I currently live in the chaos and vibrancy of Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, and inevitably Bhaktapur is a place I visit frequently: each time discovering something new, each time a new heartwarming experience. Bhaktapur, also known as a city of devotees, is an ancient city within the Kathmandu valley, around 8 miles from the capital city, Kathmandu. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to ancient temples and architecture, originally inhabited by the Newar people. Bhaktapur, also referred to as Khwopa, presents a unique culture rich in architecture, food and festivals.
Whilst I continue to discover new things, here are the 9 reasons I keep going back to Bhaktapur!
With every step, my eyes wander from one beautiful thing to another. The streets are decorated in outstanding architecture boasting intricate woodcraft, stone and metal work. Most notable are the decorated wooden windows and doors on every building, framing those that pop out from them in a perfectly composed picture.
This excellent woodcraft is featured in the intricate woodwork structures that hold up the ancient temples. If you’re interested in participating in woodcraft workshops, inquire at the Dattatreya Wood Carving Centre or Mayur Restaurant in Dattatraya Square.
For centuries, families in Bhaktapur have also produced pottery items from large pots to smaller bowls and knick-knacks. In the early hours of the morning, you can see locals taking out pottery items from the oven in Pottery square.
Bhaktapur’s Newari clothing & sounds
Today, elder men are still seen wearing their Newari traditional outfit, ‘daura surwal’ (long tie-up trousers and a long top that crosses over and ties up at the chest) and ‘towpi’ (traditional Nepali hat). This may not be seen for much longer as the younger generations choose the ‘westernised’ fast fashion as their daily outfit choice.
As I roam through the back streets of Bhaktapur I note a variance in language tone. The people of Bhaktapur have a distinctive ‘Nepa Bhasa’ (Newari language) compared to the other Newari towns (Patan, Basantapur and Kritipur) around the valley.
Bhaktapur’s inhabitants, on many levels, have preserved a lot of their culture from language to clothing, food, and architecture.
Bhaktapur is the king of curd
Locally known in Newari language ‘juju dhau’, this traditional sweet curd is a local favourite amongst all ethnic groups in Nepal. ‘Juju Dhau’ is a trademark of Bhaktapur, a local sweetened curd. The makers continue their ancestral tradition of curd-making with their unique methods. Typically portions are served in handmade ceramic bowls in all sizes, however, today plastic has taken over this tradition as its less costly for resellers.
Bhaktapur’s Newari snacks
Bara (Newa bhasa: ‘wo’)
This tasty high protein snack made from a variety of lentils and traditionally served with buffalo meat soup. Customarily locals would eat bara plain or with buffalo minced meat or egg. Nowadays minced chicken meat or veg options are also served. In one of Bhaktapur’s alleyways, you can find a typical Bara-wo outlet behind Nyatapola Temple: the best in town for Bara.
‘Khaja’ translates to snack in English and you’ll often hear this phrase being exchanged: “khaja khaayo?” meaning ‘have you eaten your snack?’ A typical Newari Khaja includes an assortment of black-eyed peas, peanuts, chicken or buff choyela, pickle, potato served with beaten rice, locally known as ‘chiura’. You will find this at many local restaurants.
Not Newari per se, but they do make the best homemade chips I’ve had in a while. Gorgeous thinly sliced local potatoes deep-fried to perfect crunch! A modern food outlet has taken on the ‘aloo’ (potato) craze by introducing some new takeout dishes found to the left of the Durbar Square. Whilst some typical chips maker can be found on the street heading towards Dattatraya Square.
Bhaktapur’s paati & games
The streets of Bhaktapur are dotted with ‘Paati’, traditional resting places, frequently used by the elder generation catching up on recent events or playing games. Some have been damaged in the 2015 earthquake but are being resorted or made new following crafters’ ancestors work.
“Kashi pyachha” is a traditional game, merely using strips of bamboo and stones; a tradition that may see the end of its life with the men seen playing in this photo taken at Wakupati Narayan Temple.
Bhaktapur’s Hindu devotion
Waking up early in the morning to get a glimpse of the local daily life of a Hindu devotee is totally worth the effort! Bells are methodically ringing, mantras and prayers peacefully chanting, incense burning and candles glistening, creating a warm glow on the faces of devotees. Women in bright red ‘sari’ colour up the streets offering prayers at all the small and big temples and shrines.
Get out as early as you can (I was out by 7 am and got a good glimpse of this activity); the vibrant life that sits in such a serene place is hard to come by in other places. The genuine ambiance is really heartwarming. You will notice that almost everybody from all generations in this town ritually visit the temple for prayers before starting their day.
Bhaktapur is a World Heritage Site
As I enter Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square I am enthralled by its charm, as though I’m walking into a different era. This vehicle free and brick paved square is marked with breathtaking architecture.
Bhaktapur was one of the largest of the three Newa kingdoms and it was the capital city of Nepal until the 15th century. It has the best-preserved courtyards and old city centre in Nepal and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture, temples, and craftsmanship (woodwork, stonework, metalwork).
The 2015 earthquake devastated this city and reconstruction is still going on. Over a few visits, I particularly noted the fantastic bond between the people to get their city and homes rebuilt and restored preserving their ancestral craftsmanship.
Before planning your visit to Bhaktapur, check the calendar of festivals. Extremely rich in culture, this Newari ancient city, surely knows how to celebrate their traditional festivals.
Most famous is the Biska Jatra, which falls around April at the start the Nepali New Year. Idols of Gods and Goddesses are taken to different parts of Bhaktapur in their chariot, also called ‘khat’. Celebrated for over a week, this is the second biggest festival of the people of Bhaktapur after Dashain festival.
Bhaktapur is a feast to the senses
You do not leave Bhaktapur without your camera full of beautiful shots and your soul filled with inspiration; it’s inevitable! Photogenic faces beam light through their smiles and eyes, despite their pain and suffering. The buildings that tell centuries of colourful stories stand there wilted or crushed from the earthquakes that shook them and tested their time. Crafts that tell stories and hold know-how passed down from generation to generation. The smells and sounds that have been emanating and playing for centuries; they fill my body with some kind of nostalgia and connection to a past life in this thriving ancient city.
Bhaktapur is above all a feast to the senses.
Entrance fee: 1500rs per person
How to get there:
– Taxi from central Kathmandu: around 1500rs
– Local bus: from the local bus stand opposite Ratna Park in Bag Bazaar OR directly from outside the airport.
Accommodation: I stayed at the Khwapa Chhen located just before the main gate of Bhaktapur Durbar Square restaurant and rooftop views looking over the square. If you’re looking for moderate accommodation this is definitely recommended.