It is said that Bhaktapur has the best preserved palace courtyards and old city centre in Nepal. In combination with the medieval style alleys and buildings in the central part, Bhaktapur has more than enough to keep you occupied for a day or two.
As with the palace (durbar) squares in Kathmandu and Patan, the one in Bhaktapur has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a site of outstanding universal value. When it comes to numbers, Bhaktapur has more temples per square metre than the other two.
Even though it is less than 15 km from Kathmandu, Bhaktapur draws fewer visitors than the other famous squares and seems to have an overall more relaxed atmosphere. The only drawback when I visited the town, was that the earthquake of April 2015 had hit Bhaktapur much more than the other two – being much closer to the epicentre. It was not that so many temples had been destroyed but the residential areas with their traditional red-brick houses had been severely damaged and will take years to get back into shape – literally speaking.
I will start at the Durbar square, and then present some other places I visited on my day-trip from Kathmandu.
The Durbar Square
I will not spend much space describing in detail all the buildings lining the palace square. Instead I will do some name-dropping and leave a number of photographs for you to browse. Here are some suggestions for reading up on the sights of Bhaktapur: Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, Wikitravel.
Nyatapola Pagoda is an impressive five-story pagoda with elephants and lions guarding the high staircase leading up to the temple. This is the tallest pagoda in Nepal. It seemed to be almost untouched by the earthquake, at least compared to nearby Vatsala Temple which was very much in ruin. The Bhairavnath Temple also seemed to have suffered less damage. The case is though that the worshippers had not fled the temples but were very much present.
Durbar Square, or palace square, is flanked by the 55-window Royal Palace constructed by King Bhupatindra Malla in the early 1700s and served as home for the royal family until 1769.
The Golden Gate is the entrance to the Royal palace. Once inside you will want to have a look at the courtyard called the Taleju Chowk with a temple for Hindus only, and also the Snake Pond behind it.
Take a walk
To enter the centre of old Bhaktapur one has to buy a ticket at one of the many ticket stalls surrounding it. The fee goes into preserving the City of Devotees, and it sure is needed – not least after the earthquake of 2015. If you are on a guided tour the admission fee will probably be included up front. The streets in this “monumental” part of town (the wider town has about 80,000 inhabitants making it the third largest in the Kathmandu valley) have jointly the shape of a rectangle spreading from east to west.
I entered at the eastern end and made my way to the Durbar Square and beyond to the west. This part of town sees no rickshaws or taxis, thus making it very quiet. It may also be quite dusty.
Dattatreya Temple is situated on the square bearing the same name. It is also included on UNESCO’s map delimiting the heritage area, and connected with Durbar square with the main street between them. The three-story temple is said to have been built with the stem of a single tree.
I was lucky to be taken to a Painting School where they teach the noble art of mandala painting. It takes years to develop the necessary skills, and a lot of patience.
The map below indicates the places I visited during my stay in Nepal. Most of the days were spent in and around the capital of Kathmandu but I also went down to the Chitwan National Park for a bit of jungle life. Zoom in and out as you like, and click the markers. You may also expand the map into a new tab.
This article is from my visit to the Himalayas. I flew in from Bangkok, spent seven days in Bhutan (read the first chapter from Bhutan) and then took a flight to Nepal for another week. The overall schedule is introduced in an article called The outline of a visit to the Himalayas. These are the posts from Nepal:
- Inflight views of the Himalaya mountain range
- Kathmandu’s Thamel district and the Garden of Dreams
- Kathmandu’s historic districts and temples
- The former city-state of Patan
- The beautiful town of Bhaktapur (THIS)
- Jungle life in Chitwan
Two articles from these World Heritage Sites have also been published: Kathmandu Valley and Chitwan – in addition to a special post containing all pictures from Nepal.