Perched on a hill and visible from miles around, the Changu Narayan temple stands majestically above the rice fields of Bhaktapur. Dedicated to Vishnu, the temple’s origins go back to the 4th century. A 5th century stone inscription in the temple proclaims it as one of the oldest shrines of the Kathmandu Valley. Though the temple is quite beautiful, especially the repoussé doors and front facade, Changu Narayan is not known for its temple but for the stone statues, bas-relief carvings, and inscriptions that are scattered around the temple courtyard.
Facing the entrance to the main temple is a large stone statue of a kneeling Garuda, upon whom Vishnu is said to ride. This statue dates from the 5th century. Behind the statue is an inscription stone from the same century that has provided a great deal of information about the Licchavi period in the Kathmandu Valley's history. Also in front of the temple's main entrance, in an ornate little cage, are small statues of King Bupathindra Malla and his queen. To the right of the temple entrance, there are several smaller shrines and a platform with only a carved stone atop it. This bas-relief carving, which has had its upper-right corner broken off, depicts two different incarnations of Vishnu.
At the bottom of the stone, Vishnu is shown reclining on a bed of snakes, the same pose that is depicted in the large statue of Budhanilkantha. Above this, a 10-headed standing Vishnu is depicted. The detail in this 5th- or 6th-century stone carving is amazing. Near the famous double Vishnu is a stone depicting another incarnation of Vishnu, the half-man, half-lion Narsimha. In the northeast corner of the courtyard is an important bas-relief that you might recognize. It depicts Vishnu riding on the back of Garuda and is the model for the image on the back of the Nepali 10-rupee note.