If you have a few extra days in Kathmandu before your trek to Everest or Annapurna you are probably wondering how to best spend your time. A great option is a day trip to the ancient city of Bhaktapur which lies only about 20km east of Kathmandu and can be reached in 40mins from Thamel by car.
Visiting Bhaktapur reminds me of visiting one of Europe’s medieval cities as it’s actually a place of “living history.” Over 200,000 people still inhabit its narrow streets and ancient brick buildings decorated with elaborate carvings. A number of both Hindu and Buddhist shrines can be found in Bhaktapur although the population is 90% Hindu. In practice most of the inhabitants practice both religions with equal intensity. Bhaktapur is the most Hindu of the three main cities of Kathmandu Valley (Patan is more Buddhist and Kathmandu a mixture of both).
Bhaktapur was the capital of the Malla Kingdom from the 12th to 15th centuries and after the 15th century became an independent kingdom alongside Kathmandu and Patan. As the capital of the Malla Kingdom it was clearly an important and wealthy city judging by the architectural richness of the many buildings, temples and pagodas.
Prithvi Narayan Shah led a successful military campaign which started in 1734 and stretched several decades to unite the various kingdoms that now make up present day Nepal. An insightful leader, Prithvi, was knowledgeable about the British takeover of the various kingdoms of India that were taking place at the time and realized that the only way Nepal could avoid colonization was to face the British as a unified state. However, Prithvi and subsequent Gorkha leaders systematically suppressed the Newar culture after unification.
The people of Bhaktapur are mostly Newars who are the traditional inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and today the 6th largest ethnic group in Nepal. The Newar cultural is celebrated for its architectural elements which include the multiple-roofed pagoda common in all the central squares and more intricate structures like the Newar window. Bhaktapur was carefully planned with numerous squares, temples, sunken wells and various courtyards and winding streets. Today’s cars look out of place as they ply the many small lanes of the city.
If you are visiting Bhaktapur take a chance and enjoy some of the traditional Newar cusine which is served at many of the restaurants overlooking the various squares. The daily meal is typical Dhal Bhatt but snacks are more unique consisting of roasted soybeans, dried rice flakes and curried potatoes. Another specialty is Juju dhau, a sweet creamy yoghurt that is made from buffalo milk and stored in traditional clay pots called “kataura.”
It’s easy to spend most of the day walking the streets of Bhaktapur so schedule accordingly. Since it’s a UNESCO world heritage site the entrance fee at 1500Rs is a bit steep but an my estimation worth it. You will want to make sure to at least visit these 4 landmarks on your visit;
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
This is the main central square near the entrance and famous for its 55-window palace. The ancient Lions Gate dates back to 1696 and the Lu Dhowka or Golden Gate which is the entrance to the main palace is heralded as one of the most beautiful and intricately carved pieces of artwork in the entire city. The ancient palace of windows was first built in 1427 and the upper balcony with 55 windows is a true masterpiece. Also look at for the Pashupati Temple a replica of the same Hindu temples found along the Bagmati River in Kathmandu.
While not as dramatic as the other squares it’s the center of the cities pottery industry. The myriad of pots drying and laid across the grounds make it worth seeing.
Despite the publicity the main square gets this is probably my favorite as it lies in the heart of the old city. It’s dominated by the massive yet intricately designed five-storied Nyatapola Temple which dates to 1702 and is the tallest in the entire country.
This is one of the oldest squares erected in 1427 at the same time as the palace of 55 windows. Legend has it that the temple itself was constructed from the trunk a single giant tree. The monastery and temples are noted for their intricately latticed windows and carved columns.
If you would like to arrange a day trip to Bhaktapur let us know once you arrive or drop us an inquiry. We also offer a full day Kathmandu Tour that includes; Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath and Monkey Temple.