Fellow blogger friend over at STPA, Amanda came up with an interesting idea some time ago. She had traveled to Bhaktapur, Nepal in 1986 and wanted to share photos and talk of her experience. I on the other hand have memories of more recent times of Bhaktapur and as a native from Nepal, have a different feeling towards this traditional city. I cannot wait to read Amanda’s interpretation of her Bhaktapur visit more than three decades ago. Please head over to her blog post to read her experience and see photos from those times.
Bhaktapur is one of the three districts that make up Kathmandu metropolitan area, also the biggest city in Nepal. Bhaktapur is well known for its art, architecture, cuisine and culture. It is home to an ethnic group called Newars, who are well-known in Nepal for their distinct art, culture, cuisine, and trading skills. Bhaktapur is not only artistically pleasing, but I think it is also the least hectic of the three regions that make up Kathmandu city, the other two being Lalitpur and Kathmandu.
Back when Nepal was made up of small kingdoms before the great unification, neighboring Newar kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur) and Bhaktapur competed for power and dominance. The durbar squares (royal square in English), built in each city were a result of that competition, which even earned them UNESCO world heritage status later on. They were built during the period of Malla rule, and this was also when a Nepalese artist called Araniko went to China and introduced the distinct pagoda style architecture to China which eventually spread throughout Asia.
Durbar Squares are just plazas opposite royal palaces. The area consists of several temples, courtyards, ancient statues, water fountains, palaces and modern additions, museums for visitors. The durbar squares date back 15th century and are not only some of the most important historical sites in Nepal, but also a locals’ favorite spot for hanging out, especially in the evenings. This is where you see people congregate, chat, sell and buy items, and enjoy a cup of hot milk Nepali tea 🙂
I remember being taken to these squares on school trips as a child, as I grew older they became a favorite place to hang out in when skipping schools 😉 Although all three of them are equally elegant and fascinating, I always liked Bhaktapur Durbar Square the most. Bhaktapur is the farthest from my home, is bigger than the other two and is the least crowded. Some of the most notable structures and sites in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square are 55 windows palace, Taleju Temple Complex with a golden gate, Nyatapola Temple and Pottery Square.
Around all three Durbar Squares you will see narrow alleys (unfortunately also quite busy and hectic with all kinds of traffic), beautiful carved wooden windows on houses and Newar people walking around in traditional clothing and living a somewhat traditional life just like their ancestors did. The alleys also have a number of restaurants, souvenir shops and art galleries/schools. Thangka painting and traditional Nepal paper are well-known souvenirs from the area, but for the locals Bhaktapur’s most popular export is their delicious thick yoghurt, also known as juju dhau.
It’s interesting to see how times have changed since Amanda’s visit in 1986 and today. The historical structures are largely the same but the streets around it are busier. The town has become more urbanized and sadly not much effort has been put into the conservation and maintenance of this remarkable site.
My visits in 2015 (right after the big earthquake) and 2018 prove that most of the damaged structures still remain in the same state.
Despite this, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is still one of my favorite places to go to on an evening away from chaotic Kathmandu, relax and chat in one of its courtyards and try out some of the local eateries that have been popping up everywhere in the recent years. There is so much history and culture in Bhaktapur, and the fact that there are also other cultural and natural sites in the region besides the Durbar Square make it a place well worth visiting when in Nepal’s capital city.