Stepping Back in Time – Bhaktapur, Nepal
Bhaktapur – the lovely, historic, culturally rich, ancient capital of Nepal. The third largest city in the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur stretches far and beyond its historic center. While we only drove through the city proper, we spent one whole charm filled day exploring its cultural heritage. And we sort of fell in love. Declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 (along with 6 others in the Kathmandu Valley), Bhaktapur embodies the ancient Newari architecture of the 12th-15th centuries. It was once the capital of the Greater Malla Kingdom and remained an independent kingdom until the 18th century.
Despite the fact that over 1/3 of its temples and buildings were destroyed in a devastating 1934 earthquake, most of the city has been reconstructed and only noticeable to the most discerning eye. Its main points of interest, Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square, and Dattatreya Square are filled with temples and pagodas, all of which represent something different and equally profound. Though the population of Nepal, which is also representative of Bhaktapur, is primarily Hindu (80%), there are still a prolific amount of Buddhist sites found among Nepal’s historic areas. Woven together to create a web of religious intrigue, it seems like these two traditions have evolved quite peacefully together.
We began our tour walking the narrow cobblestone alleyways of Bhaktapur and were immediately charmed. It’s centuries old buildings had doors that were no taller than 65 inches and passageways leading into them that made them appear as a network of interconnected caves. I wasn’t brave enough to walk into one (most being residential), but the child in me (who is ever-present when it comes to to anything cave-like) was aching to. We past groups of women making sewn crafts, a makeshift garbage dump, chickens clucking along the sidewalks, and herbs dangling down from 3rd story verandas. And then we happened upon this sweet woman weaving on the street. LOVE. AT. FIRST. SIGHT.
As we strolled on, we eventually found our way into the Durbar Square area and began exploring its dozens of temples and outlying buildings. It wasn’t too long before the kids lost interest and we continued into her small cobblestone streets. I blame it on the kids, but in all honesty, I would often times rather be meandering down hidden side streets, observing how people live, than soaking in the history of royal palaces. More of an anthropologist than a historian. We were approached by a Nepali man who was in school to become a cultural tour guide and wanted to show us around. Which is something that we rarely, if ever, do. But for some reason, we decided to hire him. Even though our attention span was far too short to actually listen to the deep history about most of the temples and buildings (because of the kids of course), it was fun to tour around with a local (who also helped cart our kids).
And then I shopped. Because Nepal handicrafts are AMAZING. Long have I been in love with the knitwear and fleece that comes from Nepal, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how enthralled I’d be traveling through Nepal. I couldn’t go anywhere without wanting to buy something. This day, I bought my first cashmere scarf and seriously considered buying a test batch to sell back home, but ultimately decided not to (I do, however, think that being a small-scale exporter to help fund your world travels is brilliant).
My shopping jaunt brought us to Pottery Square, where hundreds of vases and vessels and other pieces of pottery are made each day and set in the square to dry. My ceramist of a husband couldn’t help but get his hands dirty making a pot of his own – to which the local potters were quite surprised by his skill. From there we headed through Taumadhi and Dattatreya Squares, trying to prolong the inevitable melt downs that occur when the kids have been made to be patient for too long.
I haven’t yet mentioned where we stayed in Bhaktapur. There are dozens of guesthouses located within its historic center, which we didn’t realize at the time of booking, so we ended up at a guesthouse just outside based on good TripAdvisor reviews. Though Planet Bhaktapur was a 5 minute drive down a bumpy dirt road from the nitty-gritty of Bhaktapur, I felt that it was a perfect choice. Our room was great – beds comfortable, heat sufficient (propane stand-alone unit), manager super personable, and food AMAZING. For the remainder of our trip, I fantasized about staying here one more night just so we could eat their breakfast.
Bhaktapur is known for its curd, which to me, is basically Greek yogurt. You literally don’t find this anywhere else in Nepal. It’s fresh, it’s local, it’s delicious. I hadn’t eaten dairy for a number of months before staying at Planet Bhaktapur, but when they set that heaping bowl of curd and muesli in front of me, that was it. For something like $3, I got a DELICIOUS garlic omelette, roasted veggies and some sort of scrumptious bread, mango juice, coffee, AND a large bowl of yogurt and muesli. We sat there for over an hour, slowly trying to make our way through it all. Yum, I want it NOW.
We ended our tour at a nice little restaurant down a charming little alley, that cost us all of $10 for three adults and two children.