The ancient city of Bhaktapur is a jewel in the rough. On the outskirts of town, one could pass by without knowing what lies hidden within its unassuming walls. Hopping off the public bus with no shortage of colorful hanging beads and Bollywood beats, we wandered down the street looking for our guesthouse. Soon we were in a place out of time. Bhaktapur’s streets are a dusty golden brown, paved with a wave of uneven bricks. Ancient pagodas and traditional Nepalese architecture line its narrow alleys. Dark woodwork of lattice and intricate patterns fill windows and line doorways. I soon find out that I am a giant here as I clunk my head on the entrance of the first room we enter. Every doorway in town requires stooping low to go through and most Nepali people are a foot shorter than us as we traverse the city.
Bhaktapur is an ancient and holy place with three religious squares contained within its walls. I woke early one morning and walked through them with only the locals starting their day. Each person made their way to a temple to make an offering and bells rang a heavy, low pitched song as prayers were made. Stray dogs patrolled their turf, some waiting for a lucky scrap of food to fall. Goats have free reign and are on top of temples, stairs, in doorways and nibbling on signs. Roosters wobble quickly down lanes and hens softly cluck to their hatchlings nearby.
There are no shortage of shops selling the handmade goods Bhaktapur is known for. Wood carvings, metal work and fabrics fill store windows. Pottery square is covered with a blanket of freshly made vases and pots drying in the sun. Shop keepers are pushy and I try to remain firm in my no’s as they each try to convince us to enter their place. I soon cave and am leaving with a duffel bag of treasures like goddess wall carvings and singing bowls to bring home.
In two days time, we have circled the city and explored every alley. It’s a small place, but full of character and charm. The pace is slower here than the nearby hustle of Kathmandu and it’s a fun escape from the city. Though some of Bhaktapur was destroyed in the recent earthquake, fresh bricks await hands to rebuild and there is still much to see here simply by wandering the streets. Everyday life, so different from my own back home, is fascinating. Women shop for saris in a shop window and across the way people sell fresh fruit hanging from their bicycles. Children bathe at the local water spout and old women wash clothes in large metal basins on the curb. Sometimes there are sidewalks, but mostly not. The small streets are a jumble of everything and somehow it all works. After the dust settles, Bhaktapur will transport you to a hazy, dreamlike place full of charm and character. To see something so ancient still thrive with life strikes a cord in one’s soul. The city is a time capsule into Nepal’s past and left a lasting impression on me of this wonderfully unique, far off gem in Asia.
How to get there -Bhaktapur is 15km from the Thamel area of Kathmandu. There is a public bus available and you can also arrive by taxi. We took the local bus from Nagarkot for 50 rupees. The taxi direct to our hotel in Kathmandu was 1200 rupees. If you get dropped off at a nearby square it is only 800 rupees.
Where we stayed – The Peacock Guest House was a charming place to stay directly on Dattatreya Square. They have a great breakfast, bakery items and awesome lunches. Bhaktapur has limited food options and it was nice to have a great meal close to home in a lovely courtyard. The building itself is beautiful and in the traditional Nepalese style. The hosts are friendly and helpful.