Bhaktapur Nepal | City of Culture & Town of Devotees

Bhaktapur Nepal - Residents off to work?

One of the gates to the city of Bhaktapur Nepal.

We arrived around 8:30 on a January morning to a city enshrouded in mist – one of the most magical sights I’ve ever experienced.

We came from the west, having spent a night in Kathmandu about 10 miles away; and the van we hired let us off at a ticket booth just outside one of the gates. The entrance fee cost US$10, which I only remember because the ticket was printed specifically in English, with a US price listed on top.

Bhaktapur Nepal the Town of Devotees

Early morning fog added a magical quality to Bhaktapur Nepal.

The residents of Bhaktapur were just coming awake, though the shrines and temples all stood silent and somnolent.  Though everything seemed to lie still, we could sense movement here and there. People hurrying off to work, the farms, or wherever they go so early on a January morning.

Even the 3 year old who insisted on accompanying us on this day trip seemed to feel the peace of the place. He was unusually quiet for a young person just coming out of his terrible twos – for the first hour anyway.

As the fog rose and dissipated, the city woke up and came alive. Architectural detail became more apparent, and we all could readily appreciate the craftsmanship of each individually carved window and each tribute to the deities.

Bhaktapur is an ancient city, and once served as the capitol of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal through the 14th through 16th centuries, which may explain so much artistic splendor in the architecture.  However, a 1934 earthquake destroyed many of the temples and buildings in Durbar Square. The German government helped restore much of the city in the 70’s and 80’s, reviving many medieval structures.

Exploring a Bhaktapur Nepal residential neighborhood.

A winding passage through a Bhaktapur residential area.

Despite the significant help from Germany, Bhaktapur inhabitants are very self-sufficient. They farm the surrounding countryside and continue to chip away at ancient stone and wood to maintain the temples and homes within the city walls.  You’ll see scaffolding everywhere, as restoration continues on.

Most of the workers and Bhaktapur inhabitants are Newars, a people grouped by the common language called Nepal Bhasa. The Newaris primarily practice Hinduism, though about 15 percent are Buddhists.

TIP #1: When traveling India and Nepal, don’t be surprised to see specific ticket windows for the natives and separate windows for foreigners or tourists. The fees will differ too.

TIP#2: Some areas of Bhaktapur are off limits to non-Hindus. These areas will be guarded, so no worries about accidentally violating someone’s sacred space.

NOTE: You should know that there are THREE Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, one at Bhaktapur, one in Patan, and the third in the city of Kathmandu itself – and that UNESCO (or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) lists the entire valley as a World Heritage Site.

Travel Nepal for Real Adventure

Travel to Nepal from Darjeeling requires a stop at customs.

Indian Customs, where we found out about the transportation strike in Nepal.

If you plan to travel Nepal, keep in mind that your plans could change at any given moment. That’s what happened to my friends and me – a group of four adults and three very small children weaving our way from Darjeeling, India through mountains, forests and hairpin turns to make our way over the border into Nepal.

It was going to be a three or four hour ride by van to get to the border, and then another 30 minute ride through the Nepalese countryside to Bhadrapur Airport to catch a flight on Yeti Air to Katmandu.  Piece of cake, right?

Well not really.

Travel to Nepal Might Entail Surprises

Bicycle rickshaws take travelers to Nepal to points beyond the border.

Before crossing over we made a customs stop, where we learned that there was a transportation strike in Nepal. That meant no motor vehicles on the roads, unless you were driving a police car or ambulance.

So what were our options? Basically, bicycle rickshaw. With three very small children and an Everest-sized mountain of luggage (my friend, a Sherpa I met in California in fact, was returning to Nepal to visit family. So we all had gifts and other paraphernalia stuffed in with our bulky winter clothing). Rickshaws were pretty much our only choice. Being the least maternal of the group, I got most of the duffel bags in my ride – the other adults got a piece of luggage or two and a kid.

Anyway it turned out to be the BEST tour of Nepal I could ask for. This was even better than seeing the Taj Mahal in India! Why?

Rickshaws a great way to travel Nepal.

My rickshaw driver seemed to be the fastest...

Yes, it was initially annoying and uncomfortable, but I got to experience parts of the countryside I would have missed had I been sitting in a van, primarily because bicycle speed allows you time to see, hear and smell a lot more of everything.

I had time to sit back and enjoy the ride through the forest, or through farm country. I waved to small children on the roadside like I was royalty. I shot a whole bunch of photos, breathed in the smell of yak shit and somehow enjoyed every moment.  It really was unforgettable.

You want to know the best part? Despite arriving at Bhadrapur Airport about two hours late, we still made our flight because it too, had been delayed.

Travel Nepal by rickshaw for a closer look into day-to-day living.

Farm life in the Nepalese countryside.

Now, I will have to admit that it was fairly easy to make the best of a bad situation in this case: Traveling with a native who speaks several of the regional languages, does all of the negotiating for fares, and deals with the customs officers…takes a lot of pressure off me…all I had to do was be patient and follow directions.

Still, I’d like to believe I would have enjoyed this trip just as much had I been alone or traveling with non-natives. The experience was just too special for me to doubt it.

TIP #1: Befriend a Sherpa whenever you can. You’ll be glad you did, for many more reasons than for having a great guide in Nepal.

TIP#2: Transportation logistics are often a problem in India and Nepal. Stay flexible and have a back-up plan in case things go awry.