Bhaktapur is known variously as “City of Culture", "Living Heritage", "Nepal's Cultural Gem", "An open museum" and a City of Devotees”. Bhaktapur is an ancient city and is renowned for its elegant art, fabulous culture, colorful festivals, traditional dances and indigenous lifestyle of Newari community. It is just 12 kilometers east of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, but gives the feeling of prehistoric times given the ambiance of traditional homes, lifestyles and environment. The conch shaped historic city is spreading over just an area of 6.88 square kilometer at 1,401 meter altitude. The city was founded in 12th century by King Anand Dev Malla. Bhaktapur was the capital city of the Greater Malla Kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley till the 15th century AD. The many of Bhaktapur's greatest monuments were built by the then Malla rulers.
As with the palaces of Kathmandu and Patan, Durbar Square in Bhaktapur is on the list of UNESCO world cultural heritage sites.
The fortress-like palace, standing on the highest point of the plateau, probably dates back to the time of Yaksha Malla. The oldest part of the palace is thought to be Mul Chowk, built in the 14th c. as the abode of the goddess Taleju. She, according to legend, was brought to Bhaktapur from Simragaon 100 years earlier, being later rehoused in the new building. The Pashupati Mandir, based on the model of Deopatan (Patan), is also attributed to Yaksha Malla. The palace precinct was further extended during the time of Jagati Jyoti Malla (1613-37), as was Taumadhi Tole. The large Narayana
Pagoda dates from the reign of Jitamitra Malla (1673-96).
Building reached a peak under Jitamitra Malla's successor Bhupatindra Malla (1696-1722) who enthusiastically undertook the filling in of the great gaps left by an earthquake in 1663. The Palace of the 55 Windows, Bhairava Chowk and Nagh Pokhari, the royal baths, were all built at this time. Under Bhupatindra the Durbar Square-Taumadhi Tole-Chupin Ghat area was enormously enhanced, providing a magnificent backcloth for the Bisket Jatra Festival.
The Golden Gate (Sundhoka), Bhupatindra's Column and the Taleju Bell were all constructed by Bhupatindra's successor Ranjit Malla. The courtyard dedicated to the child-goddess Kumari was built by Jitamitra Malla and the two wings on the west side adjacent to the Golden Gate by Jagati Jyoti Malla. The western section of the palace dates from the reign of the Shahs. Although today only parts of the palace remain, the splendor of the Malla period is still evident, particularly in the perfection of the detail.
Durga and Bhairava
Long vanished are the palace wings west of the National Gallery. Of the one-time summerhouse" of the queens only the imposing gatekeepers, Durga and Bhairab, have survived. Carved in 1701 they look no less fearsome today. Durga, brandishing an array of weapons and symbols, needs only one of her eighteen arms to slay the demon. Bhairab has to be content with twelve arms, but her necklace of skulls is every bit as impressive as her companion's. The sculptor is said to have had his hands cut off after completing his work, to prevent his genius serving others.
Mul Chowk / Kumari Chowk
At one time the vast palace precinct is reputed to have comprised 99 courtyards. Six of these survive, though for security and religious reasons the majority are closed to visitors. From Sundhoka a path winds round Bhairava Chowk to a carved wooden entrance gate, the only access to Mul Chowk. This oldest and most central of the palace courts is dedicated to the goddess Taleju.
With a little persuasion visitors may be allowed to look into the court, catching a glimpse of the main temple, to the left, together with statues of Ganga and Jamuna, even more ornate than their counterparts in Patan. On the far (west) side is a triple temple portal, the central opening giving access not to the devotional images but into Kumari Chowk. Both Mul Chowk and Kumari Chowk are considered pearls of Nepalese architecture to embellish which was one of the noblest obligations of the king. Viewed from the outside the buildings appear modest, revealing little of the splendors within.
With their decline the abodes of the kings fell into disrepair; but the abodes of gods are preserved for as long as people believe in them. Here the elaborately carved roof struts, the murals and the bronze figures present an almost complete pantheon, serving to glorify the deity of the court and providing a unique setting for rituals and ceremonies.
On the left of the Golden Gate there used to be a second building with low stories and heavily carved window frames and struts supporting its widely jutting roof. This was demolished in the mid 19th c. and replaced by the present hall. Only the portal with its decorative stone figures survives from Jitamitra Malla's time. The pair of lions were already there in 1697 when, as in Kathmandu, guardian gods were added in the form of statues of Hanuman and Narashima.
The doorway is now the entrance to the Nepalese National Gallery, which contains a collection of more than 200 paintings from the 14th-20th c. Among items of particular note is the Yoga Purusha illustrating the chakras of the human body, a favorite subject for imitation by modern thangka painters. The priceless old thangkas on display highlight the poor quality of those sold in souvenir shops.
Since the name of the Tantric goddess remains unknown the temple is called Nyatapola (Five Storied), making it unique in the Kathmandu valley where temples are always named after their deities.
Nyatapola Mandir is the tallest in the valley, rising to a height of 50 m (164 ft) on a five-tiered platform which further enhances its monumental effect. The foot of the stairway is flanked by the so-called Dvara Pallas, two legendary wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu, credited with the strength of ten men. Above them in turn come two elephants, two lions, two griffins and at the top the Tantric goddesses Baghini in the shape of a tiger and Simhini as a lion - a hierarchy of beings each ten times more powerful than the one below. Surpassing all in strength is the Tantric goddess of the temple on whose image only Brahmins can set eyes.
The temple is distinguished not only by its size but also its perfect proportions and ornamental detail. The 20 columns of the veranda appear at once slender yet strong, all being beautifully carved, as are the door frames. Even more breathtaking is the carving on the 108 struts supporting the five roofs. The various forms of the Bhagawati Mahishamardini and other deities are portrayed with great artistry.
Unlike other temples, which are almost always square, the Bhairava Temple in Taumadhi Tole has the typical rectangular plan of a Bhairava or Bhimsen shrine. These are built in the style of a house, as is clearly seen from the Akasha Bhairava Mandir in Kathmandu. The worship room is accordingly not on the ground floor.
The history of the Kasi Biswanath Mandir can be traced back to the 16th c. The original single-story building was enlarged by Bhupatindra Malla in 1717. After the 1934 earthquake it was completely rebuilt in the traditional style incorporating some of the old temple, a third story being added at the same time.
Access to the temple is via a small shrine dedicated to Bhairava's bearer Betal. Every year Betal accompanies the god in the Bisket Jatra Festival and is accorded a brief moment of adoration. Thereafter he remains bound face-downwards to the beams of his temple, being considered an evil spirit who brings ill fortune.
The 56 carved roof struts portray Bhagmati and the mother deities. In contrast to the lower roofs which are tiled, the upper is gilded and crowned by seven magnificent toranas (doors surrounded by figural decoration). Bhairava's image is located on the first floor, from where the god can look out of five gilded windows onto the square. The god's mask also appears at a window between the middle and lower roofs. During the Bisket Jatra Festival Bhairava is borne through the streets in a chariot procession.
Banepa - Surroundings
The little town of Dhulikhel (pop. 10,000) lies on a pass to the east of the Banepa Valley at a height of 1440 m (4726 ft) with a magnificent view of the Himalayas. The town has benefited for hundreds of years from being on the trade route between the Kathmandu Valley and Tibet.
Dhulikhel's public buildings, including the high school, post office and prison, lie on the road running south-east. The old village nucleus is found in the opposite direction, on a hill. In the main square are the three-storied Harasiddhi Temple and a tiled shrine dedicated to Vishnu, its front graced by two contrasting figures of Garuda. Temples to Krishna and Bhagwati are found in the western part of the town. From the three-storied Bhagwati pagoda there is a splendid view of the Banepa Valley. Dhulikhel's Shiva Temple occupies a delightful position at the foot of a small ravine. A stream flows through the precinct which also contains a curious and most varied collection of statues and images. The best view of the Himalayas is obtained from a little shrine dedicated to Kali on the ridge south of the town. The roughly half hour walk can be continued south to Namobuddha, a Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Varja Dhatu Stupa
For Tamang Buddhists the north stupa is one of their most important shrines. According to legend a prince came across a tigress dying from starvation and, filled with compassion, sacrificed himself so she could eat. The stupa is said to hold the remains of the prince who was transformed into a Buddha. The place where this happened is decorated with colored prayer flags. The legend is inscribed on a small stone plaque.
This delightful small town (pop. 23,000) near Banepa remains relatively untouched by the changes taking place elsewhere in the Banepa Valley. Large and prestigious temples are the only reminders of past glories when Panauti enjoyed a prime position on two trade routes and even boasted a palace. Situated at the confluence of the Rivers Rosi and Punyamati, the town occupies a sacred site. A third river, called Lilamati, visible only to the wise, is said to flow into the others from the Gorakhnath Shrine on the hill above the town.
Changunarayan / Changu Narayan Temple
The temple of Changu Narayan lies 8 km (5 mi.) north of Bhaktapur. Perched on the end of a ridge extending from Nagarkot, its striking and scenically beautiful setting adds further enchantment to this important shrine.
The temple complex of Changu Narayan is one of the principal sights of Nepal and is on the UNESCO list of protected world cultural heritage sites.
Changu Narayan is probably the oldest temple in the whole Kathmandu Valley. Its principal image was installed in the 4th c., at about the same time as the Shiva lingam in Pashupatinath. Repeatedly destroyed by fire and earthquake, the shrine was on each occasion rebuilt larger and more richly decorated than before. The present, classically proportioned pagoda, dating from 1702, is a masterpiece of form and decoration. The courtyard boasts an almost unparalleled collection of superb Nepalese wood- carving, metal-work and sculpture. Even as recently as the turn of the century the court was out-of-bounds to non-Hindus. In 1901 the French historian Sylvain Lévi was forced to make notes standing at the entrance while his Nepalese assistant described the scene to him.
The struts on the pagoda's lower roof are carved with the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The woodwork has been painted in the course of the present century, which, while tending to obscure the fine detail of the carving, nevertheless harmonizes with the overall opulence of the decoration. The result is a feast of materials and hues.
In addition to the main temple the courtyard contains shrines to Krishna and Shiva, the Ashta Matrika shrine, and a number of exceptionally fine sculptures.
In the south-west corner are three different portrayals of Vishnu. As Vishnu Vikranta he is the dwarf transformed into a giant, striding across the universe in only three steps. As the lion-headed Vishnu Narasingha he slays a demon with his bare hands.
The third relief, of Vishnu Vishvarupa, or Vishnu the All-in-one, is the most fascinating. Dating from the 8th c. it is divided horizontally into zones symbolizing the several levels of the universe over which the god presides. With his ten heads and ten arms, and born aloft by Garuda, he forms a cosmic column in the center of the universe, at the base of which the Sleeping Vishnu reclines on the primeval ocean. Various deities, including Shiva holding a rosary, trident, pot and World Seed, are gathered on either side.
A stone column by the west front of the temple bears the earliest inscription to be found in the Kathmandu Valley. Engraved in 464 it records the victory of King Manadeva over the "barbarians" from the north and south.
The nearby figure of Garuda is thought by archaeologists to have come from the column. The features of Vishnu's bearer-companion are probably those of the King, who considered himself the god's representative on Earth.
About a kilometer from Bhaktapur, on the south side of the Hanumante river, stands the most important of four shrines to Ganesh in the Kathmandu Valley. Situated on the eastern side of a wooded hill the shikhara-style temple is the first of the four to feel the rays of the rising sun. It is here therefore that Ganesh first renews his acquaintance with the sun god Surya who, in a kind of inversion of ritual, displays by his daily "round" of the valley his special regard for this particular shrine.
In front of the 17th c. temple stands a column bearing Ganesh's attribute the rat, in unusually large and realistic form. The god promises help to children slow in learning to speak and on Tuesdays in particular he is brought gifts of ladoo, his favorite food, to seek his favor. On the hill there is a little shrine dedicated to Parvati, the mother of Ganesh. From here there is a good view of the valley.
If you are not arriving as part of a tour group, you may take mini bus (bound for Kamal Binayak stop in Bhaktapur) or big bus (bound for Chyamasingha stop in Bhaktapur) from Bus Stop near Bhadrakali. You can save time by taking Express Bus (this does not stop in between except in Maitighar and Sallaghari) from Bagbazar in Kathmandu. Recently, micro buses also started service of suttling between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, which are pretty fast.
For those who haven't experienced a public bus in South Asia, it will be a way to (literally!) rub shoulders with locals. In either case the ride takes about 40-60 minutes and drops you off just outside of town. The cost of the fare from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur is approximately 35 NRS (Sept 2009) by bus for local people. Average taxi fee from Thamel to Bhaktapur (one way) costs about 800-1000 NRS for the 16 km drive. You can easily hail a taxi or pick up a return bus to either Patan or Kathmandu just outside of the first main gate that leads into the city.Get Around
Once in Bhaktapur, walking is really the only way to experience the quiet, dusty lanes squares. There are no rickshaws, tuk-tuks, or taxis allowed inside the city-- an inconvenience more than made up for by the quiet and clean air.