, situated at the meeting of five major streets. The many night spots and large cinemas in the surrounding area make it the heart of the West End world of entertainment. It is thus equally busy by night and by day. In the center of the Circus stands the Shaftesbury Memorial, commemorating the philanthropic seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (by Sir Alfred Gilbert, 1893). This is a bronze fountain topped by a cast aluminum figure of an archer, universally known as Eros although in fact the figure was intended to represent the angel of Christian charity. Piccadilly, one of London's most fashionable streets, runs west from the Circus
It is named after the "picadils" (ruffs) made by a well-known 18th century tailor.

Buckingham Palace

Since Queen Victoria's accession (1837) Buckingham Palace has been the London residence of the royal family. Originally built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, it was purchased by George III in 1762. In 1825 George IV commissioned John Nash, his court architect, to alter and enlarge the palace; the east wing was added in 1846; and in 1913, when George V was king, the east front was given its present neo-classical aspect by Sir Aston Webb. When the sovereign is in residence the royal standard flies over the palace night and day. Guard is mounted by units of the Guards Division in full uniform. On great occasions the sovereign appears, with members of the royal family, on the central balcony.

Visitors can purchase
tickets for guided tours of the State Rooms for a limited period during the year.

St James's Palace

Not far away from Buckingham Palace is the older St James's Palace, part of a group of buildings which includes Clarence House and Lancaster House. The palace contains a number of "grace and favor" apartments occupied by royal pensioners. To the southeast, beyond the magnificent avenue of the Mall, is St James's Park; to the southwest of the palace is Green Park.
St James's Palace is also the headquarters of the Queen's bodyguard, consisting of the Yeoman of the Guard and the Honorable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. The Yeomen of the Guard, a corps established by Henry VII in 1485, are popularly known as Beefeaters (probably a corruption of the French "Buffetiers du Roi"). The Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, founded in 1509 by Henry VIII, is made up of distinguished army officers under a captain appointed by the government of the day.

St James's Park

St James's Park, London's most attractive park, is a masterpiece of landscape architecture by John Nash, aimed at achieving the unspoiled natural effect of an English park, like those to be found in the counties of Kent, Hampshire or Sussex. Originally a marshy area of meadowland, it was drained in the reign of Henry VIII and made into a deer park. The French landscape gardener Le Nôtre laid it out as a pleasure ground for Charles II. In 1829 Nash gave the park its present aspect, forming a lake with islands which provide nesting places for many species of waterfowl. The birds to be seen here include pelicans. From the bridge over the lake there are fine views of Buckingham Palace to the west and the buildings lining Whitehall to the east

Courtauld Institute Galleries
The Courtauld Institute Galleries house valuable art collections bequeathed to London University, in particular by Samuel Courtauld, Lord Lee of Fareham, Roger Fry and the Princes Gate collection.

The Courtauld Collection is one of the finest collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist pictures in Britain, with works by Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh. The Lee Collection contains works by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, Giovanni Bellini, Botticelli, Veronese, Bernardino Luini, Tintoretto, Goya, and Rubens, and portraits by British artists of the 17th-19th centuries. The Fry Collection, in addition to many works by the well-known art critic Roger Fry, consists of works by British and French artists
of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Smaller bequests include works of sculpture, ivories and pictures.

Tate Gallery

The Tate Gallery, one of London's largest art collections, was opened in 1897 in a classical-style building designed by Sidney R. J. Smith on Millbank, on the banks of the Thames. The gallery was built at the expense of Sir Henry Tate, a wealthy art collector, who presented his own collection to the nation as the basis of a national collection of significant British pictures from the 16th century to the present day.

The layout of the gallery has been altered in recent years and director Nicholas Serota has completely re-grouped the exhibits. Whereas the pictures used to be displayed in separate departments for the British collection 16th - 20th century, the international modern collection and the British modern collection, they are
now all arranged chronologically, according to specific themes, under the headings "Past-Present-Future". Visitors are able to make immediate comparisons and see the relationships linking the exhibits. The central hall is now reserved for sculpture and extra rooms house temporary exhibitions. As the gallery can only show a third of its collection at one time, the items exhibited are changed every nine to 12 months and the visitor is advised to obtain a current plan of the exhibition at the information desk.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, the name of which commemorates Nelson's victory over a French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805, was laid out between 1829 and 1851 by Sir Charles Barry. It is one of the city's most popular meeting places for tourists from all over the world.

Under the balustrade on the north side of the square, in front of the National Gallery, the Imperial standards of length (one inch, one foot, two feet, one yard, one chain and 100 feet) are let into the stone.

Notable monuments on Trafalgar Square include statues of Henry Havelock, General Gordon, Charles James Napier and an equestrian statue of George IV.

The buildings surrounding Trafalgar Square include Canada House on the west side and South
Africa House on the east side, as well as the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. From the southwest corner the street leads to the imposing Admiralty Arch and The Mall.

National Gallery

The National Gallery possesses one of the most valuable and comprehensive collections of pictures in the world. The building in which they are housed was designed by William Wilkins and was completed in 1838. From the terrace there is a view of Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. Outside the building stands the monument of James II as a Roman emperor by Grinling Gibbons (1686) with the inscription "King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland" as well as a bronze replica of the Washington statue by Houdon in Richmond, Virginia. The gallery was founded in 1824 when Parliament voted £57,000 for the purchase of 38 pictures from the famous Angerstein collection which were first seen in the Angerstein rooms at 100 Pall Mall. Numerous later
purchases and donations made it necessary to enlarge the building in 1876 when the dome was added and further extensions were made in 1887, 1927 and 1929. In 1952 the entrance vestibules were decorated with mosaics by Boris Anrep. In recent years a new annex has provided much-needed additional display space, and in 1991 the Sainsbury Wing was opened. This is a Neo-Classical building by the American architects Venturi Scott-Brown Associates, donated by the Sainsbury brothers.

The collections of the National Gallery offer an almost complete cross-section of European painting from c. 1260 until 1920. The greatest treasures are the collection of Dutch masters and the Italian schools of the 15th and 16th centuries. With the opening of the Sainsbury Wing the opportunity has been taken to reorganize all the rooms and gradually separation into national schools is being abandoned and more emphasis placed on comparison and connections within periods.

Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral, seat of the archbishop of Westminster, is the most important Roman Catholic cathedral in Britain, rivalled in size only by the Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool. Built in 1895-1903, it is a red-brick building in Byzantine style on a basilican plan, crowned by four domes. The cathedral is usually entered by the northwest doorway, to the left of which is the elevator up the 94m/284ft high campanile, St Edward's Tower.

Westminster Abbey

A church dedicated to St Peter is said to have stood on the site of Westminster Abbey from the early seventh century until it was destroyed by the Danes. This church was named "Westminster" to distinguish it from the "Eastminster", St Mary-of-the-Graces. Westminster Abbey - officially the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster - was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment, and from his burial (1066) until that of George II (1760) most English and British sovereigns were buried here, as well as numerous prominent national figures. Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned here, Westminster Abbey has been the place of coronation of every subsequent sovereign except Edward V and Edward VIII, as well
as the scene of many royal weddings. Westminster Abbey belongs to the Crown, under an independent Dean and Chapter.

Edward the Confessor's Norman church was rebuilt by Henry III in a style influenced by French Gothic, but only the nave was completed during his reign. After suffering destruction in a fire (1298), parts of the abbey were rebuilt by Henry Yevele in 1388 on the basis of the 13th century plans. The vaulting of the nave was completed by Abbot Islip in 1506. The Gothic-style west front with its two towers was the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren (1735-40). A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Westminster Abbey has the highest Gothic nave in England (34m/102ft).

Sir Issac Newton and a number of Astronomers Royal are buried in the Abbey.

Banqueting House

Banqueting House was part of the old Whitehall Palace, and is now again in use for government receptions. Whitehall Palace was originally (13th C) the London seat of the archbishops of York, and later the residence of the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, in the reign of Henry VIII.
The staircase leads up to the Banqueting Hall, a double cube 38m long, 18m across and 18m high (11x55x55ft). This is notable particularly for the nine allegorical ceiling paintings by Rubens, assisted by Jordaens and other pupils (1635). The central scene depicts the Apotheosis of Charles I; another painting symbolizes the Union of England and Scotland. Rubens received a fee of £3,000 and a knighthood for his work. The Banqueting House was the scene not only of banquets but of a number of historic events. A bust of Charles I on the staircase marks the position of the window through which he walked to the scaffold erected in front of the Banqueting House. In the Banqueting Hall Cromwell was invited by Parliament to accept the crown; and here, too, after the Restoration, Parliament swore loyalty to Charles II.

Whitehall Palace Banqueting House is considered one of the first Renaissance buildings in England.

Syon House and Conservatory

House was originally a monastery which was founded in the 15th C by Henry V. In the 16th C the estate was converted into a nobleman's house which gradually became one of the architectural jewels on the periphery of London, especially from the point of view of its interior architecture. The interior of Syon House was redesigned in the 18th C by the famous architect Robert Adam. A lasting impression will be made on the visitor by imposing columns and statues, valuable paintings and fine silken wall coverings.

Syon House is surrounded by a magnificent park extending over 22 ha/54 acres, which serves throughout the year as a "horticultural exhibition". The gardens contain the magnificent Great Conservatory, designed and built by
Charles Fowler between 1920 and 1930.

Hampton Court Palace

Court Palace, perhaps the finest and most interesting of Britain's royal palaces, lies southwest of London on the north bank of the Thames. It is no longer a royal residence, but part of the palace is still occupied by persons who have been granted "grace and favor" apartments by the monarch.
The first major alterations to the palace were carried out in the reign of William and Mary, when the east wing was rebuilt by Wren in Renaissance style, the Tudor west part remaining unaltered. The palace was opened to the public in the time of Victoria.
Visitors should also take time to explore the grounds of the palace - the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, the Wilderness. The gardens are at their best in mid-May, when the flowers are in full bloom. The Great Vine, over 200 years old, is of particular interest. Also in the grounds are the Upper Orangery and the Lower Orangery, which contains Mantegna's masterpiece, "The Triumph of Caesar". Another great attraction, particularly for children, is the famous Maze.

Kew Gardens / Royal Botanic Gardens

Kew Gardens, officially the Royal Botanic Gardens, are situated in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames. Here some 30,000 plants are identified every year, more than 50,000 plants are grown and specimens and information are exchanged with botanists and botanical institutions all over the world. Here, too, the Brazilian rubber tree was adapted to the climatic conditions of the Malay peninsula, and here was developed the Marquis strain of wheat which made it possible to bring the prairies of northwest Canada into cultivation. The Herbarium contains a collection of over seven million dried plants and the Library has more than 50,000 volumes of botanical literature.
The gardens were first laid out in 1759 on the
initiative of Princess Augusta, mother of George III. In 1841 they became government property, and in 1897 Queen Victoria added Queen's Cottage and the adjoining woodland. In 1773 Joseph Banks, a botanist who accompanied James Cook around the world, became Director of Kew during George III's reign. At this time countless exotic plants were introduced into the gardens from expeditions to remote parts of the world. Under the direction of Sir William Hooker (1841), the Botanic Gardens gained worldwide renown.
A river cruise down the Thames is a particularly lovely way to get to the 300 acres of gardens.

Richmond Park

With an area of some 660 ha (2,300 acres), Richmond Park is the largest city park in Britain and the one with the oldest oaks. The old town of Richmond, in the area of which it lies, situated on the southwestern outskirts of London on the south bank of the Thames, is one of the 32 London boroughs and one of the city's most favored residential suburbs. The park was enclosed by Charles I in 1637 as a deer park, and numbers of red and fallow deer still roam at large in its well-wooded expanses, while the Pen Ponds, excavated in the 18th century, are the haunt of waterfowl of all kinds. On the east side of the park, facing Roehampton, are two public golf courses, and on the west side are attractive footpaths over Ham and Petersham commons
Among the most attractive features of the park are the Isabella Plantation, a woodland garden laid out in 1831, and the Prince Charles Spinney, in which some 5,300 trees (oak, beech, chestnut, ash and maple) were planted in 1949. The park has 10 gates, and contains a number of old mansions.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kathmandu "Must Visit UNESCO World Heritage Site"

Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is located in the eastern half of the country in the valley of the same name at an altitude of 1300 m (4266 ft). In recent years Khatmandu has experienced a massive migration to the city, and today has a population of over 600,000. For several hundred years it was one of three rival royal cities, the others being Bhaktapur and Patan. But the unification of Nepal under Prithvi Narayan Shah and his decision to make Kathmandu his capital, set the city firmly on a course of expansion. Today Kathmandu has more of a big-city atmosphere than either Bhaktapur or Patan and possesses a more developed urban infrastructure. Among its wealth of historic buildings it can boast the largest of the ancient royal palaces (and the newest) as well as innumerable Rana palaces and important shrines. Despite the growth which has made a modern city of Kathmandu, the old center still retains something of a medieval air. The day still begins with prayers and pujas in the temples and farmers still bring their fresh vegetables to market in enormous baskets.

At the same time Kathmandu faces increasingly severe Third World problems of over-population, air and water pollution and a sometimes deadly lack of hygiene. The effects of mass tourism are also plain to see. In the district of Thamel and in Durbar Marg any traces of Nepal's fascinating indigenous culture are hidden well beneath the surface. The people too behave differently from those in less tourist-affected areas. Some see this as a natural process of development, others complain of a loss of identity. One thing however is clear: Shangri La no longer exists, at least not here and not now. Yet this city of contradictions, with wonderful works of art, remains a thoroughly intriguing place.

North and south of the palace precinct the streets are winding and irregular, suggesting that this was the original nucleus of the town.

The streets are interrupted by large open spaces resembling squares, on which are located Kathmandu's oldest temples. Near by also are numerous bahals.

Probably under Mahendra Malla, a more extensive network of streets was built, orientated north-south and east-west parallel to the Vishnumati ridge. The city is thus divided into rectangular quarters, the toles or districts of Kathmandu. Up until 1482 there were just twelve toles, each ruled by its own raja. Later there were 32 toles. Today on the south-east side the grid pattern is broken, whole quarters having been demolished following the 1934 earthquake.

Cutting diagonally across this rectangular network of streets is the ancient Bazaar Street, on the line of the old route from India to Tibet. Its effect is to create intriguing triangular spaces at intersections, where many of Kathmandu's major temples are found.

Chusya Bahal

The Chusya Bahal is considered the finest example of bahal architecture in the Kathmandu Valley. Two lions flank the entrance while above on the beautiful torana the Buddhist deity Prajnaparamita is portrayed. At ground level the buildings are open to the court, the one on the right containing a Mahakala shrine, the one on the left a shrine to Ganesh. Traditional brick paving has been preserved in the sunken court.

Like the other shrines the temple facing the entrance is two-storied, its roof topped by a simple finial. Note in particular the magnificent 14th c. roof struts. All the various deities depicted are also named. In the court are two votive stupas, one an image of Tara, the other a statue of Vajrasattva. The two donors stand either side.

The order of priests responsible for the bahal is now virtually moribund and only one or two members of the community remain. As a result the bahal has no income and no one to maintain it. The open halls on the ground floor are used as a school. Hopefully something will be done to save this jewel of Malla architecture; otherwise some concrete eyesore will soon replace these lovely though dilapidated old buildings.

Hanuman Dhoka
Between the Degutale Temple and the Taleju Mandir the main façade of the palace turns at right angles, creating a forecourt called Hanuman Dhoka after the palace deity (the Mallas chose Hanuman the monkey god on account of his prodigious strength). In 1672, during Pratapa Malla's reign, an image of Hanuman was placed in front of the portal to keep away evil spirits and disease. The figure still looks threatening though centuries of anointing with mustard oil and cinnebar (vermilion) have eroded its features.

The square is dominated by the Kasthamandapa, a spacious hall-temple without rival in Kathmandu. Relatively unadorned with carving the building impresses by its compactness and simplicity. Balconies encircle each story, protected by the heavy widely jutting roofs. The interior of the building is open, with rows of timber supports.

According to legend Kalpa Vriksha, the heavenly wishing tree, came down to Earth in human form to participate in the Matsyendranath Jatra Festival. He was recognized by a Tantric priest who pleaded with him to build a monastery from the wood of the tree. The result was the Kasthamandapa ("House of Wood"), from which Kathmandu takes its name.

The Kasthamandapa is often identified with an important monastery of which there is mention as early as the 8th c. From the 11th c. it was used as an assembly house, perhaps for legislative or consultative meetings between the rajas of the 12 Kathmandu districts (toles). In the 14th c. the building became a shrine to Goraknath administered by the Natha sect.

Goraknath was a great teacher belonging to the Natha sect in medieval Nepal. He is said to have been a cowherd whose destiny it was to care for a crippled prince whom he came across abandoned in the forest. His 12 years of selfless devotion were the equal of the highest form of yogic discipline and thus earned him immortality.

Swayambhunath, visible from afar on a hilltop site to the west of Kathmandu, takes pride in being the second most important Buddhist shrine in the Valley after Bodnath. Legend connects Swayambhu, the self-born, primordial Buddha, with the earliest origins of Kathmandu. The Swayambhu Stupa, painted with the eyes of the omnipresent god, forms the centerpiece of the temple complex. Swayambhu plays a major part in the lives of the Vajrayana Buddhists of Northern Nepal and Tibet, but more especially of the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley.

Swayambhunath occupies a prehistoric cult site. Ancient legends suggest the site initially served a nature cult, only later becoming associated with Buddhism. The legends portray a close link between Swayambhu and the emergence of the valley. At a time when the Kathmandu Valley was still submerged there bloomed on the surface of the lake a lotus flower which gave forth a brilliant light, the light of Swayambhu. So that all might more easily worship the divine flame, Manjushri smote the earth with his sword, creating the Chobar gorge through which the waters of the lake drained away. Gods and men alike praised the miracle. Later, as the dark clouds of Hinduism massed over the land, the monk Shantikar Acharya, recognizing the danger threatening the incomparable treasure, covered the flame with a stone and erected a stupa over it.

The oldest inscription in the temple precinct refers to the monastery as founded in about ad 460 during the reign of King Mana Deva. By the 13th c. it had become widely known, a fact to which the writings of a Tibetan pilgrim called Dharmasvami who spent eight years in Swayambhunath testify. In 1346 however, the Sultan of Bengal's Muslim troops reduced the shrine to rubble. It was rebuilt in 1372, the expense being borne by the nobility of Kathmandu. The bronze sections and bejeweled mast, made in Kathmandu, were carried up Swayambhunath Hill in procession. The stupa is assumed to have taken on its present shape at this particular time.

Much of the current lay-out of the temple site is owed to Pratapa Malla (1641-74). He created a pilgrim way from Kathmandu to Swayambhunath, building a bridge across the Vishnumati and adding the impressive flight of steps giving access to the shrine from the east. The two tall shikharas framing the stupa's tower also date from his time. A later inscription records a further rebuilding of the tower-like upper section following its destruction in 1751. The Hindu gods are said to have taken a great interest in these proceedings; Vishnu appeared in the guise of a Brahmin to explain exactly how the new tower should look - which also explains how a Hindu monarch came to be involved.

Both Jayaprakasha Malla, then King of Kathmandu, and the Gorkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah, soon to conquer the valley, contributed significantly to the rebuilding. Ever since 1639 the temple had been looked after by Tibetan lamas and a High Lama from Tibet was invited for the consecration.

The temple complex
The hill on which the Swayambhu Stupa stands is lightly wooded. Mani-stones inscribed with prayer formulae are seen everywhere (stones similarly engraved can be bought in the car park west of the stupa). Six large statues of Buddha mark the foot of the long staircase which ascends between more statues - of elephants, horses, peacocks, Garudas and lions, bearers of the five Dhyani Buddhas - arranged in pairs, at intervals, one on each side of the steps.

The entrance to the precinct is dominated by a huge gilded vajra rising above a mandala worked in a drum-shaped base. Animals, symbols of the years of the Tibetan twelve-year cycle, decorate the walls, while a snake, head and tail pointing east, forms a border round the drum above. The vajra is itself a symbol of Buddha Aksobhya, whose shrine is on the east side of the stupa. Either side of the entrance stands a tall shikhara, its porch aligned inwards towards the vajra. The position of the shikharas is not, however, determined by the entrance but by the perspective when viewed from the south-east, i.e. from the direction of Kathmandu. The shikharas are dedicated to Ugratara and Vajra Yogini, each depicted coupled with their respective Buddhas. Pratapa Malla is said to have erected the two shrines to commemorate his two deceased wives whose features the images bear.

Swayambhunath - Swayambhu Stupa
The external appearance of the stupa has remained substantially unchanged since the 14th c. apart from minor alterations due to later endowments and repairs. An appreciation of the stupa is best gained by proceeding round it in a clockwise direction. As people walk round the prayer wheels fixed to the balustrade are set in motion, so multiplying the prayers a thousand times.

Ichangu Narayan
The shrine to Ichangu Narayan ("Vishnu of the west") is situated in delightful surroundings at the tip of a mountain ridge overlooking the Ichangu Valley about 5 km (3 mi.) north-west of Kathmandu; it is reached by a dirt road. Ichangu Narayan is one of the four principal Narayan temples in the Kathmandu Valley. The cult site was probably already in use by the Newaris long before conversion to Hinduism. The present two-tiered pagoda dates from the 18th c., replacing an earlier temple built in 1512 after a famine.

A small shrine to Bhagwati located above Ichangu Narayan offers a delightful view across the Ichangu Valley.

Akasha Bhairava Mandir
The important shrine in Indra Chowk Square is unfortunately not open to tourists. It is dedicated to a form of Bhairava identified with the Kirati King Yalamba, a hero of the Mahabharata. The legend tells how the King went to India to take part in the battle of the Mahabharata. When Krishna saw him he asked on which side he intended to fight. The King answered he would fight for the losing side, whereupon Krishna struck off his head with such force that it flew all the way back to Kathmandu. The King is worshipped as Akasha Bhairava, who mysteriously fell from heaven (akash). Every year this story is re-enacted during the Indra Jatra Festival.

The gigantic blue Bhairava mask is located on the first floor of the rectangular building, positioned, as guardian deities often are, so as to look out on life in the busy square below. Bhairava however turns his eyes heavenward; were he to look down disaster would ensue. The ground floor of the temple is filled with little shops in front of which coolies and rickshaw drivers wait for hire. A remarkable number of flute sellers frequent Indra Chowk.

Ashok Binayak Shrine
Despite its modest appearance the small Ashok Binayak Temple behind the Kasthamandapa is the principal shrine to Ganesh in the Kathmandu Valley. Rites performed here are an important part of the coronation ceremony. The temple is thought to have been founded by Gundakama Deva in the 10th c., at the same time as the nearby Madu Hiti Fountain. The present structure however dates only from the mid 19th c. The stone image of Ganesh stands beneath a golden replica of the ashok tree which once shaded the shrine and eventually gave it its name.

Durbar Marg
Durbar Marg, constructed during the city's period of expansion under the Ranas, is the expensive face of Kathmandu. Here all the trappings of tourism are found: luxury hotels, restaurants serving international cuisine, pricey boutiques, travel agencies and airline offices.

A statue of King Mahendra, father of the previous King, stands in the center of the roundabout at the junction of Durbar Marg with Jamal. The ancient settlement of Jamal was a victim of the Ranas' enthusiasm for building. The none too scrupulous rulers seized land from farmers and monasteries, demolishing an old bahal to make way for the new road. The bahal, one time abode of the White (Sveta) Matsyendranath, stood where the god's image had been found in a field, an event commemorated every year at the Matsyendranath Jatra. Shveta Matsyendranath's chariot is assembled and driven three times round the spot over which the statue of King Mahendra now presides.

Also on Durbar Marg, the greater part of which was built during the Rana era, are the campus of Tri Chandra College and a mosque used by the Valley's Muslim minority

Itum Bahal
Itum Bahal or Keshavacandra Mahavihara is one of the oldest of Kathmandu's Buddhist monasteries, founded in the 11th c. or even earlier. The torana above the entrance dates from the 16th c. The superb wood-carvings illustrate the temptation of Buddha. Demons and Mara's seductive daughter strive to distract him from his meditation but he resists, invoking the Earth as his witness by touching it with his right hand. Although in poor condition the original structure of the monastery has been preserved. The two-storied buildings have the usual open ground floor, above which are windows with elaborately carved frames. Facing the entrance stands a shrine with two metal lions. Oil lamps hang in an arc above the steps. Note especially the four-headed, six-armed Tantric deity on the torana over the entrance to the shrine.

In the middle of the courtyard are another shrine and a stupa encircled by four standing Buddhas. This unusual composition is thought to be from the 11th or 12th c. The ancient roof struts above the entrance, carved in the early Malla period (14th c.), are particularly admired.

According to popular belief the man-eating Guru Mapa once dwelt in the monastery courtyard, his gargantuan appetite for little children causing their disappearance in large numbers. The inhabitants begged him to remove himself to Tundikhel, promising the annual sacrifice of a buffalo. The pact is kept to this day, every year a buffalo being offered to Guru Mapa in Tundikhel. The man-eater is pictured in embossed copper-work on the north wall; one plaque shows him devouring a child with relish, another consuming buffalo meat.

Jagannath Mandir
The Jagannath Temple, recognized as the finest of the group near Hanuman Dhoka, is entered via three gates with elaborate triple frames. Exquisite wood-carvings embellish the doors, windows and roof struts, depicting a panoply of gods from the Hindu pantheon. There are also some little erotic scenes. Originally dedicated to Vishnu the shrine was later re-dedicated to Jagannath.

Kumari Bahal
The Kumari Bahal on the east side of Basantpur Square is the abode of the Royal Kumari, the living goddess of Nepal.

The worship of young girls - known as Kumaris - believed to be the incarnation of a deity, is an old Buddhist tradition in Nepal. Chroniclers refer to the existence of such cults as early as the end of the 13th c. Some time later, probably in the reign of Jaya Prakash Malla, one particular "living goddess" became identified with the Hindu deity Durga.

Lohan Chowk
Towers at the four corners of Lohan Chowk symbolize the valley's former city-kingdoms, by which they are said to have been endowed. They were built after Prithvi Narayan Shah had unified Nepal and chose Kathmandu as his capital. Each tower has a distinctive shape, the Kirtipur Tower in the north-west corner being domed, the Bhaktapur Tower in the north-east corner octagonal, and the Lalitpur (Patan) Tower in the south-east corner square. Symbolizing Kathmandu the Basantpur Tower in the south-west corner is tallest as well as being most splendid of all.

Matsyendranath Mandir
Between Indra Chowk and Asan Tol a column on which two statues of Buddha sit back to back marks the entrance to the Jana Bahal, abode of the White (Shveta) Matsyendranath. Near the column a mandala (magic diagram) has been worked into the pavement. The shrine was set up by Gunakama Deva, thereby bringing the cult of Matsyendranath to Kathmandu from Patan, though in a slightly altered form. The White Matsyendranath is an aspect of Padmapani Lokeshvara. His shrine was originally in Jamal but was moved to the Jana Bahal in the 15th c. at the time of Yaksha Malla. The bahal was restored in the 17th c.

Mul Chowk
Beyond the modest single-story buildings seen ahead on entering Nasal Chowk lies the smaller Mul Chowk, its true splendor only revealed when once inside. Fine carvings embellish the entrance and small windows. The carved roof struts portray the eighteen-armed Mahashamardini. On the south side of the court is a shrine dedicated to Taleju, its doorway flanked by statues of the goddesses Ganga and Jamuna.

As the occasional abode of the goddess Taleju the court is barred to visitors, though it is often possible to peep in through the gate. The Chowk is opened to Hindus once a year when, on the ninth day of the Dasain Festival, hundreds of buffaloes and goats are sacrificed to the goddess.

Part of what is probably the oldest surviving wing of the palace, Mul Chowk was built in 1564 and altered early in the 18th c. at the time of Bhaskara Malla.

Shiva Parvati Mandir

The long low building on the northern side of Durbar Square contains a shrine to Shiva and Parvati, figures of whom can be seen gazing down from an upper window posed like a normal couple. The lower part of the façade is embellished for almost its whole length with a five-bayed carved wooden screen. This somewhat unusual building is believed to date from the time of Bahadur Shah, son of Prithvi Narayan Shah. It is probably a reconstruction, the stepped platform on which it stands being considerably older than the temple itself. The platform bears an inscription in Nepalese from the reign of Lakshmi Narashima Malla (1620-41), the earliest such inscription known.

Singha Durbar

The Singha Durbar was built in record time (one year) in 1903 by the then Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana at a cost of 2.5 million rupees. When completed it was the largest private residence in Asia, a vast palace comprising seventeen courts and 1700 rooms.

The Durbar's monumental façade echoed the style of European Historicism, its outward magnificence matched by the sumptuous furnishings within. The reception rooms, so a visitor recalled, were "as full of stuffed animals as a natural history museum" and the large audience chamber glittered with light from a distorting mirror brought from England by Jung Bahadur. The last of the Ranas is said to have employed a staff of 1500 to maintain the palace.

In 1951 Singha Durbar became the seat of Nepal's new government but in 1973 the rear of the palace was set on fire by political opponents. With the blaze fanned by a monsoon storm and flames spreading rapidly, a decision was made to blow up the middle section to safeguard the façade. The imposing front seen today is thus no more than a decorative veneer, a mere glimmer of the former splendor of the Rana dynasty.

Visas are available on arrival for citizens of most countries, and one passport-sized photograph is required. To complete the process, you must pay a fee: Transit ($5), 15 day ($25), 30 day ($40) or 90 day ($100.) Make sure that you fill in all of the forms and keep your departure card for when you want to leave. Facilities for taking passport-sized photographs are available near the immigration desk, though it saves a lot of time if they are prepared before arrival. SAARC nationals are exempt from visa fees.
There are no trains to Kathmandu, renting a car without a driver is not a reasonable option. You can hire bikes in Kathmandu and ride up, but you need to be brave. Alternatively, catch a bus. Check with other travelers to find a safe bus line (Green Line & Golden Travels have been recommended), some are quite dangerous and travel at stupid speeds through mountain passes. Many hotels will pick you up from the airport if you give them advanced notice. Otherwise, you can use a pre-paid taxi (the stand is on your right as you come out of baggage reclaim/arrivals.)

To and from airport
Many hotel and guest houses offer complimentary pick up and delivery from the airport. Taxis are also available. As always, negotiate the price beforehand with the driver. A taxi ride to Thamel or Boudha should not exceed 300 NPR. Otherwise, order a taxi at the pre-paid booth inside the airport, which costs 450 NPR (April 2010). This is more than the meter rate, but saves the hassle of long negotiations. Try not to exchange money at the airport. Money changers at the airport not only charge service charge but also offer a lower rate than is offered in Thamel or elsewhere in town.

By bus
Kathmandu has frequent and cheap bus service to nearly all parts of Nepal, unfortunately due to poor roads and frequent delays the buses are some of the slowest and least comfortable in South Asia.
Connections include India (usually Patna,Gorakhpur, Varanasi or Lucknow) and other parts of Nepal such as Chitwan National Park and the trekking hubs of Pokhara to the west, Langtang to the north and Jiri to the east of Kathmandu. For points of departure in India or Tibet see the Nepal 'Get in' section. Buses arriving from the Indian border, Pokhara and Chitwan terminate either at the bus station at Balaju at north of the city or Kalanki at the south of the city since large vehicles and long distance vehicles are not allowed to enter the city due to traffic congestion.

Get Around
The first thing many visitors may notice about Kathmandu is the general lack of street names (except for major roads such as Tri Devi and Ring Road) and address numbers. In most cases directions are given relative to the nearest chowk or tole (an intersection or square, often with a market) or a noteworthy building such as a temple or restaurant. In the tourist district of Thamel, the Kathmandu Guest House and Hot Breads bakery are two main landmarks.
It is possible to get across the city by foot, but it is not always a pleasant walk and you may want to consider a rickshaw for anything more than wandering around a specific area. Rickshaws are bicycle driven; the motorized ones have been banned from the valley in a bid to check rising pollution. Rickshaws can hardly be found outside the tourist area of Thamel, however, since they are mostly only used by the tourists. Negotiate on a price before you get in, if you can't agree, just look for another driver. Prices go up after dark and in less busy areas. Taxis are easy to find; they park near all major streets and have fare-meters. The day rate should start at 10 NPR and tick over at 4.80 NPR; after 9PM, at 15 NPR ticking over at 7.20 NPR. The meter is your best bet if you are not confident enough to negotiate. After 11PM, taxis can be harder to find outside Thamel.
There are also buses and taxis for longer trips within the valley, ie Patan and Bakhtapur, and can be used for trips in town. It should be possible to hire a taxi for considerably less than 300rs one-way to Patan and 1,000-3,000rs to Bakhtapur from Thamel or the airport. For longer trips and to hire them by the day negotiate with the driver.
You can also consider hiring a car and driver. Just make sure you negotiate the price up front. Hotels can provide information.

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