The day after our trip to Patan we hopped on a local bus for an hours drive to Bhaktapur. Buses from Kathmandu leave from the bus stop near Ratna Park, A ride from here to Bhaktapur is about NPR 50 but as a tourist, you should expect to pay a bit more. As soon as you get off the bus you enter the medieval age. Unlike the concrete roads that are found everywhere in the world, the roads of Bhaktapur are still make of brick. The houses are still built in Newari architecture, as the Municipality of Bhaktapur made a rule that here the houses and other buildings should be built in this fashion. This place was a favourite of ours, so much so in fact we both agreed that if we were to live & work in Nepal, Bhaktapur would be our home because it’s only an hour commute if you work in Kathmandu, it’s cleaner, quieter (with primarily pedestrian pathways) and it’s known for it’s arts & craft. This place is rather charming with beautiful ancient temples in the centre, a Potter’s square where you can see how the artists hand craft clay pots and vases, an art school that teaches students traditional Thangka paintings and places where you can see wood, metal and stone artworks being carved. Bhaktapur has the best preserved palace courtyards and old city center in Nepal, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples and craftwork. This is supported by the restoration and preservation efforts of German-funded Bhaktapur Development Project (BDP), no wonder Bhaktapur is so much more clean and well kept in comparison to neighboring towns! Germans are renowned for their efficiency & cleanliness.
KHWOPA is the ancient name of Bhaktapur. The term “Bhaktapur” refers to “The City Of Devotees”. “Khwopa” actually refers to the masks which are believed to have been worn by gods and goddesses. Bhaktapur is popular for different forms of mask dances based on lives of different deities and therefore, it was named “Khwapa” which later came to become just “Khwopa,” which is also near to meaning masks.
In Bhaktapur you feel relaxed and safe, people are leisurely playing chess or listening to music, tourists are dotted about photographing the temples and local women are walking around selling handmade necklaces.
On entering the the Durbar Square from the West gate, on your right are two magnificent temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and other to Goddess Durga. A statue of King Bhupathindra Malla stands in the center of Durbar Square. A temple dedicated to Goddess Tulja Bhavani is right beside this statue. This temple consists of a huge bell when which was used while worshiping the Goddess. There are many other temples scattered around Bhaktapur Durbar Square and each temple will astonish you in a different way.
I recommend spending time in the Layaku durbar square where pretty much all the temples reside and you can walk inside them to see the gorgeous carvings within and around their infrastructure. The Nyatapola Temple’ is a 5-story pagoda and was erected between 1701 and 1702, this temple is devoted to the Hindu goddess Laxmi who governs love and prosperity.
Bhairab Nath Temple, sitting next to the Nyatapola temple is devoted to the dreadful aspect of Shiva, Lord Bhairab. The temple of Dattatraya is as old as the Palace of Fifty-five Windows. Consecrated by King Yakshya Malla in 1427 AD, this temple, according to popular belief, was built out of the trunk of a single tree. Just beside temple is a monastery (Math) with exquisitely carved peacock windows.
Unfortunately due to the 2015 8.5 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, numerous temples around the Kathmandu valley, including 116 in Bhaktapur have been damaged, however it is reported that restoration is currently underway and tourists are welcome back into the country.
Do pop over to the Golden Gate and the 55 Window Palace. The Golden Gate is the main doorway to the palace. The palace is famous for the woodcarvings on the windows which are remarkable pieces of art. The palace consists of many courtyards and figures of deities, but it is closed to the public. But if you are a Hindu and a Nepali citizen, you will be granted permission to enter these temples.
if you are looking for somewhere to eat; Bhaktapur have a lot of restaurants that serve Nepalese and International food. The most loved restaurant that the tourists love is in Shiva Guest House, which is located right in the heart of Durbar Square.
If you prefer to stay here over night instead of heading back to Kathmandu, the best accommodation options are in the old town near the Durbar Square and Taumadhi Square. There are not many luxury hotels in Bhaktapur, all they have are guesthouses which are very well maintained and for a room without an air-con cost about USD 12 -15, but it all depends on your bargaining skills.
Our entire holiday to Nepal is pretty much do-it-yourself, we had no tour guide, no tour group, no friends living out there, most of our planning happened the night before and we kind of winged it and this is the best way to be in Nepal. Nepal is so safe to backpack around and so easy to get to where you want to be with only your trusty guide book, although you wouldn’t think it due to Nepal being so chaotic and over populated, some how it all works and you end up where you need to be. Along the way you also encounter other western backpackers who are perhaps more seasoned, happen to be going to the same place as you and therefore are happy to have you tag along for company on the bus or you meet other travelers at pit-stops who recommend places to visit next plus tips on how to easily get there. Never rely on the locals though, yes they are friendly and want to help but they can’t read maps and they will also try to encourage you to sit in their cafe for a small fee as they wave down a taxi for you, don’t fall into this trap, you weren’t hungry and you were sure you didnt need a taxi.
Bhaktapur is utterly picturesque though and not to be missed. Everything built during the Malla Kingdom around 16th and 17th centuries and beyond, with their ancient Newari architectures that combined intricate woodcarvings in the pillars and windows of temples and palace to the various exquisite stone and metal sculptures of deities and guardians in a plaza so historic that anyone could imagine, looks nothing short of magnificent! Bhaktapur is a spectacular visual feast!
A favourite aspect of Bhaktapur are the Kama Sutra and Tantric carvings on some of the temple walls; as a yogi and an avid reader of yoga philosophy & tantra I was in heaven! Especially since I had just completed seven modules on yogai philosophy for a short course with Oxford university and I was currently drafting up my final essay about Tantra whilst we were in Nepal, so I did include some photography of these carvings into my essay for added effect. Needless to say I received an upper 2:1 (Grade B) as my final result!
Bhaktapur’s beauty goes beyond its woodworks and woodcarvings, stone sculptures and temples; more than being considered Nepal’s cultural gem. Bhaktapur is incredibly beautiful because of the strength and resilience of its people. Obviously, their strength doesn’t come in force but from their bravery and willingness to live. The local people of Bhaktapur consciously continue to preserve their heritage and lifestyle with almost no modern technology and mostly dependent on their skills, creativity, culture and craftmanship. Their devotion and dedication to their gods, their arts, their tradition make them one of the most beautiful and wealthiest of people! They’re beautiful and strong because they’re able to thrive and smile their happiest regardless of any adversity, even in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake they move forward fearlessly and peacefully.