Our taxi brought us as far as cars could go inside Bhaktapur and the guesthouse owner came out to greet us. But he did not recognize our booking. “I don’t work with Expedia.” “But we’ve prepaid for seven nights!” He showed us a room. The pictures online had little resemblance, but our window looked right out on Taumaudh temple, the tallest in Nepal. “When is breakfast served?” I asked him, looking at the tables in the entryway. “Breakfast?” he said, “I don’t serve breakfast.” “But our booking included breakfast.” Mukunda, the owner was friendly but that didn’t make up for the overpriced room. It worked out in the end, we paid half of the asking price online.
Bhaktapur was on our list of places to return, but after the earthquake (Bhaktapur sat at the 8.9M epicenter) we thought it would be too painful to see all its architectural antiquity destroyed. Time and tide…we had to go before we couldn’t.
The old town (not the sprawling new one) was built between the 14th and 16thC. Three major squares are connected by narrow streets and alleys paved with flagstones. One of the advantages of the uneven surface is that that motorbikes, the only traffic allowed, are slowed down. In spite of dust from continuing construction, the city is still immaculate compared to India.
Apparently, 70% of the old buildings in the town collapsed while many of the new concrete homes survived. If the homeowner rebuilds with the traditional brick and carved timber front facade, the municipality reimburses up to 20%.
The Taumaudh temple remained intact in spite of its height while surrounding buildings collapsed. It’s enormous three tier base may explain why. Or the protecting statues along the ascending stairs did their job.
Across the square, another repaired temple houses a god that is so ferocious that no one, except the priest, is allowed to enter inside.
Life here is steeped in rituals. In front of every house a stone or bronze stylized flower is embedded alongside the paving stones to ensure safety and prosperity to the household. The “pikha lakhe” are lovingly blessed with flowers, rice and red powder.
Around 4 am, the morning ritual begins with the ringing of temple bells by people passing by. With my bad hearing, the different size bells, ringing at intervals, sound like an avant guard jazz performance. Women bring trays of offerings to the ancient statutes of deities. After paying homage, they smear the red powder on their third eye.
In Bhaktapur, young and old alike take their rituals very seriously, lighting candles, touching the deity, then their forehead. As they leave, they take a flower and place it on their head. Every evening, older men sit in front of the temple and chant. One explanation for so much ritual could be Nepalis have incorporated both Buddhism and Hinduism.
Unique to Bhaktapur are “patis”, covered sitting areas where old men hang out, chatting or playing cards.
With most of the restaurants and hotels run by young men, where are all the middle-aged men? With few work opportunities, many have left to find work or study abroad leaving the women to fend for themselves.
The guesthouse owner, Mukunda, was sympathetic of my hearing loss and told me about his Downs Syndrome 17-year old daughter. He took us to see her school.
The first person we met there was an English volunteer, the other, a young physical therapist massaging the atrophied legs of Mukunda’s daughter. It was hard for me to take in; she didn’t even recognize her father’s voice. The school has 45 students, one of them a little boy was playing by himself silently in a corner. His face lit up when I went over to play with him. What a Godsend to have this school here for these children.
With all the changes here, we were pleased to find the tea and curd lady still in business. In India, you can always count on getting a good chai made by Nepali cooks. But in Bhaktapur they began making coffee for the tourists. Now everyone is drinking coffee and it’s hard to find tea anywhere.
In spite of air pollution and the painfully slow restoration we were glad to return. In our travels, Bhaktapur still remains unique.
Glad to see that you are having some good travels. I love the photos.
You missed a wild Nor’Easter last week. I’m sure you don’t mind. Enjoy.!!
We like seeing Bobby with all the women you guys are doing great I’d love to be there with you but I think my travel day are done love and our master blessings to you both
Ohhhhh fantastic congratulations on your wonderful trip to Nepal. I’m already forgot how to spell the name of the town you are in. Amazing how ancient the buildings are. Seeing your smile as you sit with the women of the town made me smile too! It’s really impressive that you have found your way to this location more than once!!! Bota Cha🙏🏽
such wonderful days and nights in places I can only imagine…Mr. Wiggins, please get me one of the Nepalese hats the gentlemen are wearing. It will shade the pate….Continue to have a wonderful time…I head to the Hinterlands tomorrow for a couple of weeks…best to you both….