The Medieval town of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Travel Blog

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Stone Lion and Ugrachandi Statue in Durbar Square

6/02/07
Well the strike is off for today (Razzu told us that they usually don’t strike on Saturday’s as this is the typical day off in Nepal anyway and many businesses aren’t open) so we decided to visit the nearby medieval city of Bhaktapur. Razzu had told us that rather than taking a taxi, it might be interesting to take the electric trolley bus which we could catch about a thirty minute walk from the hotel. This sounded fun and different so we headed off towards the stadium where the trolley line is located and, eventually, found at least the electric lines but no trolley cars.

Sun Dhoka Doorway in Bhaktapur
We tried to ask some locals but they weren’t particularly helpful and when a normal bus to Bhaktapur came by, the assistant guy who stands in the doorway of the bus and hollers at people to get on told us this was the bus and there was no trolley. Eventually we succumbed to his pressure to board and took off, just as the trolley passed us going the other way, about to loop around to the stop we were at. Crap. We watched the entire forty minute ride out to Bhaktapur to see if the trolley passed us and thankfully it didn’t. The local busses are always a treat, packed with city people, farmers and all their goods but it was fine.

Bhaktapur, or Khwapa in Newari (meaning “good cooking” or “village of rice” depending on which of its several names you use) was one of the most important towns in the valley and originally dates back to the fourth century or so.

Naga Pokhari Royal bath in Bhaktapur
The Malla Kings started ruling there in 1200 and in 1377 it became the capital of the valley with things flourishing through the seventeenth century. This time, we did a walking tour out of the really good “Streets of Silver, Streets of Gold” book by John Child that has ten different very detailed walking tours in and around Kathmandu valley. After paying the entrance fee of $10 (steep for Nepal but well worth it and it covers multiple visits if you provide passport photos, etc.) we started the tour which took us the better part of the afternoon. There are few vehicles allowed on the streets of Bhaktapur’s narrow, cobbled streets which makes walking around a pleasure compared to the crowds of Kathmandu.

The first picture of the huge stone lion and the finely detailed black statue (which is Ugrachandi or Durga - the fiercest, eighteen armed manifestation of Shiva’s consort Parvati in process of killing a demon with a trident) is at the entrance to the museum and is mirrored on the other side with another lion and black sculpture of Bhairab (who has 12 arms and is disemboweling something).

Naga Pokhari Waterspout
The local legend is that the king, who had the Ugrachandi statue commissioned, was so enthralled with the beauty of the statue that he had the sculptor’s hand cut off lest one of the other valley kings hire the sculptor to produce an even finer piece of work. Undaunted, the sculptor single handedly went on to carve the Bhairab statue for the king who again cut off his other hand! Legend says that he went on to carve a third, magnificent statue with his feet that has unfortunately been since lost.

Walking through the courtyard there are a huge number of buildings and shrines, supposedly many more before the huge 1934 earthquake that rocked the Kathmandu valley destroying many temples and buildings. The second picture is of the entrance to the Teleju Temple to which foreigners (or I suppose I should say non-Hindus) are forbidden entry.

Garlic and Chilies in Bhaktapur
The gate is called the Sundokha gate and is made of gilded copper and very pretty with all of the richly detailed finials and griffins and elephants on the top. After walking past the temple and through a small courtyard, you come to the Royal Bath which is an incredible hiti with two serpents overlooking the bath and an extremely cool water spout shown in the second picture. Green moss covers the water and beneath the cobra heads are a small little temple.

The next part of the tour takes you through some small alleyways past the ever present curio shops and greetings of “Namaste! No charge for looking” but generally everyone is really laid back and nice. The alleys are narrow and if you look up, invariably you will see intricately carved wooden windows, garlic and chilies drying in the sun and the occasional little kid staring out at life below.

Potters Square in Bhaktapur
This particular alleyway empties on to “Potter’s Square” where there are artisans deftly kicking a potter’s wheel and rapidly creating clay pots that they lie out to dry in the sun before firing in home made kilns. We watched as one man rapidly formed a jar similar to the ones in the picture with the girl in blue and pink from a large mound of clay on the huge wheel. He made one pot from a small lump of the larger mound, shaping it with bamboo and his hands, then cut it off and immediately started another. Bhaktipur is known for its artisans including jewelry and metal work as well as paintings and pottery.

We turned the corner and walked past several small temples with colorful paintings and roof struts before we walked into a large courtyard where the older woman in the red top and sarong was drying rice in the sun. All over the town we saw piles of rice out drying, waiting to be de-hulled.

Rice Drying in Bhaktapur
The laundry shot (most of you know that I tend to like laundry shots - not sure why as I hate doing laundry myself…) was taken in the same little courtyard.

The next several pictures are from Taumadhi Square, the center of the town and location of two of it’s most famous temples that have an interesting story associated with them. We decided to stop for a refreshing beverage at the Café Nayatapola which overlooks both from a multi-story mandap rest house building in the square. The shot of the chaat (Indian Munchies) vendor is from above hanging over the balcony of the restaurant.

OK on to the interesting stories. The two temples you see in the courtyard shot are the five roofed Nayatola Temple and the Kashi Bishwanath three tiered building on the right.

Laundry and Windows in Bhaktapur
Notice in the broad, courtyard shot that the Nayatola Temple has five square bases in descending size, mirroring the five tiers of roofs above. In the next shot of the stairway up, there are sets of guardians on each level, each purportedly being ten times stronger than the level below. The first level has two legendary wrestlers with the strength of ten men each, followed by Elephants, Lions, Griffins and finally two Tantric goddesses. It is said that, standing on the top platform of the temple, you have 1,000,000 times the protection from these guardians that you do on the streets below - pretty cool! No one is quite sure exactly which deity is enshrined inside this temple as it has remained a secret for a long, long time.

The most interesting part of the story is that the two temples are very intertwined.

Chaat Vendor in Bhaktapur
The king, who personally carried some of the original stones for Nyatola here, had the temple erected because, after years of strife and calamities, he appealed to Bhairab, the fierce manifestation of Shiva for whom the earlier, single-story Kashi Bishwanath temple was built. Bhairab, who was causing all the problems, told him to build a spectacular shrine to a “secret goddess” who would be the companion and consort to Bhairab. The king obliged and the calamities stopped but after a few years, Bhairab was annoyed that Nayatapola Temple was much larger than his and insisted on the king adding another two stories - and you thought humans were petty!

The remainder of the tour was wandering back through the alleyways watching the day to day life of the local residents, chatting, haggling in the markets, pumping well water and waving at one another from ornately carved windows.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square
We ended up taking the bus back to Kathmandu which conveniently left us on Kantipath, right by our hotel. We had dinner (and Thongba J ) at the Utse Restaurant since the Tibetan food was pretty good and put Cindy to bed with antibiotics and night time Nyquil (I prefer Ambien…)

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Stone Lion and Ugrachandi Statue i…
Stone Lion and Ugrachandi Statue …
Sun Dhoka Doorway in Bhaktapur
Sun Dhoka Doorway in Bhaktapur
Naga Pokhari Royal bath in Bhaktap…
Naga Pokhari Royal bath in Bhakta…
Naga Pokhari Waterspout
Naga Pokhari Waterspout
Garlic and Chilies in Bhaktapur
Garlic and Chilies in Bhaktapur
Potters Square in Bhaktapur
Potters Square in Bhaktapur
Rice Drying in Bhaktapur
Rice Drying in Bhaktapur
Laundry and Windows in Bhaktapur
Laundry and Windows in Bhaktapur
Chaat Vendor in Bhaktapur
Chaat Vendor in Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Nyatoloa Temple Steps and Guardians
Nyatoloa Temple Steps and Guardians
Pumping Water in Bhaktapur
Pumping Water in Bhaktapur
Temple Guardians in Bhaktapur
Temple Guardians in Bhaktapur
Little kids in Bhaktapur Window
Little kids in Bhaktapur Window
Bhaktapur
photo by: Kathmandu1