Bhaktapur is a town about 8 miles from Kathmandu. A UNESCO world heritage site it basically dates back to when time began – well that’s what it feels like anyway! But there are temples and artefacts that date back to the 5th century AD.
I had been banging on about how much I wanted to visit Bhaktapur for a long time. Ever since I didn’t get to go in 2012 in fact. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get there because of the fuel crisis, a half an hour taxi journey would be pretty pricy, and we weren’t even sure if any taxis would want to take us that far.
So, I suggested getting a local bus. I had read that the standard bus fare is around 40NPR (about 25pence) but they may try to charge tourists more, maybe 100NPR (about 65pence). I was fine with that.
So Jane and I wandered down to the, well calling it a bus station would be a bit of a push, the street where the minibuses accumulate…and we asked all the drivers if they were going to Bhaktapur. There are no signs anywhere. Using only one word – Bhaktapur – and a few had gestures we were directed to the right place and found a bus who said they were going that way. They told us to get on the roof. The roof? Are you sure you’re going to Bhaktapur? And are you sure you want us to get on the roof? Why is there no one else on the roof?!
We were told this was the only bus going to Bhaktapur (I think this was a lie), so we got on the roof and hoped the bus really was going that way. And if this was the only bus of the day then we hoped there was going to be a bus back!
Well it turns out it’s pretty normal to travel on the roof – the more people they can squeeze in the more money they make! And more economical fuel costs.
The bus journey was fun, although a little uncomfortable at times and a little long, it was definitely more fun that taking a taxi. Plus it had that element of fear, a feeling like your number could be up at any moment! Eventually more people joined us on the roof and we made the 8 mile journey in about 45 minutes (we stopped a lot!).
The called for us when it was time to get off, guided us in the right direction and charged us 35NPR each (about 20pence) for the ride.
After you regain the feeling in your bum, it’s just a short walk to the main gate where you pay your entry fee. I can’t remember exactly what the fee was but I think it was around 1500NPR (about $15). From what I understand it used to be less than this but the fee has gone up since the earthquakes to help raise funds to repair the damage. Fair enough.
There are lots of people there claiming to be tour guide and you get hassled a lot for business. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to get a tour guide as a bit of background history certainly makes the visit a lot more worthwhile and enjoyable. But the problem is that there is no regulation and you don’t know who you are paying for or whether they are any good and their fees vary wildly.
After a bit of research I found this great website TheLongestWayHome. There is a lot of great free information about Nepal and I also downloaded a travel guide for Bhaktapur for a very reasonable $1.99.
After arriving at Durbar square our first task was to seek out the fornicating elephants! The Shiva Parvati temple is just outside the entrance to Durbar square and is easily missed (we missed it and had to go back) because it’s really small. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of damage from the earthquakes to these two little temples. They are famous for the erotic carvings, some are of people but more ‘interestingly’ there are animals including tortoises, horses, llamas and of course the elephants! Some say it represents the circle of life, “there’s also a popular case that the carvings are placed on the roof struts to protect them. Apparently the goddess of lightning is quite bashful and would never strike a temple with such goings on.” (Taken from the guide book.)
Durbar square is large and lined with temples on all sides. Again, there was evidence of the earthquakes destruction with more fallen temples.
This is the goddess Ugrachandi Devi, who pops up several times throughout the day. King Bhupatindra Malla commissioned sculpture in 1707, apparently he loved it so much that he had the artists hand chopped off so he couldn’t reproduce the work for another King. Nice!
Next we walked on to the set of Harry Potter. The Royal Bath – Naga Pokhari. A (once) natural spring guarded over by 2 serpents. A place that used to provide water for hundreds and hundreds of people, the water didn’t look that appealing now, not even with my trusty water filter!
The Golden Gate is regarded to be possibly the greatest piece of artwork in all of Nepal, it certainly is striking as there isn’t much else around like it. Made in 1753 from guilded copper, it features serpents and the 10 armed goddess that we have seen before. Opposite the gate is a statue of King Bhupatindra Malla sat high on a tower, although it was a little too sunny to see the detail.
Next to the gate is one of the most impressive buildings in the square – The Palace of 55 Windows. Built a very long time ago in 1696, it does actually have 55 windows. An earthquake in 1936 destroyed a lot of the interior so now only the walls and windows remain, the walls are a little curved and need constant monitoring, but thankfully it doesn’t seem to have had any more damage from the most recent earthquakes. The wood carvings really are incredible, the detail is stunning.
Next to the palace of 55 Windows is possibly my favourite temple – Siddhi Lakshmi Temple. The entrance is served by guardians and this one is unusual because it has a man on one side and a woman with a child on the other. Behind them are horses, rhinos, man-lions (yeah, you know, man-lions) and camels. It is said that each pair of guardians are 10 times stronger than the next as they lead upwards.
The next temple has even larger and more impressive guardians, but sadly the whole of the top was destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes. A quick trip to the top and I found 2 boys flying their kites, real life Kite Runner! I sat up there for a while watching them, they grew inquisitive and I showed them the pictures I had taken of them on my phone.
We went to visit the Kumari’s house. It’s on a small street and the entrance is guarded by 2, now familiar, lions. The inside courtyard was really pretty and peaceful, much lighter and nicer that the Kumari’s house in Kathmandu.
Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of it as I was too preoccupied with taking pictures of the unusual carvings, which include a man having his head squashed between 2 goats and a man having his teeth pulled out! Although called the Kumari’s house, the Kumari no longer lives here, she lives elsewhere.
Bhaktapur really is an incredible place, I felt like I had been transported back in time to the 15th century. Everything is so old and yet so intricate. I tried to imagine what would life would have been like back then, when there were no tourists, when the temples were used for worship, when they were newly built and Bhaktapur was the busy, bustling capital of Nepal.
As we moved our way through Pottery square, Taumadhi square and Dattatreya square we of course saw a lot more temples and carvings. I am not going to explain my way through all of them but here are a few photographic highlights from the rest of Bhaktapur…
The peacock window is something people seek out, considered by some to be one of the greatest wood carvings in Nepal. It is down a tiny little street and could be easily missed as its up on the second floor. Here you could see just how close the earthquakes had come to destroying everything.
We didn’t stop in Bhaktapur for anything to eat, or to try the local dish of Curds (thick yogurt), mainly because after 3 weeks we had come to the end of our tolerance to Nepalese food. But there are lots of places to eat and stay, you could quite easily spend a few days here.
Our sightseeing done for the day we made our way to the eastern gate and hoped we could find a way home. We got really lucky and the first bus we asked was going to Kathmandu. This time we even got a seat inside, right next to the driver. It was now about 2pm and the sun was intense so I was glad not to be on the roof! An inside seat is priced at a premium for westerners at 100NPR each our journey home cost us around 65 pence!
Jane managed to fall asleep, although I don’t know how…(turn the volume up to appreciate this video!).
I loved Bhaktapur, I recommend visiting and taking in its rich cultural history before it’s too late, I’m not sure how much more disaster the old temples will survive.