Roaming around an Open Museum: Bhaktapur

Features Issue 187 Jun, 2017

One of the best preserved ancient towns of Kathmandu Valley, it contains a multitude of historical artifacts, and thus, is an ideal cultural destination.

We often run out of options when it comes to deciding where to go with our families on weekends, especially when you belong to a valley spread over 220 square miles only. Despite its geographical limitations, Kathmandu has diverse getaway possibilities, most of them forgotten and taken for granted. It is high time we started appreciating the forgotten ones.The valley is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its seven monument zones. Among them, Bhaktapur, the smallest district of Nepal, owns one, which can be one of the best places to explore. Also described as an ‘open museum’, Bhaktapur can bea great escape for people looking for a change from typical weekend clubbing and restaurant hopping to cultural understanding. This culturally-rich destination is among the finest of Nepal's well preserved treasures, and worth a weekend indulgence. Hence, here are some of Bhaktapur's best places you should not miss on your next trip there with your family or friends.

Durbar Square
Among the three squares in Bhaktapur, Durbar Square is the main square of the city. Adorned by the renowned 55-Window Palace,with its richly carved wooden windows and doors that are its major attractions, this square belonged to royalty prior to 1769. Nearby the palace is the National Art Gallery, exhibiting Buddhist paubhas (religious scroll paintings), ancient manuscripts, and impressive stone carvings. Durbar Square is also home to some interesting monuments, such as the Big Bell,which is rung while offering prayers to Goddess Taleju, and in ancient times, to call the public to town meetings, as well as the Bell of Barking Dogs. Even today, the Big Bell is rung twice a day as a tribute to Goddess Taleju. The Durbar Square also has a number of replicated temples of the valley. The square is rich in traditional art works; temples designed with ornate wooden struts and erotic carvings, and historical monuments.

Taumadhi Square
The majestic Nyatapola Temple, dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, lies in Taumadhi Square. Built in 1702, this five-storied monument is Nepal's tallest pagoda temple, and a hallmark of ancient engineering skill. The stone-carved stairs of the temple have two-meter-high stone statues of legendary wrestlers, tantric goddesses, a pair of elephants, a pair of lions, and a pair of griffons. Also, next to Nyatapola is the very popular and wonderfully crafted Bhairavnath Temple. Similarly, the famous Pottery Square and the Temple of Jeth Ganesh, dating back to the 14th century, are located in this very square. (Worth noting: This is the square where David Beckham played football with children of Bhaktapur on his visit to Nepal in November 2015.)

Dattatreya Square
This square is the oldest part of the city, and home to many of Bhaktapur's Hindu temples and museums, and is mostly popular for wood carving. The square is located right in front of the three-story pagoda-style Dattatreya Temple that was built by King Yaksha Malla in 1428, with statues of the Hindu trinity inside. The most fascinating fact is that, the temple is claimed to be made from a single piece of wood. As in Nyatapola, the entrance of Dattatreya Temple is an example of proficient stone carving masterpieces. In the square also lies another pottery square, where potters work and display their handicrafts.

Siddha Pokhari
Siddha Pokhari is a popular pond located a few meters ahead of Durbar Square.This pond is also known as Indra Daha, and every year on the day of Ashwin Krishna Dwitiya, a festival is held here. Measuring 171 meters long, 73 meters wide, and about 3 meters deep, this tranquil ancient pond stays crowded on both weekdays and weekends, with people coming from all over Kathmandu. Popular among the youth, Siddha Pokhari is a quick escape if you are looking for some place for peace of mind and soul.

Nagarkot - This popular hill station, located at an altitude of 2,175 m,offers the broadest panoramic views of Himalayan peaks. It lies 20 km northeast of Bhaktapur. Watching the sun rise from behind the majestic peaks is the major attraction for both domestic and international tourists. This hill station is amongst the most popular weekend getaways among people in Kathmandu.

Changu Narayan – This temple, another masterpiece of wood carving and ancient sculpture, is enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Monument. Built in 464 AD, the temple lies 6 km north of Bhaktapur. This temple is also a popular destination among tourists for hiking from Nagarkot.

Madhyapur Thimi – It is a microcosm of Bhaktapur, lying about 5 km west of Bhaktapur. A traditional Newar city, noted for its vegetable cultivation and clay handicrafts, it is rich in age-old temples. Here, people still continue with their traditional lifestyle. 

Bode – Bode is a small town that is just a 20-minute walk from Thimi. It is visited by hundreds of devotees on Bisket Jatra, the second day of the Nepali New Year. Bode is mostly popular for its tongue-piercing festival, in which a villager has a thin metal spike pierced through his tongue and parades through the area carrying a bamboo rack of oil lamps. Hence, the best time to visit Bode is during this festival, as the whole of Bhaktapur comes to life then.

Surya Vinayak – Surya Vinayak, a famous shrine of Lord Ganesh, is just a 10 to 20 minute walk from Bhaktapur, and attracts visitors and locals praying for good luck. The shrine is located in a forest at the top of a hill. Pilot Baba Ashram, located uphill from this temple, is a serene hill-top site that is popular with groups going for picnics and sightseeing. A walk from Surya Vinayak to Pilot Hill is very rejuvenating.

Kamal Vinayak – If you are in the mood for walking all over Bhaktapur, then strolling through Durbar Square to Kamal Vinayak can be quite fun. Kamal Vinayak is named after a form of Lord Ganesh, and is located in the premise of a tranquil pond. This place is a quick serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and is popular among devotees and youngsters.