Bhaktapur is a beautiful old city with inimitable climate that unites richness of unique monuments dating back to times when it was the capital of the kingdom, with the calm that results from its present location - a bit aside from huge and loud Kathmandu. The Newari culture and tradition is still vivid in here. Surrounded by beautiful architecture everyday life slowly carries on. In contrast to gigantic industrialized Kathmandu, in agricultural Bhaktapur time seems to stagnate. There are less people in here, the street traffic isn't so escalated, it's more quiet. At the main squares the drying of rice is taking place. With only a little imagination one can transfer in time and see what Bhaktapur looked like 100 years ago.
Entering the Old Town demands relatively high price, however, the enthusiasts of Nepal shouldn't hesitate, especially that the entire income from tickets is donated for restoration of the old monuments. In 1979, because of its value, the medieval Old Town of Bhaktapur and six other places located in the Kathmandu Valley were inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Bhaktapur is located about 12 km east of Kathmandu and is easy to access by bus or minibus. Obviously, there's no timetable - one needs only to arrive at the bus station in Kathmandu and find the proper vehicle. It arrives rather frequently, so that one shouldn't wait too long, and only a token payment is charged (in 2011 it was 35 rupees per person). Obviously, one could also take a cab, which costs about 700–1000 Rs.
For the privilege to visit the Old Town a tourist has to pay quite a lot. Ticket expense comes to 1100 Rs (20111), which is more than we paid for a room for three people in the centre of Kathmandu. The only consolation is that thanks to these payments Bhaktapur is cleaned and renovated which makes visiting more agreeable. It is said that the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows has recently been thoroughly restored just with this money. Visitors who wish to spend in the town more than a single day have to mark it at the gate. A photo and a passport are required for a few-day pass.
During the reign of Licchavi dynasty, around the VIIth century, at the location of present Bhaktapur there was merely a tiny hamlet called Khoprn. Not before King Anand Dev Malla in the first half of the XIIth century it was changed into a resilient and prosperous city. Its position on an important trade route between India and Tibet was the source of constant influx of money, which resulted in very intensive development.
In the XVth century the boundaries of the country were significantly broadened by King Yaksha Malla, the one that in 1455 built the Mul Chok – the oldest preserved part of the palace in Bhaktapur. After the king's death in 1482, similarly to what happened a hundred years ago, the deceased's sons attempted to rule over the kingdom, which this time resulted in a civil war and, in the end, in division into three independent little countries with capitals in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Patan.
Who knows, maybe it is this division that the three capitals owe their wealth of cultural heritage to, because the successive emperors from the Malla dynasty seemed to compete with each other not in the military field but in the one of architecture and art. In this respect the greatest merits for Bhaktapur had his most famous – ruling in the years 1696–1722 – King Bhupatindra Malla, who built the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows. Today he glances at it from an impressive pillar standing right in front of the Golden Gate.
Bhaktapur is one of three capitals of previous kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley and, as the others, it can boast a splendid palace and the Royal Square (Durbar Square) attached to it – rich in temples, peculiar centre of the city. Similarly to the rest of royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley, it is the place where the vast majority of the most valuable monuments are located, even though after an earthquake in 1934 many of them were destroyed (according to some assessments about ⅓ of monuments in Bhaktapur vanished then from the city plan.) It is probably the reason why at the Square there is much more free space in comparison to the Royal Square in Kathmandu.
Apart from the famous 55-window palace of the king, one will see here also pagodas, shikharas, sculptures, bells, or, unique on the world's scale, the Golden Gate. As usual, everything intricately made-up and amply ornamented. There's probably no single piece of wood or stone that isn't ornamented with any interesting detail, a skull, a flower or a picture of a copulating couple observed by a deity. It's architectonically one of the most beautiful places in Nepal.
Curiously enough, in the old days the most important square of the town was located further east. At first it was the Dattatreya Square, later the Taumadhi Square, which till this day is the spot of many important celebrations. Layaku, or the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, gained its significance thanks to, already mentioned, King Bupathindra, more or less at the beginninng of the XVIIIth century.
From the west one can enter the Royal Square through a white gate. Just beyond it, on the left, there are two stone lions that guard the Lion Gate dated to 1696. Its pillars are ornamented with two valuable sculptures from 1701: fearsome, twelve-handed Bhairawa and who knows if not even more horrifying (for sure with more hands – 18!) Goddess Durga. They guarded together the entrance to not any more existing part of the palace, now they are unemployed. Ironically, it is said that the creator of these multi-handed sculptures was, by the king's order, deprived of his own hands after finishing his work. It was only in case he would attempt to create such wonders for some other emperor. It looks like the fight between the capitals of the Kathmandu Valley about the primacy in the field of culture was very obstinate.
At the opposite side of the Lion Gate there is a group of four temples (Char Dham) that represent four places in India that are important for Hindu people. They were built by King Yaksha Malla in 1451 for those who, e.g. for health or financial reasons, couldn't travel abroad on a pilgrimage. In comparison to places they ought to represent, these temples look rather poor. The biggest of them is the Krishna Temple (Gopi Nath Temple), difficult to miss two-storey pagoda. In front of it, on not a very high pillar Garuda took a seat, the saddle-horse of Vishnu, whose avatar is Krishna.
Few metres further there is the Shiva Temple (Rameshwar Temple) on the right. It's an interesting, made of bricks shikhara with four little open atriums, in which a Shiva lingam is located.
Ahead there is the Royal Square and, on its left, the most impressive building - the palace. Its west flank – the Malati Chowk – was built by Bhupatindra Malla in 1707; at present there is the National Art Gallery where one can admire old paintings as well as manuscripts. The entry is guarded by four sculptures: two lions, Hanuman – the monkey god – and Narasimha with a lion's head – the incarnation of God Vishnu. The sculptures date back to the turn of the XVIIth century (i.e. to a period around the year 1800).
Straight before us there is a gilded statue of the most famous king Bhaktapur – Bhupatindra Malla - situated on a richly ornamented column. This column, really similar to the ones in Kathmandu and in Patan, was made in 1699. The king sits still, with hands folded in prayer, and looks on his palace.
We enter the courtyard of the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows through the Golden Gate (Sun Dhoka), made in the first half of the XVIIIth century of gilded bronze. It is considered the most beautiful and the most ornamented gate of this type in the whole wide world. The Gate is surmounted with statues of the goddesses Kali and Garuda and ornamented with images of many mythical creatures. The building of the Gate was initiated by King Bhupatindra but finished by King Ranjit Malla in 1754.
At the east side of the Golden Gate there stands the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows (Nyanyapa Jhya). Its building was started during the reign of King Yaksha Malla in 1427, but the present shape was given to it by King Bhupatindra Malla, who rebuilt the palace considerably in the XVIIth century. I didn't count, but, if we believe its name, this magnificent building, made of brick and wood, has 55 beautifully carved wooden windows that are, on their own, works of art.
After crossing the Golden Gate one can reach the Sundari Chowk. It is a courtyard with a pool destined for ritual baths of the kings of Bhaktapur. From the inside of the reservoir there grows a pillar tipped with a sculpture of the sacred serpent. Unfortunately, only Hindus are allowed to enter the others courtyards, among other places, the Mul Chowk built in the XIVth century – the oldest preserved part of the palace with the temple of the goddess Taleju.
Just at the palace's entrance there is a beautiful, made of stone shikhara whose patron is the goddess Durga Vatsala. This steeple temple stands on a three-floor pedestal and is ornamented with beautiful sculptures. At its feet, next to the stairs, there is the tiny Barking Bell (Khicha Kho Gan) called this way because of a very interesting phenomenon – it is said that when it rings every neighbouring dog is wailing. Legend says it was raised by order of King Bhupatindra Malla to deaden the sound of the death-bell heard by him in his dream. The dates of building the temple differ according to sources. It is probable that building was ordered by King Jitamitra Malla at the end of the XVIIth century, but the temple was rebuilt during the reign of his son Bhupatindra – in the beginning of the XVIIIth century. The Barking Bell was set by the king's order in 1721, which was a year before he died. It seems the bell didn't manage to help him.
Between the Durga Vatsala Temple and the Palace of Fifty-Five Windows there is the Great Bell Taleju. It was founded in 1737 by King Ranjit Malla. Similar huge bells can be found in other towns in Kathmandu Valley. They rang, among other things, to warn the inhabitants about danger or to inform them about an important event. At present the bell rings every morning, calling the faithful to prayer in the temple of the goddess Taleju.
East of the Great Bell, next to the palace, there is Chayasilin Mandap. This octagonal construction with an open corridor on the ground floor was destroyed completely during the earthquake in 1934. However, we can still admire it thanks to the reconstruction meticulously carried out in the years 1987-1990 with the German government's support. The original one was built in the XVIIth century by King Jitamitra Malla as a resting place for pilgrims.
The Laxmi Temple is sometimes called also Lohan Dega, which means the Stone Temple because it was entirely made of stone. The shikhara is obviously devoted to the goddess Laxmi (the wife of Vishnu) who ensures the riches and prosperity. On both sides of the stairs leading to the temple there are sculptures presenting people, horses, rhinoceroses, lion-people and camels.
The Temple of Shiva Pashupati (Pashupati Mandir), in the king's honour called also Yaksheswor Mahadev, is the most famous pagoda on the Royal Square in Bhaktapur, and one of the oldest in the Kathmandu Valley. It is a replica of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu close to the Bagmati River. It was probably built in 1475 by Yaksha Malla – the last king who reigned here before the division of Nepal into three kingdoms. The other version is that after his death the temple was built by his wife and children. The temple is dedicated to Shiva Pashupati – the Master of Animals. It is famous, among other things, thanks the fact that the wooden pillars supporting the roof are richly ornamented with erotic bas-reliefs.
Just next to the Pashupati Temple there begins a narrow alley leading south-east. Following it, one will reach the Taumadhi Square (Taumadhi Tole). It was the main square of the city once, but even now it is the spot of the most important events in Bhaktapur, including the biggest local festival of Bisket Jatra. Next to the square there is also the most important building in the city - the Nyatapola Temple – and a lot of little shops with thankas and handicrafts, as well as taverns where one can eat something in the break between sightseeing.
The Nyatapola Temple was built in 1702 by the king, who was the most meritorious for the city, i.e. by Bhupatindra Malla. This highest and the most impressive building in Bhaktapur is 30 metres high and is probably the best evidence of the skills of Newari builders. The construction is so substantial that during the great earthquake in 1934 it was only slightly damaged on the level of the highest floors while many other, lower buildings in Bhaktapur were completely destroyed.
Nyata means ‛five’, so that the name of the pagoda reflects the fact that it stands on a high, five-level pedestal and is covered with five roofs. The stairs leading to the temple are protected by five pairs of guardians. At the lowest level there stand two wrestlers (Jaya Malla and Patha Malla, who, according to a legend had the strenght of 10 people), and every pair located higher is ten times stronger than the previous one. These are as follows: elephants, lions and griffins, and at the highest level the goddesses Baghini and Singhini in the forms of tigress and lioness. The power culminates in the shrine of the goddess Laxmi, seemingly favourite goddess of Bhupatindra. What's interesting is that, reportedly, since the building is finished nobody has had a chance to look inside and that's why we don't know what is hidden there.
The second great temple on the square is the one of Bhairava (Bhairavnath Mandir) – fighting with demons, horrifying incarnation of Shiva who is at the same time the patron of Bhaktapur. The uniqueness of this construction is that it is based on the shape of a rectangle and not, as usual, of a square. It was built by King Jagajjyoti Malla who reigned in the first half of the XVIIth century. Originally, it was a single-storey pagoda, but in 1718 King Bhupatindra Malla expanded it to the hight of three floors.
Heading northwest from the Taumadhi Square, one will reach the Pottery Square. Bhaktapur is known for the pottery that is made traditionally, according to the recipe bequeathed from one generation to another. Up to this day, the potters are using their muscles as well as imagination to form, on the wooden potter's wheels, various vessels, from little oil lamps and yoghurt bowls, to huge cereal jars. The Tihar is just beginning so the Nepalese people will need millions of little lamps. This is why, evidently, the whole production has been switched to this product. In many pictures we have seen how on squares like this one huge quantity of earthenware crockery is drying in the sun, however, it seems that in the time of harvest the pots had to be replaced with sheets, on which rice is drying. Colourfully dressed women are skillfully pouring the grain with big shovels while nearby the craftsmen are digging out from the ash the Tihar lamps, burned previously in the fire.
Heading northeast back through the Taumadhi Square, we reach the Dattatreya Square – the oldest square in Bhaktapur that performed the role of the city's centre, before it moved west, to the Taumadhi Tole. We will see there, among other things, the Dattatreya Temple from which the present name of the square is derived. It used to be called Tachupal which was linked with the fact that many beautiful monasteries, giving shelter for pilgrims, yogis and friars, were situated here. There are left a few of them, but they all serve as restaurants, little shops or museums at present. The biggest and the most beautiful – the Pujahari Math – is said to have been built in the XVth century by King Yaksha Malla. Destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1979 thanks to the support of the German government. It is known, among other things, because of its two peacock windows considered the most beautiful in the whole of Nepal.
The Dattatreya Temple is the most important building on the square. It was built in 1427 by King Yaksha Malla, then restored and rebuilt in 1458. It is one of the oldest temples of the Kathmandu Valley and supposedly the only one devoted to this particular deity in the whole of Nepal (Dattatreya is the incarnation of the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). It is one of more beautiful and more interesting pagodas in Bhaktapur. Similarly as in the case of the Nyatapola Temple, the entrance is guarded by the wrestlers, Jaya Malla and Patha Malla. There is a gilded sculpture of Garuda, Vishnu's saddle-horse, situated just in front of the temple on the stone pillar. Legend says that similarly to Kasthamandap in Kathmandu, this pagoda was also built from only one single piece of wood.
Opposite the Dattatreya Temple, on the other side of the square, there is the Bhimsen Temple – covered with a double roof, oblong pagoda, built in 1605. Bhimsen, possessing the strenght of thousand elephants, is the patron of Newari marchants whom, besides, the square is full of. The marchants circulating with goods between India and Tibet had to be strong once, in fact. That's probably where the choice for patron comes from.
The bodies of dead Hindus are cremated to release their souls. The riversides are used to perform this ceremony. The people often visit them also in the morning to wash and, only after that, purified, they visit their gods and temples. Ghat is usually composed of few crematoriums where bodies are being burned (and then spilled over the river) and of various temples, lingams or stupas... In Bhaktapur there are a few such places but the Hanuman Ghat is the most popular. One of the reasons is presumably the fact that the biggest Shiva lingam in Nepal is situated here.
Bhaktapur has its own specific charm. Its streets, at a first glance so similar to those in Kathmandu, are in reality much calmer and more quiet. It is also here where we are surrounded by beautiful Newari architecture interspersed with hanging cables and improvised extensions made from the corrugated plate, but where squares, flooded by golden grain, look differently, more rural, idyllic...
The butcher is holding a lit cigarette in his hand covered with blood. The dentist is reviewing his patient's teeth. Some women are doing the laundry. Children are playing. Everything happens in the street or by the open door. The houses are too small to hold all this life within their walls. It spills on the street where it flows easily before our eyes.
Some kids propose they are going to show us their city. We follow them to the Pottery Square. Here also, instead of thousands of earthenware crockery, cereal is being dried today. One would gladly say:
country peaceful, country cheerful... but still, it is a city!
Everything points out to the fact that our young friends don't go to school, which doesn't disturb them to operate English quite well. At this age they can already boast about their variety of international contacts. To prove it they show us, among other things, a collection of coins and notes from the whole wide world, which they had received during their multiple diplomatic conversations. We are digging out some Polish coins from our pockets and we, as the others did, exchange officially the gifts. As it is for the summit contacts, our meeting is ended with a solemn repast, consuming together a pomelo on the stairs of the highest pagoda in Bhaktapur.
The effect of making acquaintance with these friendly young Nepalese boys is this particular lesson of Nepali language for beginners conducted with the participation of Basia Saternus. We invite you to take part in it and we wish you a productive education.
In the parentheses we are giving the year from which the information comes.
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