Bhaktapur is one of the major cities of Nepal, located about 14 miles east of Kathmandu. Compared to Nepal’s capital, Bhaktapur can seem like a quiet and abandoned town. Bhaktapur does not host the kind of crowds witnessed in the larger Kathmandus. It is this quality that has attracted more and more visitors in recent years – those who want to enjoy the signature Nepalis temples, palaces, and squares without the hustle and bustle. Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bhaktapur is a popular day-trip destination for many travelers visiting Kathmandu and increasingly becoming more than just a side-show but rather the main feature itself – aided of course by the city’s reputation as one of the better preserved medieval cities in the Kathmandu valley.
Most of the city’s attractions are found in the Durbar Square, the heart of Bhaktapur. This is a large open area where tourists stroll amidst cows and kite-fliers. The square opens with the Golden Gate (“Sun Dhoka”) entrance, which leads to the main courtyard of the Palace of 55 Windows. The gate was built by King Ranjit Malla and is one of the most beautifully carved gates of its kind in the world. The carvings feature deities and monsters with detailed intricacy. The Sun Dhoka was built in 1753 and looks a lot like the Renaissance Baptistery doors of Florentine sculptor Ghilberti.
The Palace of 55 Windows is equally stunning and located just next to the Golden Gate. Built in the early 17th century, the palace features a balcony of 55 windows that is a masterpiece of wood carving. It was erected by King Bupatindra Malla in 1697. While it was damaged in the 1934 earthquake, it has since been restored.
Also located next to the Golden Gate is the National Art Gallery, which has a fine collection of statues and superb paintings, all of which are ancient, medieval, and belonging to Hindu and Buddhist schools depicting tantrism of various descriptions and eras.
The Durbar Square also features the stone temple of Batsala Durga. This temple is a great example of Shikhara style architecture and has an 18th century bronze bell on the temple’s terrace known as the “Bell of Barking Dogs”. The bell was used to signal curfew.
Besides the Batsala Durga, at Durbar Square you’ll also find several other temples and structures including among others the Lion Gate, the Statute of King Bhupatindra Malla, the Tajelu Temple, and the famous Nyatapola Temple. This latter temple is a five-story pagoda shrine built in 1702 by King Bhupatindra Malla. It stands on a five-terraced platform and is one of the tallest pagodas in the world.
The “Pottery Square” just southwest of the Taumadhi Tole is also worth a visit. The square is dominated by pots laid out to dry in the sun. Potters squat beside large whirling platforms to spin their black clays into different sizes and shapes. The women dry the pots in the sun and winnow the grain, while watching their children play out in the open.
The Peacock Window at Dattatraya Square is another point of interest. It is the most famous woodcarving of Bhaktapur and an icon of Nepal.
Bhaktapur is famous for its pottery. Throughout the entire town and especially at pottery square, you’ll find stands, stalls, and shops selling various ceramics.  The town is also known for its traditional textiles with many places selling dhakas, pashmina shawls, and various styles of quilts and tapestries made of pataasi material. If you are interested in purchasing paintings, shops around Taumadhi and Durbar Square sell quality paintings. Outside of these stores, artists crowd around selling their services to tourists.
Culture and Life
Bhaktapur is a Newar town and everyone speaks Newari. About two-thirds of the city’s population are farmers who walk each day from densely populated toles to work their fields outside the city. Much of the social activities take place in the public squares of the toles.
Bhaktapur was originally founded as a trading village along the main route between Tibet and India. It developed and grew prosperous because of its location. The town was initially designed by King Ananda Malla in the 9th century to project the shape of a conch shell. Because of its position on the caravan route, Bhaktapur became a rich and prosperous town. The wealth allowed the town to build some of the finest temples. It was, in fact, Bhaktapur that first developed the Pagoda style, which spread east from Tibet to China to Japan.
In the 18th century, however, Bhaktapur began to decline simultaneously as Kathmandu ascended in wealth and political power from its status as capital. Because of Kathmandu’s rise, Bhaktapur stagnated and became isolated. Bhaktapur’s bright young residents along with business initiatives and investment money were all lured away to the shining lights of Kathmandu. For the last two hundred years or so and even today, the city trails behind Kathmandu in every way – education, health services, and income. And Bhaktapur’s welfare was not improved by the horrendous earthquake of 1934, which destroyed much of the city.
In the 1990s, however, the German-funded Bhaktapur Development Project has helped revitalize the city’s economy and infrastructure. The developments were implemented while ensuring the full retention of Bhaktapur’s rich physical and cultural character.
“Bhaktapur.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhaktapur>
Burbank, Jon, Rosha Bajracharya, and Kesang Tseten. Nepal. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1993. ISBN: 0671879138.
“Places to Visit in Bhaktapur.” <http://www.nepaltravelinfo.com/bhaktapur1.htm>
“Shopping in Bhaktapur.” <http://www.nepaltravelinfo.com/bhaktapur3.htm>
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