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.
17 thoughts on “Memories from Bhaktapur Durbar Square”
Thanks ever so much for sharing your insights and account from a native Nepali! It is always great to hear how you found the city. It was really a big thrill for me to “see” Bhaktapur after all these years looking at your photos! It is still the same in some parts but changed radically in others. Over 30 years! Time passes so very quickly, but the memories of that day I spent there are so vivid and now they have been re-kindled by your post.
Firstly, it was interesting hearing that the city has become a place for locals to hang out, and I do wish that I could have tried the local yoghurt. I missed that.
It was a great surprise to see cars in the main square and motorbikes and modern looking shops in the back alleys. What surprised me the most was the disappearance of some of the tall pagoda temples – all that remains after the earthquake is the brick plinth at the base. I do hope they are able to find the funds to restore the historic structures to their former glory.
This has been so much fun, Pooja. To think that we haven’t met irl, yet happenstance has enabled us to meet across the internet, and yet we have both walked on the same piece of ground in another place in the world, than where we live every day! Amazing!
Yes, the old structures are the same, except the random urbanization of alleys and houses surrounding it. I wish the vehicles weren’t allowed in the main square or the alleys around it, something like in Europe. I don’t know if you visited Patan Durbar Square – but the alleys around it are even busier with vehicles and foot traffic. But since people actually live in those areas, it’s probably not as easy to make the alleys completely vehicles-free. Soon it will be 5 years since the earthquake, and to think that despite all the donation money that poured in from around the world and the entry fees that government collects from visitors, the fact that not everything has been fixed is frustrating!
Isn’t it amazing indeed! That is why I love blogging. Meeting friends like you from all over the world. Have a nice Sunday, Amanda! 🙂
Firstly, I agree that it is a shame there hasn’t been much in the way of re-building. This is often the case with large international donations via charities. So much of the money disappears in running the organizations. It is this way with the bushfires in Australia. Many people affected did not see money that was donated for them by celebrities or ordinary people around the world. They still have no home. Despite millions and millions of dollars in donations.
I agree with you that vehicles should NOT be allowed. I was shocked when I saw some images of vehicles driving across Patan Durbar square. It is far too historic importance and precious asset for the country to have cars on it! They definitely should be banned. People lived there for many centuries without cars so why not now? The risk to the structures is grave if a car should run into them! All the three Durban squares and these historic sites were my favourite things about Nepal. I do hope they are around for many generations to come. They are so special!
When my friend and I traveled to Nepal in December 2015, we went straight to Bhaktapur after arriving at the airport in Kathmandu. We stayed at a small hotel next to Nyatapola Temple, and I remember the first morning when we were going down to have breakfast, from the window of our hotel the temple was glowing in the soft morning sun. It was a magical sight. Another thing we really enjoyed was juju dhau — it’s simply the best yogurt I have every tried. I loved how rich, creamy and refreshing it was. This post of yours definitely brings back a lot of fond memories, Pooja.
The Durbar Squares do have this magical aura around them – especially when it’s empty and in early morning hours. Juju dhau is really the best! I try not to miss it whenever I visit Nepal. Hope you’re doing fine in Jakarta, Bama! 🙂
I’m fine, just wishing for this pandemic to end (which I understand won’t happen so soon) so I can go out and explore again without having to worry about the virus. Stay safe and healthy to you too, Pooja!
Now that would be a magical site to see Nyatapola Temple in the glow of the morning light. Have you blogged about it, Bama? ( I am also a bit envious you got to try the yoghurt. I missed doing that).
Hi Amanda. I actually have. You can look it up in the Nepal section in my blog.
I can’t see that on my phone. Can you share a link?
One of The Best Article about Bhaktapur. Love It.
It’s so insightful to read about your experience Bhaktapur in Kathmandu. It is interesting how Bhaktapur is divided into royal palaces (back in the day) and community areas. I haven’t heard of hot milk Nepali tea. It sounds delicious, and I’m guessing it’s a tea mixed with milk kind of drink 🙂 Maybe one day these sites will be worked on and preserved. There’s so much history here to be seen and felt today.
Hi Mabel. You should give the milk tea a try! You will find it easily in Indian restaurants as well 🙂 My non-Nepali friends love it but I am not a big fan of milk in general so I prefer just normal tea. Thanks for dropping by!
I enjoyed journeying to Bhaktapur vicariously, Pooja. I’m glad you have had the opportunity to visit it a few times since you moved away from Nepal. I would love to try some of the juju dhau, wonder how it differs from the western-style yoghurts.
Hi Tanja! I am glad you enjoyed the post. I wonder if they have juju dhau in Nepalese restaurants in the US, I doubt it but maybe I am wrong 🙂 It’s one of those specialties from a specific area. Hope you’re enjoying summer in beautiful Colorado! 🙂
I have eaten at a Nepalese restaurant and I don’t remember seeing yoghurt, but we sampled from the buffet, and I don’t know if they might have offered it on their menu. Next time, I will pay attention!
Love your blog x💘