Bhaktapur: Ancient and Cultural Heritage City
Bhaktapur is the smallest of the three cities in Kathmandu Valley and forms an important part of the Newar cultural heritage represented by Kathmandu Valley. It was founded by King Ananda Malla and was also the capital of the ancient confederation called Nepal Mandala until the 15th century, which included Kathmandu Valley as well as surrounding areas. It is situated around 18 km to the east of Kathmandu, and is relatively isolated, yet it contains unique cultural offerings, due to which it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, due to its historical isolation, its Newar culture has its own uniqueness, and it even has its own dialect of the Nepal Bhasa (Newari) language.
The chief cultural centres of Bhaktapur lie in its inner-city area, which is zealously looked after by the local authorities in order to preserve its cultural heritage. The inner-city Bhaktapur, also called “Bhaktapur Nagar”, has a number of designated entrances on all sides of its boundaries, which are set in locations coinciding with its ancient boundaries. The locations of each of these entrances are:
- In the Ram Mandir area, north of Suryabinayak
- In Chyamasingh Chowk, which is about five minutes ahead of Suryabinayak
- In Byasi, which is just ahead of Kamalbinayak
- At Bhimsenkhel, west of Jagati
The fact that all of Bhaktapur’s chief cultural sites are located in the same path within a preserved boundary is one of the unique qualities of Bhaktapur, which has been ensured by many proactive steps from the local authorities over the past few years.
Although there are no local transport services inside the inner city Bhaktapur, one can find local buses running routes all the way to its major entrances, Suryabinayak, Chyamasingh, and Dudhpati. If you’re in Kathmandu nearby Ratnapark, there is a major bus park at Tudikhel where you can find buses that go through the main highway and drop of either at Suryabinayak, in which case you will have to walk 5 minutes before reaching the entrance close to Pottery Square, or at Chyamasingh, where you can find an entrance at the Chyamasingh crossing itself. Close to the bus park at Tudikhel is another, at Bagbajar, which runs bus routes that go either through the Arniko highway, or the older adjacent road, and ends at Dudhpati instead of going straight to Suryabinayak. If you’re coming in from Patan, the two major routes start at Kalanki and at Lagankhel. There is no direct bus routes going to Bhaktapur from Jawalakhel, which is a popular destination as well, in which case you will have to take a bus either to Lagankhel or to Maitighar, and come in through the Ratnapark bus route. The trip in either case takes about an hour in local transport and will cost you Rs. 25 to 30.
If you are going to Bhaktapur straight from the airport, there is local transport available goes through all the above mentioned routes after Koteshwor. The airport is about half an hour away from Bhaktapur.
Visiting Places in Inner Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
The Bhaktapur Durbar Square, known as Kayluli in the Newari tongue, is perhaps the most important cultural center of Bhaktapur. It contains the 55-Windowed Palace, from the royalty operated. In order to understand the Newar heritage in greater detail, visiting the National Art Gallery operating there is a must, where one can find relics from the past, including various manuscripts, carvings, etc.
The Fasidega Temple is also a notable landmark situated in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. It is dedicated to the God Shiva and allows good view of the city. While it is currently being reconstructed after the devastating earthquake of 2015, it will soon open to visitors again.
The Golden Gate is also an interesting sight at Durbar Square. It represents a non-native architecture, and is built as the entrance to the famed Taleju Temple. The entrance opens onto the compound with the Royal Bath.
The Square also contains many other temples constructed over various time periods, including Yaksheshwor Temple, Siddhi Laxmi Temple, Chyasin Mandap etc. among many others. The total effect is such that anyone can spend hours wandering around the small square, enjoying the varied architectural collection, sitting in the pati pauwa (resting place) lining the square, and still find the place very much interesting.
Finally, anyone visiting the Bhaktapur Durbar Square cannot leave without having a taste of the delicious kulfi at Kulfi Sansar, a sweet store operating in the Square for many years. Kulfi is a sweet popsicle treat made chiefly of milk, cream and various nuts, and visitors often come to Bhaktapur for its delicious kulfi. Kulfi Sansar store has gained a name for itself due to its years of service and good quality of kulfi. One can also find the famed Juju Dhau there, the yoghurt of Bhaktapur that has earned its name of “King Curd” due to its delicious taste. The store is located on the south end of the Durbar Square and lines with an alley way that opens to the Nyatapola Square.
The Taumadhi Square lies adjacent to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and is most famous for the unique Five-Storied Temple, also known as the Nyatapola Temple. Unlike the rest of the inner city, it is paved with uneven stones and features a large dabali platform near the center, which is used to this day for festival performances. The square is also the place where the famous chariot race of the Bisket Jatra festival starts.
The Five-Storied Temple was built by King Bhupatindra Malla during the 18th century in respect of the goddess Siddhi Laxmi, the goddess of auspiciousness. It is one of the most impressive works of pagoda-style Malla architecture. It is said that the foundations of the temple extend horizontally beyond the boundaries of the Taumadhi Square, lending it enormous stability and resistance against earthquakes. Perhaps due to this, the temple has survived every major earthquake since its construction despite its stature. The actual temple is constructed on a tall base with five levels which requires one to climb a number of steep steps before reaching the temple. The stairs are flanked on each of the levels by different stone sculptures of unique style, from the image of a wrestler at the first level, to elephants on the second, and minor deities on the top levels. The temple is tall enough that it affords an expansive view of the city, especially on the south side.
The Bhairav Nath Temple, located on the eastern side of the square, is also an important landmark of the Taumadhi Square. The two temples are historically as well as mythologically related. It is said that during the time of the construction of the Nyatapola Temple, the god Bhairav was wreaking havoc in society. The temple was constructed next to the Bhairav Nath Temple so the goddess Parvati, in the form of Siddhi Laxmi, would counteract the effects of the god Bhairav.
The temple also doubles as what is known as a “Dya Chhen”, or god-house, which every major deity of the city has, usually in a different location than its temple. One can therefore explore the building from around the back, and find a worship room for a much more sinister incarnation of the god Bhairav, known as Betal Bhairav, on the first floor of another section of the building. The Betal Bhairav is said to have the power to attract misfortune, and as such, the statue of the deity is hung a few feet from the floor, facing it, in a dark room so that it does not cast its eyes upon the world.
The Lyasinkhel is another holy location and cultural center that one reaches upon taking the road through the Taumadhi Square on the south end and going down the fork nearby. It is difficult to miss as there is a small shrine called the “Bahi Lwon” right at the fork in the middle of the congested street.
The Lyasinkhel is an expansive square with its own architectural and geographic design, situated on a lower plane than the rest of the inner city, and connected to it by a curved slope. It is paved with flat stone tiles as it is a central location of the events of the Bisket Jatra festival. The chariot race that begins in the Taumadhi Square ends here a few days later as the chariot is rushed down the slope and placed besides the Bhadrakali Temple. Thereafter, the festival of lifting the lyasin, the tall pole, is started
The Bhadrakali Temple is situated at the east end of the Lyasinkhel Square is also a sight to see. It is closely connected to the mythical meaning and the religions proceedings underlining the Bisket festival. At the center of the square are the large constructions built to hold the tall lyasin pole. One can see remnants of the festival there at any time of the year, whether it be in the large ropes used to lift the pole, or simply in the stone construction made to hold the lyasin pole in place.
Due to its relative quiet in other times of the year, the Lyasinkhel location is generally ignored by most visitors, but it is nevertheless a cultural gem one cannot avoid.
The Pottery Square is the old economic hub of the inner-city Bhaktapur and is still very much active, as many natives still live there following the old pottery profession and many community groups actively work to preserve the large part of the culture represented by Pottery Square.
The Pottery Square is the perfect place for any visitor to visit in order to observe and be a part of the local community and culture. The inhabitants use the entire square as one single place to work, as in the old days, so one can see women and men in their traditional attire drying newly-crafted clay pots in the middle of the square, and dedicated traditionalists still making their pots in the old-fashioned chakkha in the square, the raw clay stored communally under improvised roofs, and even the communal furnace still in use.
It is definitely a treat watching the day-to-day life here in action, almost exactly like it used to be in historical times. One can also see lines of local stores in the square where the local potters market products especially designed for tourists, including souvenir works of pottery like tiny turtles and show-pieces, and even wind-chimes and incense-stick holders.
The Dattatraya Square is one of the important historical locations of Bhaktapur. It was built by king Yaksha Malla in the 15th century. It’s central attraction is the three-storied temple built to worship the three Hindu gods, Bramha, Vishnu, and Shiva. The temple also features two wrestlers at its entrance, as in the Nyatapola Temple, which are said to be modeled after famous Jaiput wrestlers of that time. There is also a golden statue of the griffin god Garuda facing the temple, and many other works of architectural mastery in the square.
On the east side of the temple lies the Pujari Math, which houses the Woodcarving Museum and features the famous Peacock Window. It also features a collection of ancient handicrafts and paintings. On the other side of the square lies the Chikanpha Math, housing the Brass and Bronze museum, where one can see examples of Malla metalware and better understand Bhaktapur’s history.
The Square features numerous examples of Malla woodwork in the latticed windows, and the erotic artwork in the wooden panels.
At the south end of the Square is another temple dedicated to Bhimsen, and it is an unusual construction as the statue itself is in a higher floor that is free to public access. The Dattatraya Square is walking distance from the Chyamasingh entrance to the inner city.
Siddhapokhari, also known as Ta-Pukhu, is a pool from the 15th century constructed by Yakshya Malla. It is situated at the outskirts of the west end of the inner city, beyond Pottery Square. It can easily be accessed through local transport as the location, Dudhpati, is also where the main bus stop for Bhaktapur is situated. The pool is 171 m long and 73 m wide. It is one of the popular visiting places for tourists and locals alike. One can visit Siddhapokhari to take in the scenic beauty, as well as spend the time feeding the fish in the pool. One can always find vendors selling fish food inside the pool premises for as little as Rs. 10. The location offers a beautiful view of the horizon and is a good place in Bhaktapur to watch the sunset.
If you’re going to Siddhapokhari through the inner city, you will have to walk west from the Durbar Square and through the locality of Khauma, which is another bustling locality with its own identity. The place is a popular gathering place for modern hospitality businesses and that adds up to a view of an interesting mix of the old architecture sprinkled with modern sensibilities. This way also leads through the Na: Pukhu, an even smaller pool which is situated right beside the road, and is sure to be interesting for visitors.
Kamalpokhari is one of the slightly overlooked visiting places of Bhaktapur. It is a pool constructed in ancient times, just like Siddhapokhari, and similarly located in a scenic place in Kamalbinayak. Although it is slightly smaller in area than the popular Siddhapokhari, the place is very much peaceful and worth visiting. The pool is surrounded on different sides by stone relics of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as small Buddhist Shrines in the Stupa style.
Suryabinayak Ganeshsthan Temple is located some distance from the inner Bhaktapur area, about ten minutes into the south road at the crossing at Suryabinayak. It is the first of a few other visiting places that lie in that direction. The Suryabinayak Ganeshsthan is located in the hills of Suryabinayak, and the first thing one sees at the foothills of Suryabinayak hills are the long stairway up to the Temple. Since the location has also served for many years as a picnic spot, there is a lot to explore beyond the temple itself, which located on the first landing. One can easily spend a few hours roaming the stairs around the hill on which the temple is situated. The temple is also located at around the edges of the Bhaktapur area. Following the road that leads around the Ganeshsthan Temple hill to the left, leads one to various other locations if one is willing to bear the precarious hilly terrain and the curved and steep roads.