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.
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.
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.