Suitcase and World: Kathmandu. Historic Bhaktapur.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Kathmandu. Historic Bhaktapur.

From Patan, my next destination was Bhaktapur.

Bhaktapur, literally meaning "The Town of Devotees," is believed to have existed from the early ninth century AD. The town is laid out in the shape of a conch shell, area covers four square miles and is divided into twenty-four toles or sections.

Bhaktapur was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley from the 12th century to the 14th century and then an independent kingdom until 1769. As with Patan, the Durbar Square is the central location for architectural monuments and the arts.

The drive from Patan to Bhaktapur started with what had already become a typical Kathmandu cityscape but it soon turned to the green countryside.

Ahlay dropped me off at the ticket counter. The municipality of Bhaktapur is working hard to restore and preserve its city and for that reason, the price of the entry ticket (750 NPR) is three times that of Patan.

With my complimentary map in hand, I began my walk to Durbar Square which starts with a short climb up a set of steps.

At the top of the steps is a small courtyard. To the left of the courtyard is the entry arch to Durbar Square.

Like Patan's Durbar Square, Bhaktapur's Durbar Square is filled with ancient temples and monuments. However, unlike Patan's Durbar Square, vehicular traffic is not permitted within the boundaries Bhaktapur's Durbar Square. This means you can easily walk without having to worry about being run over and there are no sounds of honking horns - makes for a very pleasant touring experience!

I looked at my map to try to get oriented but quickly realized it was going to be another exercise in futility.

As with Patan, there are no street signs in Bhaktapur which means there are no street names on the map and as with Patan, you have to navigate using the temples and monuments as navigation points. Only problem - none of the temples or monuments are labelled so you have no idea what you're looking at. Argh!

I gave up at trying to read the map and just as I was folding it back up, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and found myself looking up at tall, lanky, ponied tailed guy with a digital SLR in his hand. He asked me if I could take his picture. I obliged and then asked if he would return the favor.

Naturally, we started talking and introduced ourselves. His name is Pavel, he's from the Czech Republic and he's basically backpacking his way across Asia.
Pavel's command of English was far better than my non-existent command of Czech and so with his patience, we were able to have a pretty decent conversation. He spends his 9 to 5 working for HP in Prague. When he has a chance and the funds, he hits the road, travelling as a colleague of mine once described it, "crappily" and having the time of his life seeing the world! Boy, was that something I could relate to! After quite a bit of traveller chit chat, which I was thoroughly enjoying, I decided that I really needed to get going or else I was never going to see Bhaktapur. Pavel was beginning his exploration of Bhaktapur just as I was so we ended up walking around together.

Here are some of the highlights of my walk through Bhaktapur.

Nyatapola Temple. A 5 tiered temple and the tallest temple in Nepal.

Close up view of stone statues lining steps of Nyatapola Temple.

Vatsala Durga. This temple was built in 672 AD. The bell on the right of the picture is known as the 'Barking Bell' - supposedly because ringing it upsets the local stray dogs.

Statue of King Bhupatindra Malla

Dattatraya Temple.That's the structure behind me in the photo below. Built in 1427 A.D., this is the only temple in Nepal that is dedicated to the God Dattatraya - the combined incarnation of three supreme gods of Hinduism; Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with Vishnu dominating the trinity. Thus, Vishnu's symbols are displayed around the temple on top of stone columns - including a gilded metal statue of Garuda, his mount, atop a column facing the front of the temple.
Bhimsem Temple. A temple dedicated to Bhimsen who is also known as Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers in the great Sanskrit epic poem, the Mahabarata.

Changu Narayan

Chyasalin Mandap. An 18th century octagonal pavilion that was once used by nobles for people watching. The original structure was completely destroyed by earthquake and was rebuilt in 1990 with funding from the German government.
Entry to Chyasalin Mandap.
Close up view of eaves and upper windows of Chyasalin Mandap.

Durga Temple. Also known as the Siddhi Lakshim shikara, this temple dedicated to the goddess Durga who is the fierce incarnation of Lakshmi.

Lapan Degah. Temple dedicated to Devi (??) with a pair of stone lions, standing guard, in front.
Fasidega Shiva temple. Dedicated to Shiva, this is one of the very few temples in the Kathmandu Valley that conforms to neither the Indian shikhara style, the traditional Nepalese style or the Buddhist Stupa style.

Once we had seen most of the temple highlights, Pavel and I headed for the backstreets. As we strolled down the streets, it was nice to hear the sounds of daily, local life - people chatting as they go about their daily chores, children laughing at play, and even dogs barking.

Here are some images I captured along the way. <View more images of Bhaktapur street life>

Even in the neighborhoods, small temples were a frequent sight.
Grains and vegetables drying in the warm sun.
Two adorable little school girls, sitting atop stone foo dogs. Both were amused by Pavel and his camera.

These three little ones were curious about me. They all jockeyed to be in the photo. Once they heard the click of the camera, they immediately surrounded me and asked me for chocolate. I told them I didn't have any but that I did have some candy. I put two Starburst candies into each open palm and sent them on their way. So cute!


Vendor off to sell his wares.
Thangka painter. A thangka is a Tibetan Bhuddist artform that typically depicts the life (or lives) of the Buddha, describe historical events concerning important Lamas, or retells myths associated with other deities.

Vegetable seller.

Although we had our complimentary Bhaktapur map in hand, it really did not do Pavel and I any good. We quickly got lost but eventually, we found our way back to Durbar Square. There we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Touring this historic town in the company of a very charismatic Czech made for a very enjoyable afternoon!!

Although the architectural landscape of Bhaktapur is very similar to what I saw in Patan, the structures are better preserved. I'm glad that the Nepalese are taking care of this beautiful little city so future generations can admire its temples and monuments as I had the fortune of doing today.
From Durbar Square, I retraced my steps back to the carpark where Ahlay had been patiently waiting for me. Next stop - Boudhanath.