Nepal’s Kathmandu valley is home to three major historical centres, the downtown Durba Square in Kathmandu itself, as well as two others of the same name in Bhaktapur and Patan, a short drive from town. Having spent a good deal of time people watching in Kathmandu we decided to head further afield when Oli’s dad came to visit and Bhaktapur was high up our list.
Nepal’s living museum, Bhaktapur is one of those places where the joy is in simply wandering. Getting lost in its shaded alleys, among the day to day goings on of the locals, camera in hand and no sense of direction, is an absolute pleasure.
Great squares, home to some of Nepal’s best examples of Newari architecture, intricate carvings and hanging bells, narrow down to dusty paths lit by sunbeams and echoing with footsteps.
After paying a rather hefty entrance fee that turned out to be completely worth it, we took our time, stopping often for tea and food, always choosing a place with the best views and people watching.
In the central square, where an impressive 5 tiered stoupa sits proudly, we watched a large group of women with an even larger collection of water vases occupying the local tap. To and fro they went, colourful saris draping through the puddles, filling up on an endless supply of water. There seemed to be a system in which no woman was missed out of line despite there being no visual queue to our western standards. They chatted and giggled and swatted away the street kids who were trying to take their buckets for water fights.
One poor girl enlisted the kindness of a number of the women, taking the opportunity to have a wash right there in the street and have them rinse her off with their jugs. Her clothes were filthy and torn, but she made sure every inch of her skin was squeaky clean.
It was such a simple scene really, nothing extraordinary. Yet it is such a strong memory of my time in Nepal. Right there in that famous square milling with camera toting tourists and guides, ordinary life was still so evident.
And that’s what I love about Nepal. It is so geared up for tourism but everywhere you can glimpse an understanding of everyday Nepali life, something that tourists are often sheltered from in other counties.
In Bhaktapur there are a few things not to be missed on your wanders. The restaurant on your right at the main entrance serves an incredible, albeit pricey, Dal Bhat with unbeatable views over the square.
Close to the Dattatreya Square is the stunning Peacock Window, beautifully carved in the Newari style and the first of it’s kind. Nearby you will also find the Peacock Shop. This store specialises in traditional handmade paper and is a wonderful place to visit, even if you aren’t in need of retail therapy. The paper factory is attached and the people who work there will happily give you a tour, as well as point you in the direction of the rooftop. Do not forget to go up- the views are amazing.
Last but not least, while staying in Bhaktapur is not as convenient as staying in Kathmandu, make sure you don’t leave too early. Those stunning details of Newari architecture are no better than set against sunset colours.
Even if you’ve already visited the valley’s two other squares, I think missing out on Bhaktapur would be a real shame. Bhaktapur is the perfect blend of Kathmandu’s craziness and countryside quiet and the astounding mixed with the ordinary.