Jun 29 2007

Nepal: A Guide to the Art and Architecture of the Kathmandu Valley (Book)

Published by at 11:40 pm under Books & Movies

Most of the Nepal books I’ve read begin with a digestible dose of history: ancient rule, geographical regions, ethnic groups, social order, religion. I think this book’s version is more insightful, original and politically sensitive than the others.

That’s followed by a chapter on Kathmandu’s architecture. Lots of people travel around the world specifically to admire temples and castles and things, but my interest in buildings is cursory at best. So I was surprised to hear myself utter enthusiastic little hmms and wows and cools as I read. The author, Michael Hutt, talks about why temples have carvings of people and animals engaging in intimate activities, how certain buildings were meant to protect Buddhists from persecution by the Hindu majority, and what the little, open-sided structures near shrines and along trails are for.

However, Hutt made certain observations that I couldn’t quite relate to:

“Let us not be squeamish about using the well-established term ‘pagoda’, qualified by the term ‘Newar’, to refer to multi-tiered Nepali temples…”

All I can say is: I promise, I won’t.

His chapter on art forms is equally enlightening, though it elicited fewer wows per page.

The rest of the book is a detailed survey of notable monuments throughout the Kathmandu Valley, best read on-location. Hutt walks us through selected sites, pointing out the cool stuff and filling us in on historical and cultural context. There are lots of excellent photos and diagrams.

Sadly the book is out of print, but I found a copy on abebooks for $35 and ordered it to take on my trip.

By the way, Hutt is the same guy who wrote other books I want to read: Himalayan People’s War: Nepal’s Maoist Rebellion (2004, Indiana U. Press) and Himalayan Voices: An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature (1991, UC Press).

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