Thursday, March 15, 2018

Bhaktapur. Part 1.

Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

Original Post Date: July 7, 2017.

We began our day today with breakfast with the lovely host and hostess of the home we're staying in.  It was quite the spread of food.  I'm certain that Sumina awoke early to help her servant get all the food ready for us.  Bindu was there to keep the conversation going and before we knew it, all the food was gone and it was time for Chantale and I to begin another day of sightseeing in Kathmandu.  On the top of today's itinerary was Bhaktapur.

By the time we were ready to leave, Sonam had already arrived and as seems to be de rigeur among drivers, polishing off the exterior of his car.  One step inside to the backseat and it was obvious he had cleaned out the interior as well.  Sonam's been wonderful taking us around to all our destinations.  I really can't thank him and more importantly, Arun Ji for loaning him to us for the time we're in Kathmandu.  I had been more than prepared for us to get around by taxi and cycle rickshaw but admittedly, having Sonam to chauffeur us around has saved us a lot of time.

It was back into the maddening morning rush hour traffic in Kathmandu.  Everyone takes in stride - they're used to it and they don't know any better.


Sonam dropped us off at the entrance to Durbar Square.  I vaguely recall where to go from here and indeed, I managed to find the ticket booth where we got our entry tickets.  As best I can tell, it seems to be a bit of a honor system when it comes to the tickets.  I have never been stopped and asked to show my ticket except for entry to specific places that require a ticket.  If you don't want to enter any of those places, you can probably walk around Bhaktapur for free.  But you really should honor the system and get the ticket as the money does go toward the maintenance and upkeep of the place.  Following the devastation of the 2015 earthquake, perhaps a small portion even goes to the reconstruction work that is going on and so it's all for a very good cause.  I had to keep my ticket - it's printed on the handmade paper that Nepal is known for.  Some people might not appreciate its less than glossy feel but I really love it - it's a nice souvenir.  This time, we also got a map which is not easy to follow as it just marks the location of highlights - there are no street names in Bhaktapur.  In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen street signs in Kathmandu though I'm sure they must exist otherwise, how will the postman and delivery people know where to go?

In any case, now as was the case for me back in 2007, I saw Bhaktapur as something I can only best describe as a living museum with the immediate area in and around Durbar Square is closed to traffic so you can wander around easily.

Bhaktapur is said to have been founded by Rājā Ananda Malla in 865, it was for 200 years the most important settlement in the valley. The old palace in Durbar Square, built in 1700, is well preserved and has beautifully carved woodwork and a finely worked gilt gateway.

I pretty much put the map away after the I got the ticket.  It's better to just wander around.  Last time I was here, I crossed paths with a fellow tourist from Poland named Pavel.  He and I explored Bhaktapur together and today, I get to the same but with Chantale.

While there was not as much scaffolding, fencing, and rubble in Bhaktapur as in Patan, Bhaktapur also suffered a bit of devastation.


One of the first things you notice when you are in Durbar Square is the magnificent Golden Gate. Set into a bright red gatehouse surrounded by white palace walls, the stunning golden portal boasts some of Nepal's finest repoussé metalwork. The gilded torana features a fabulous Garuda wrestling with a number of supernatural serpents, while below is a four-headed and 10-armed figure of the goddess Taleju Bhawani, the family deity of the Malla kings.





Construction of the gate began during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla (1696–1722) and the project was completed by his successor, Jaya Ranjit Malla in 1754. The death of Jaya Ranjit Malla marked the end of the Malla dynasty and the end of the golden age of Newari architecture in Nepal.

The gate opens to the inner courtyards of the Royal Palace, a once vast compound until the 1934 earthquake levelled all but a handful of its 99 courtyards. More walls toppled during the 2015 earthquake. To the right of the Golden Gate is the 55 Window Palace, which, you guessed it, has 55 intricate wooden windows stretching along its upper level.

Positioned opposite the gate, atop a tall stone pillar, is the copper-gilt figure of King Bhūpatīndra Malla.



Facade of Teleju Chow, part of the Royal Palace.

Located in front of the Royal Palace is Chyasilin Mandap, an octagonal shaped temple that was one of the finest temple in the square until it was destroyed by the 1934 earthquake.­ It was totally rebuilt in 1990 with a metal frame, using some of the original temple outside components.­

Chyasilin Mandap on the left, Teleju Chowk on the right.

Sadly, Vatsala Temple, a beautiful stone temple dedicated to the goddess Durga was felled in the 2015 earthquake.  What remains is just a pile of rubble.



Also gone is the magnificent Siddi Laxmi Temple.   All that remains are the steps that once led up to the temple and the statues that flank them.  At the bottom are male and female attendants, each leading a child and a rather eager-looking dog. On successive levels the stairs are flanked by horses, garlanded rhinos, human-faced lions and camels.

Hopefully, with time and generous funding, the Nepalese can rebuild both temples and restored a bit of heritage.




We veered off Durbar Square a bit and took a back street where we had a small taste of local life.  I really had no idea where we were but I didn't really care; I enjoyed the stroll and taking photos.



Much of the time I have absolutely no clue what I was looking at but it was all so interesting and beautiful that it didn't matter whether not I knew what the religious significance was, if any.  I just took it as art.


Earthquake devastation or not, life continues here as best it can.


As someone who enjoys cooking, I really envy people who can buy their produce fresh from the vendor....not just on the weekends at the farmers market but every day.  I would gladly downsize my fridge if I could buy fresh produce that was not shipped to a supermarket.




It's low tourist season now so few, if any, foreign faces around.  It's been nice to take in a place like this as if we were locals.


I have not lost my obsession with Nepalese carved wood doors and windows but it wasn't until I took a photo of this one that I realized that the brickwork was actually cut to accommodate for carvings flanking both sides of the door.







Our walk around to the back street started at Nyatapola Temple and it ended back here.


Nyatapola is 5 tiered temple, one of just two in the Kathmandu Valley - the other being Kumbeshwor in Patan.  The temple was erected by King Bhūpatīndra Malla in 1703 and dedicated to the goddess Siddhi Lakshmi or Siddhi Laxmi, a wrathful manifestation of the Hindu goddess Parvati, who was the protecting and guiding goddess of the Malla kings.


To make the brick and wood temple strong and powerful, the king ordered guardians be placed in pairs on each level of the base leading up to the Nyatapola Temple. On the first level is a pair of likenesses of Bhaktapur’s strongest man, Jaya mal Pata, a famous wrestler. Next, two elephants followed by two lions, two griffons and finally "Baghini" and "Singhini", the tiger and lion goddesses.



Chantale decided to climb to the top of the steps to take in the view from the top.  I wanted her to go to see if the door was open; it was not.



Eventually, she came back down, stopping along the way to take photos.  In no time, she forgot all about me.  I have to keep an eye out for her because she does wander off and well, I don't want us to get separated.


Located opposite Nyatapola Temple is Bhairavnath Temple. The two are connected in legend.  Bhairava is a Hindu deity, a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.  Once upon a time, he was causing havoc and his temple, Bhairavnath stood in this square.  To counteract his destructive behavior King Bhūpatīndra Malla decided to call goddess Parvati who took the form of Siddhi Laxmi and then carried Bhairava in her hand.  The king built the more powerful Nyatapola Temple in honor of Siddhi Laxmi directly across from Bhairavnath Temple.






I stood and watched several local residents come and pay respects at the temple.  Given the ferocious nature of Bhairava, I didn't expect to see anyone praying here but apparently, Bhairava is also described as the protector of women. He is described as the protector of the timid and in general women who are timid in nature.  Now, I know why people worship him.  Perhaps Chantale and I should have both left offerings.  Next time.


This woman's ankle tattoos and her red bordered skirt identify her as Newari.



From Durbar Square, we somehow circled back to the backstreets.





We even stumbled upon a local market selling mainly clothes and household items.  No tourist souvenirs for sale here.  We had literally walked no more than 5 minutes away from Durbar Square and we were in another world - the local 'hood.




As interesting and beautiful as the major landmarks in Durbar Square are, I actually think some of the more interesting religious structures are hidden in these backstreets.


Sadly, the earthquake did not only destroy historic and cultural landmarks but it took down peoples' homes as well.  Here as in Patan, we see a lot of buildings crumbling and a lot of people living among the rubble as squatters.  It breaks your heart to see people having to survive like this.




As I noted in the opening paragraphs of this posting, there are no cars here and even if there were, I seriously doubt that the majority of the people living here could afford one.  There are no beasts of burden either.  Everything is hauled around by a human being.  I stood and watched this man string together a rope handle around two crates and then strung the rope handle atop this head....to carry the two plastic crates filled with produce.





He then left, walking alongside a woman who I presume is his wife.  I think they were packing up for the day and heading home. This is back breaking work and he probably makes the equivalent of just a few US cents a day.  It's a hard life even in the big city!


Our meandering took us down a street where I saw a sign pointing to a place I recognized - Pottery Square.  We had to go check it out.