Known as Kwabaha in the local language and Hiranyavarna Mahavihar in Sanskrit, the Golden Temple is a glittering edifice of Buddhist faith and artistic perfection. The lavish display of votive art that covers every surface, nook and cranny of the courtyard will keep all who enter its gilded domain captivated for hours. Golden roofs, silver doors, carved windows, sculptures of gods and goddesses, statues of devotees kneeling in prayer, dragons coiled around door posts, birds perched on roof corners… the details are simply too many to describe.

Located off a little street about 200 meters north and west of the Durbar Square in Patan, the 12th-century monastery courtyard is a hotbed of spiritual inspiration where an unbroken tradition of Newar and Tibetan Buddhist practices continues as it has for ages. From a time when…

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived a queen named Pingala. She was separated from the king, and so came to the Guheswari temple in Kathmandu to pray for his return. Pleased with the lovelorn queen’s devotion, the goddess appeared and told her to build a monastery. She did as told, and, just as Guheswari had promised, the king came looking for her. A great reconciliation took place, and after appointing people to look after the shrine, the couple returned home.

Years passed, the caretakers moved away, and the monastery, Pingalabaha, fell into ruin. One day, a priest from Patan stumbled upon its main Buddha image buried under the rubble. He brought it to Patan and enshrined it at Nyakha Chuka where he lived. When the king, Bhaskar Dev, heard about what had happened, he built a new monastery, Nhubaha, and moved the image there.

But one night, the Buddha appeared to the king in a dream, and told him that Nhubaha wasn’t an appropriate place, and that the statue should be installed in a temple built on a spot where a mouse drove away a cat. The king wandered around looking for such a special place, and one day saw a gold-colored mouse chasing a cat. Bhaskar Dev marked out the plot and built a monastery to house the Buddha image. Thus was Kwabaha founded.

This is but one of many stories about the origins of the Golden Temple. The tale almost comes to life in the magical atmosphere of flickering butter lamps and extravagant sculptures, and you find your thoughts drifting back to a time when…