Step away from the perpetual horn honking and mad driving in Kathmandu for a genuine travel adventure in Bhaktapur. Every dirt road, crooked building and Temple will take you to a time read only in books.
Travel Destination – Bhaktapur
One of my favourite travel photos from Bhaktapur. Ganesh, the hen, and a sleeping dog. They all seem perfectly aligned in front of the weathered brick wall. Of the areas around Kathmandu, Bhaktapur was the one place that captivated me the most as it seemed to be a step back in time.
Consider these interesting facts about Bhaktapur, Nepal ::
Bhaktapur—locally known as Khwopa—is world renowned for its elegant art, fabulous culture and indigenous lifestyle. For its majestic monuments, colourful festivals and the native Newars best known for their long history of craftsmanship, the ancient city is also variously known as the “City of Culture”, the “Living Heritage” and “Nepal’s Cultural Gem”. Given such unequalled opulence in ancient art and culture, Bhaktapur is more like an open museum, and the ambience here is such that it instantly transports visitors back by centuries the moment they step into its territory.
Bhaktapur has its gem in the Durbar Square—a World Heritage site listed by the UNESCO. Strewn with unique palaces, temples and monasteries best admired for their exquisite artworks in wood, metal and stone, the palatial enclave has bewitched pilgrims and travellers for centuries. Yet, they are not all though. Adding to the mesmerizing environs is the holy Himalaya that makes the backdrop of the city. Stretching all along the township, the panoramic Himalaya levitates in the skyline as if to keep vigilance on the city’s enviable beauty and splendour.
Bhaktapur, at 1,401 meters above sea level, spreads over an area of 6.88 square kilometres. It grows from a collection of villages strung along the old trade route between India and Tibet. The capital city of the Greater Malla Kingdom till the 15th century AD, Bhaktapur was founded in the 12th century by King Ananda Malla, but it was only in the early 18th century that this city took its present shape. It was at that time that many of Bhaktapur’s greatest monuments were built by the then Malla rulers.
Monumental masterpieces in Bhaktapur are innumerable, and each is more attractive than the other. Mostly terra-cotta structures supported by carved wooden columns, elaborately carved struts, windows and doors, gilded roofs and pinnacles, open spacious courts all around and, above all, the fascinating divine images presiding over the monument—many edifices have many things in common, yet their varied shape, size and designs make the one even more wondrous than the other. Furthermore, each of their components reflects the religious belief, social outlook and the economic status of the builders, and the monuments in all carry along a rich artistic tradition of the native Newars.
In Bhaktapur, visitors confront a smaller or larger monument almost at every ten or twenty steps. Perhaps stunned by the clusters of monuments, a visitor in the past had admired the Kathmandu Valley, saying that “every other building (in the Valley) is a temple and every other day a festival”. The proportion, owing to continual external invasions and natural calamities, might have changed over centuries, yet the presence of variously shaped and sized monuments in Bhaktapur is still awe-inspiring. The world-famous Nyataponla Temple, Bhairavnath Temple, Taleju Temple, 55-Window Palace, Golden Gate, Golden Faucet, Big Bell, Yaksheswor Mahadev Temple, Dattatreya Temple, Peacock Window, Taja Math, Pujari Math, Wakupati Narayan Temple, Nava Durga Temple, Chandeswori Temple, Barahi Temple, Bharbacho Gate, Terra-cotta Windows and Nepal’s largest Shiva Lingum at Hanumanghat, and such historic ponds as Ta-Pukhu, Na-Pukhu, Bhajya-Pukhu and Bahre-Pukhu (Kamal Pokhari) are simply a few among many that embellish the city’s brick- and stone-paved squares, courtyards and open fields. Besides, the presence of a great many Buddhist monuments, many of them rubbing shoulders with Hindu shrines, simply reaffirms the age-old Nepalese tradition of social harmony and religious tolerance among its peace-loving populace. Because of this time-tested tradition, Bhaktapur’s well known Lokeswor Mahavihar, Prasannasheel Mahavihar, Chatu Brahma Mahavihar, Jaya Kirti Mahavihar, Sukra-Varna Mahavihar, Dipanker Mahavihar and many other Buddhist shrines have been the places of esteem and adoration for the Hindus alike.
Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square is the gem not only of Bhaktapur but also of the entire nation. The fascinating structure here is the world-renowned 55-Window Palace. The elaborately carved windows and doors are something that visitors simply cannot help admiring. The seat of royalty before 1769 AD, the building now houses the National Art Gallery—the museum better known for its rich collection of paubha scroll paintings and breathtaking artworks in stone.
The world-famous Golden Gate rubs shoulders with the 55-Window Palace. An unparalleled specimen of repousse art dating back to 1756, it is the entrance to the marvellous Taleju Temple Complex. Getting into it leads to a number of artistically designed chowks (courtyards) including the Royal Bath, which is adorned with the well-admired Golden Faucet among others.
Another artwork that unfailing-ly bewitches visitors in the Square is the Big Bell. Big enough to match its name, the bell was erected by Ranajit Malla (r. 1722-1769), Bhaktapur’s last Malla king. It was used in those days for paying homage to Goddess Taleju, the lineage deity of Malla rulers, as well as to call assemblies of the citizens to discuss on given subjects concerning the state. Today, it is rung twice a day as a mark of tribute to the goddess. Right next to it is a smaller Barking Bell. To one’s surprise, all dogs around it start whining the moment it is run by its caretaker.
The Yaksheswor Mahadev Temple equally adds to the Square’s unparalleled beauty. Named after its builder king, Yaksha Malla (r. 1428-82), the two-storied pagoda was constructed after Kathmandu’s world famous Pashupatinath temple. It is noted for its wooden struts full of erotic carvings.
Other notable monuments in and around the historic Durbar Square are the octagonal Chyasin Mandap, Siddhi Laxmi Temple, Shiva Temple (Fasi-dega), Vatsala Temple, Bhandarkhal Complex, Chatu Brahma Mahavihar, Indrayani Temple, Balakhu Ganesh Temple, Tripura-Sundari Temple and the Char Dham symbolizing the four greatest Hindu pilgrimage sites.
The Nyataponla Temple presides over the Taumadhi Square. Dating back to 1702 AD, the colossal five-storied edifice is the country’s tallest pagoda temple. The struts, doors, windows and tympanums—each embellished with attractively carved divine figures—perfectly portray the creative tradition of Newar craftsmen. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Siddhi Laxmi, the manifestation of female force and creativity. The latest major renovation of this monument was carried out in 1997 AD by Bhaktapur Municipality using the revenue it collected from tourists.
Next to the Nyataponla Temple is the rectangular shaped Bhairavnath Temple. It houses a gilded bust of Bhairav, the ferocious manifestation of Lord Shiva. The three-storied pagoda was razed to the grounds by the 1934-earthquake, and its latest renovation was undertaken by Bhaktapur Municipality in 1995 AD.
The enclosed complex facing the Nyataponla Temple is dedicated to Tilmadhav Narayan, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu, who is one of the Supreme Triumvirate of Hindu pantheon. A few steps ahead of it, to the southwest, lies the famous Pottery Square, where visitors can see the city’s well-known potters making variously shaped and sized earthenware. The major monumental highlight of this square is a temple of Jeth Ganesh, which dates back to the 14th century.
The Dattatreya Square is Bhaktapur’s third dazzling gem. The seat of royalty till the 15th century, the area still houses a great number of historic monuments including many wondrous Maths (residential mansions) and temples.
The Dattatreya Temple is the main attraction of the Square. Constructed by King Yaksha Malla, the giant three-storied temple is believed to have been built with the stem of a single tree. Having defied series of calamities, it still bears testimony to the incredible achievement made in those regal days of the Nepalese history.
The Wane Layaku complex, which lies to the south-western corner of the Dattatreya temple, is noted for Bhaktapur’s second Taleju shrine. Enclosed with old houses, the courtyard sees throngs of people, especially during the Mohani (Dashain) festival, when a rare Ghau-batacha (Water Clock) is put on public display. During the Malla Era, the water-clock was used by the then rulers and astrologers for fixing “propitious moments” for commencing and concluding various state and social ceremonies.
The Peacock Window, which is also called the “Mona Lisa of Nepal”, is a rare masterpiece in wood. Dating back to the early 15th century, the unique latticed window has an intricately carved peacock in its centre. The window adorns the Pujari Math which, with rows of exquisitely carved windows and doors, is equally appealing. The building presently houses the Woodcarving Museum. The museum has a rich collection of unique pieces in wood.
The Brass & Bronze Museum, housed in the historic Chikanpha Math, is the next highlight of the Square. It has a wide collection of bronze and brasswares including the ritual jars, utensils, water vessels, pots, spittoons and similar other household items.
Near the Dattatreya Square is the Wakupati Narayan Temple. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the two-storied structure is a unique specimen of pagoda architecture. Next to it is Bhaktapur’s second Pottery Square.