Bhaktapur, the smallest city among the three ancient cities of Kathmandu Valley boasts of cultural heritages, architectures, and organic ethnic Newari lifestyle. Situated about 20 kilometers east of the capital city Kathmandu, this city is also known as ‘The City of Devotees’. This beautiful place of history and art holds up a decent population of 2,25,000.
With lush green fields surrounding the core city, the majority of the population of this place relies on agriculture to sustain their daily needs. Nonetheless, Bhaktapur collects 60% of its revenue through tourism. Undoubtedly, the historical art and architecture etched in the walls of the heritage of the city has aided a lot to bring up this data.
Hosting a population which contains 92% Hindu and 7% Buddhist, Bhaktapur has many temples and Bihars which are related to these two prominent religions. The four popular squares, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pottery Square, Taumadi Square and Dattatraya Square, unfolds the rich culture, settlement, history and development that has been present in Bhaktapur since ages. Other than this there are numerous temples, mostly in Pagoda Style in almost every alley. Not only this, there are many significant Bihars such as Lokeswor Mahavihar, PrasannaSheel Mahavihar, Chatu Brahma Mahavihar, Jaya Kriti Mahavihar, Sukra Varna Mahavihar and Dipankar Mahavihar.
The massive earthquake of April 2015 demolished many of the ancient monuments. However, most of them have stood again with the help of prompt restoration program done by the Bhaktapur Municipality. All the monuments are rebuilt or renovated using the same old traditional technologies rather than concrete materials. This has added more beauty and significance in the already established aesthetics of Bhaktapur.
This small city is also very popular for hosting many festivals throughout the year. The festivals here are generally celebrated according to mythical beliefs, agricultural events and seasons. For instance, New Year is marked in this city with a glorious and magnificent jatra known as Biska Jatra. This festival is celebrated for 8 nights and 9 days. Similarly, there are other jatras such as Gai Jatra (Cow Festival), Indra Jatra etc which makes the city more vibrant and joyful. In layman words, every week of the year is filled with some kind of festival; big or small.
The whole lifestyle of Bhaktapur itself allures and appeals to people from far and wide. Woman draped in Hakupatasi, the black sarees with bright red borders; grandmas weaving threads in their antique charkhas; grandpas carrying kharpans in their soldiers itself stands as a heritage.
The local people here believe in the mantra of ‘Atithi Devo Bhawa’ which means guests are gods. So they offer the visitors with the best of the service they have.
Overall, Bhaktapur is a perfect blend of history, heritage and hospitality. A stay in this beautiful place can promise any visitor life-long memories of beauty, sustainability, preservation of culture and history and rustic life.
The last three Malla rulers of Bhaktapur were Jitamitra Malla, Bhupatindra Malla, and Ranjit Malla. These rulers played key roles in building the palaces and temples of Durbar Square. This city was founded in the 12th century by King Ananda Malla. Many other monarchs ruled over this little space until Prithvi Narayan Shah invaded this city during the reign of Ranjit Malla.
In 1744, Prithvi Narayan Shah, descendent of Dravya Shah, who was the founder of the Gorkha dynasty, began a conquest march in the Kathmandu Valley, capturing and unifying Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, and the smaller towns of the Valley under one rule.
After a period of instability and a bloody coup in 1846, Jang Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji took control of Nepal. His Rana dynasty ruled Nepal until 1951, when the Congress Party formed a new government. In 1960, King Mahendra took control, banned political parties, and instituted land reforms. Political turmoil continued throughout the late 20th century.
In 1934, a major earthquake destroyed over 2,000 houses and severely damaged over 2,000 more homes. Over 1,000 people died in this quake. Restoration of many buildings was undertaken over the years, including efforts funded by West Germany in the late 1980’s and by the U.S. in the 1990’s.
Places to go around Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur Durbar Square:
Nepal is definitely incomplete without the historic durbar squares around ancient towns. One of the most prominent squares present in Nepal is Bhaktapur Durbar Square. This square is believed to be constructed during the reign of the Malla kings. Temples constructed in pagoda and shikhar styles allure the visitors of this place. Although constructed in the name of deities this place is not limited to religious significance only. The architecture, art and craft present in each inch of Bhaktapur Durbar Square shout out the glorious tale of ancient history loud and clear. Bhaktapur Durbar Square in general is a collection of various major and minor temples and ‘Patis’ built during the reign of different Malla kings. People stopover Bhaktapur Durbar Square for visiting architecturally rich places such as the fifty five window palace, the four dhams, Vatsala Devi temple, Golden Gate, Pashupati( Yachheswor Mahadev temple) temple, the statue of Bhupatindra Malla, stone temple of Siddilaxmi, octagonal structure ‘Chyasinhmandap’, Phasi Dega (Silu Mahadev temple) and many more.
Locally known as the ‘Lu Dhwaka’, this gate is the entrance to the fifty window palace. This gate was constructed by King Jaya Ranjit Malla in 1754 A.D. This gate leads to the courtyard named ‘Sadhashiva Bhairab Chowk’. On the way to the courtyard, visitors can see two huge, ancient drums covered with the skin of an elephant. Inside the golden gate, visitors can see the magnificent Taleju Bhawani temple, Nag Pukhu and Mulchowk. Mulchowk houses Taleju Bhawani temple and is accessible for the hindus only.
Fifty-five window palace.
The fifty window palace was constructed by Yaksha Malla and later renovated by King Bhupatindra Malla during his reign. The renovation of the palace was however completed in the year 1754 BS, during the reign of his son. This palace hosts a balcony of fifty five beautifully crafted wooden windows coated in traditional black colour. It is believed that the Kings and his acquaintances used to observe the various Jatras of the city through these windows. The palace is now open for visitors to visit for particular days of the week. Tickets for visiting the place can be obtained at a reasonable amount in the counters situated at the ground floor of the palace.
The Four Dhams
Dhams refer to pilgrimage sites. In Hindu mythology, visiting the four dhams : Rameshwor temple, Badrinath temple, Gopinath temple and Kedarnath temple, is considered very pious. However, not every individual can get a chance to visit these temples which are situated in very different places. Thus, king Yaksha Malla constructed these four temples in the year 1415 A.D. for the people who were not able to visit the real four dhams.
Rameshwor Dham temple comes as a replica of the original dham situated in South India. This temple serves Lord Shiva. It is believed that lord Ram constructed the temple for lord Shiva by taking an incarnation of the lord Vishnu. So, the temple was named Rameshwor temple. This temple is built in Gum Baja style.
Badrinarayan Temple is another dham which is locally named as the Badri Narayan temple. People worship lord Vishnu and Narayan in this temple.
Gopinath temple houses Balaram, Subhadra and Krishna. This temple is built in pagoda style and is also known as the Jagannath temple.
Kedarnath is a Shikhara style temple which is a house to Lord Shiva. This temple is made in terracotta style and was recently reconstructed in its traditional after the damage done by the massive 2015 earthquake.
Vatsala Devi Temple
This temple was built by King Jitamitra Malla in 1696 A.D. and was later reconstructed by King Bhupatindra Malla in the late 17th or early 18th century. Vatsala Devi temple is dedicated to the goddess ‘Vatsala Devi’, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. This temple is built in Shikhara style and resembles the ‘Krishna Mandir’ of Patan Durbar Square.
National Art Gallery
Bhaktapur Durbar Square holds presents for lovers of paintings and sculptures too. The National Art Gallery was established by the government of Nepal in the year 1960 A.D. in Malati Chowk. This chowk was actually built by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1707 A.D. Visitors are greeted by the artistic figures of Hanuman and Lord Vishnu in the form of Narasingha. This place has a magnificent collection of paubha paintings, manuscripts and sculptures in wood, stone and metal. It presents magnificent paintings from the 13th century. There are many thangka paintings as well.
Tagogan (The Big Bell)
In the local newari tongue, ‘tago’ means big and ‘gan’ means bell. Hence, the name literally defines itself as the big bell. This bell was constructed by King Jaya Ranjit Malla in 1737 A.D. to inform about the prayer in Taleju Bhawani temple. These kinds of bells are present in all the three squares of the Kathmandu Valley. Other than worshipping these kinds of bells were one of the most effective ways of communication in the ancient days.
This octagonal structured monument was constructed during the reign of the king Jitamitra Malla. This monument was used for observing festivals and rituals. It was completely destroyed in the 1934 A.D. However, it has already been renovated.
This temple is made up of stone in Shikhara style. It was constructed around the 17th century. The steps to the temple hold statues of male and female attendants each leading a child and dog. The steps also hold statues of horses, rhinos, man-lions and camels.
This temple stands as one of the most beautiful pieces of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. It was built by the king Yaksha Malla in the 15th century. This temple is the replica of the Pashupatinath temple situated in Kathmandu. The central shrine of this temple serves a large Chaturmukhi Lingam which resembles the one that is located in Pashupatinath. The wooden roo struts offers erotic architectural carvings.
This temple stands as one of the tallest temples in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The dome shaped temple stands on a foundation of six plinths. The temple is guarded by elephants, bulls and lions. This temple houses Lord Shiva. The temple still awaits reconstruction after being demolished by the 2015 earthquake.
Taumadi Square (Ta:Mari Square)
People often see the five-storeyed temple of Taumadi Square as the epitome of Bhaktapur. However, Taumadi Square comprises of much more beauties than just the five storeyed temple. Etymologically, in the local language, ‘Ta’ means big and ‘Mari’ means chapatti. So this square looks like a huge chapatti. This square houses many beautiful monuments such as Bhairabnath Temple, Tilmadhav Narayan Temple and various stone sculptures.
Nyatapola is also known as the tallest temple in the Kathmandu Valley. It is around 98.5 feet tall in height and stands as the highest monument in Bhaktapur. Locally known as the ‘Nyatapola’, this beautiful building is a pagoda style temple housing the powerful SiddiLaxmi deity inside. In the local Nepal bhasa, ‘Nyata’ means five and ‘tala’ means storeys of the building. So in literal terms too, this temple is a building with five storeys. This temple is believed to be built by the Malla king Bhupatindra Malla during a seven month period from late 1702 to 1703 BS. Standing on a foundation of five strong plinths, this temple is flanked by the legendary royal wrestles ‘Jaya Malla’ and ‘Patha Malla’. These men are believed to contain the strength of ten people. The above plinths contain two powerful elephants, which are succeeded by two fierce lions. The lions are again succeeded by two powerful goddess ‘Baghini’ and ‘Singhini’. It is believed that the strength of the guardians grow by ten times in each step.
One of the most beautiful and artistic part of the Taumadi Square, the Bhairavnath temple was constructed in the early 17th century by Jaga Jyoti Malla. However, it was later built by King Bhupatindra Malla in 1717 A.D. It is said that Vishwa nath, another incarnation of Shiva had come to Bhaktapur to observe the famous Bisket Jatra. However, a tantric came to know about this and this beheaded him to make him stay in Bhaktapur. The Bhairavnath temple has recently been renovated into its original form after the devastating 2015 April earthquake.
Other than these monuments, the whole taumadi square is a living museum of the daily life of the aboriginal people of Bhaktapur. This place is most of the time filled with the chimes of ‘dhimes’ and other traditional musical instruments.
Dattatraya Square (Tachapal Tole)
According to the chronological records, this square heads back to the 15th century. However, historians argue that this square was established much earlier than that. This square is also one of the oldest market places. Thus, visitors can still get to see some antique shops here and there around the corner. This square is popular among visitors for the three prominent temples inside the area, beautifully crafted ancient buildings and the rare peacock window. The Dattatraya Square is a house to Bhimsen temple, Laxmi Narayan temple and the Dattatraya temple. These temples abode different deities with their own significance.
The Dattatraya temple is also known as a replica of the famous ‘Kasthamandap’ temple of Kathmandu Durbar Square. This temple was built during the reign of King Yaksha Malla around the early 15th century. People worship Lord Shiva, Bramha and Vishnu inside this temple. Devotees of Shiva come to worship during the month of Shrawan from far and wide. This temple has two different faces. The face in the front was constructed later because of which it looks a bit different. Local people come every evening and fill the environment with the traditional ‘Dafa bhajans’, a locally originated hymns played along with traditional musical instruments.
The Bhimsen temple stands just opposite to the Dattatraya temple. This temple has a clay statue of the Lord Bhimsen, who is known to be the god for trade and commerce. This temple is open for visitors to visit. Visitors can also visit a traditional water tap (hiti) behind the temple. This stone-spouted water spouts are carved beautifully and presents a tale of the ancient city of Bhaktapur.
The Laxmi Narayan temple is a two storeyed temple just in front of the Bhimsen temple. People worship the two dieties Laxmi and Narayan in this temple. Like other temples too, this temple has beautifully crafted artistic windows.
Locally entitled as the ‘Bolachha tole’, this square hosts numerous handicraft shops, temples and traditional pottery factories.
As soon as one enters the square, one can encounter an open space in the area which is used for drying up the clay materials made around the place. Old and young people clad in beautiful traditional attires tell the stories of their hard work through the beautiful crafts they create through clay by using traditional means and methods. Visitors can also experience the method themselves by setting themselves busy on one of the few pottery wheels present in the squares.
No place in Bhaktapur is void of temples. The pottery square is no exception. This square houses two different temples. The Jeth Ganesh temple dates back to the year 1646. Unlike other temples around the place, this temple was not built by any kings or princes. Instead, this temple was donated by a wealthy man. Similarly, visitors are also greeted by a small Vishnu temple located in the middle of the square.
Ponds around Bhaktapur
As much as ponds, Bhaktapur is also a house to pretty large number of large and small ponds. Many artificial and natural ponds have been a place of attraction for many people in and around Bhaktapur. Most of the ‘toles’ here own one or more than one pond. These ponds were generally built to keep the temperature cool and also for agricultural and religious purposes. The most famous ones are ‘Siddha Pokhari’, ‘Kamal Pokhari’ and ‘Na: Pukhu’.
Siddhapokhari which is also known as ‘Ta:Pukhu’ in the local language was constructed during the reign of the Malla king, Yaksha Malla in the early 15th century. With a measurement of 171 meters of length, 73 meters of width and 3 meters of depth, this pond stands as the biggest man-made pond in Bhaktapur.
Also associated with Lord Indra, this place is decorated with ‘diyos’ all around its boundary on the day of Indra Jatra. There are many sculpted stones around this place. Not only this, there are many idols of deities as well. Recently, boating service has started in the area. So, visitors can paddle around the pond during their leisure time.
This pond lies just beside the famous Siddhapokhari. Situated on the way to Durbar Square, this pond is seldom crowded except for the few children playing their games. Although very close to the bus park, this place does not invite many visitors. However, on clear days, one would certainly be amazed at the marvelous view of the mountains which are present on the rear side of the pond. This place is also surrounded by old tea stalls and eateries which can definitely hush away your cry of hunger.
Kamalpokhari is another important pond of Bhaktapur. Originally named as Yatubahre Pukhu in the native tongue, this beautiful pond lies in the northeast end of Bhaktapur on the road to Nagarkot. This pond serves scenic beauty and blessings from Lord Ganesha from the temple which is situated around the pond. With peepal trees on all four sides of the pond, visitors can stroll around and have a quick rest in the ‘chautaris’ made under the trees.