Maybe you’re heading to Nepal to see the mountains. The mighty snow-capped Himalayas are of course one of the many reasons you should visit Nepal. But, as you’ll quickly discover, there’s so much more to this fascinating land.
From the ancient cities, palpable spirituality and some of the world’s kindest people. Nepal is a place many people just can’t get enough of (myself included). The Kathmandu Valley is one of the most amazing areas in the country, and it’s packed with incredible towns, temples and culture. One of my favourite spots is Bhaktapur, a small town located less than an hour away from the giant, chaotic capital of Kathmandu.
Bhaktapur is the third of the valley’s medieval Newari cities, the other two being Kathmandu and Patan. It remains the best preserved of the three, despite the damage of the 2015 earthquake. The ancient city centre is car-free, making walking its cobbled streets very pleasant indeed. The whole town is like a living museum, with temples on every corner, bustling street markets and arts and crafts being produced wherever you turn. If you’re interested in Nepali culture and heritage, this is a place you really must visit on your trip to Nepal.
Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there are literally hundreds of examples of traditional Newari architecture here. As you wander the city streets, you’ll constantly come across breath-taking buildings boasting complex patterns and the classic red brick exteriors. One of the most striking examples of architecture in Bhaktapur is Nyatapola Temple, unmissable due to its soaring five-tier roof. You can climb up the temple’s long steps, stand under the arches and look down over beautiful views of the Taumadhi Square and its surrounding hills.
Another must-see is Durbar Square, still stunning despite the earthquake damage. Many of the main temples are in the process of being repaired and restored after the quake. But, you can still enjoy sites like the Golden Gate of Bhaktapur, an incredibly detailed entryway that opens to the courtyard of the royal palace.
If you’re eager to try some of Nepal’s most traditional and unique cuisine – Bhaktapur is a great place to do so. The Newari culture here is celebrated, as is the food, and there are many homely meals on the menu that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else in Nepal. One such dish is Samay Baji, an authentic Newari dish that’s been passed down through generations and is made up of many small bites.
You really can’t leave Bhaktapur without trying the local yoghurt, Juju Dhau, also known as King Curd. This delicious yoghurt is served in clay pots at small shops around the city. Made from buffalo milk, it has a thick and creamy taste. It’s often called the best yoghurt in the world, and I really do have to agree!
Arts and culture
The beauty of Bhaktapur must have inspired the local people because the city is now home to a whole host of unique arts and crafts. Pottery is one of the major crafts, so head down to Potters’ Square to see the creation of local clay pieces. From pots to bowls, yoghurt cups to souvenirs, they’re all crafted, fired and painted around this square, and the locals are more than happy for you to observe and understand their artform. I find late afternoon a perfect time to come here – when light spills across the square and the potters collect up their creations after a day of them baking in the sun.
Bhaktapur is also home to Nepal’s National Art Gallery. Showcasing an impressive collection of paintings and traditional artefacts from the nation’s past.
A City of Devotion
The meaning of Bhaktapur is ‘City of Devotion’. Wake up early enough and you’ll see why. Women in red dresses and men scouting Dhaka Topi hats carry offerings to the small temples dotted around the city. One of my favourite places to observe local religious devotion is Bhairavnath Temple. An ornate Hindu temple built in the typical red brick style and with a strikingly detailed golden door. Locals buy marigolds from nearby market stalls and leave them on the shrine and statues around the temple’s entrance. Similar scenes exist throughout the city and observing them is a perfect way to start your day.
While there is much to see in Bhaktapur, my favourite thing to do here is wander around and soak up the unique atmosphere. While Kathmandu can feel overcrowded and chaotic, Bhaktapur is much quieter and more relaxed. Explore the city slowly. Take a couple of days to enjoy the timeless energy of the place and get to know the local people. It’s the perfect spot to unwind after a long trekking trip or to get a taste for local culture before heading into the Himalayas.
Ready to discover the magic of Nepal? Check out our full range of trips to this amazing destination.