Monday, November 14, 2011

The Kingdom of Bhaktapur

Once upon a time, the Kathmandu Valley consisted of three separate kingdoms. Today the kingdoms of Kathmandu and Patan have grown together to form one more-or-less continuous city separated merely by name and the Bagmati River. On the other hand, the former kingdom of Bhaktapur -- though only about 13 kilometers from Kathmandu -- retains a separate identity a world away from the capital.

Bhaktapur's preserved city center consists of three main squares peppered with ornate temples and palaces, most dating back to the 1700s. Unlike Kathmandu and Patan, the bulk of this area is free from vehicular traffic. Without the swell of horns and humanity nipping at your heels, the surrounding architecture and culture come alive, as if magically transported from another age. Unfortunately, the occasional horn blast will bring you plummeting back to the 21st century. Despite the general ban on vehicles, there are an increasing number of motorcycles and even cars trolling the old city -- at least far more than we recall from our visits in 2003 and 2008. It still feels relatively traffic free, but this upward trend is unfortunate.

Vehicles or not, it is hard to deny the beauty of Bhaktapur.

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Details, details, details. The elaborate carving was headache inducing.






The Peacock Window, known as the most beautiful window carving in the Kathmandu Valley.




Even the pedestrian buildings outside of the royal squares have style.

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Modern.



Classic.




We were not alone in admiring -- tourists, t-shirts, and trinket touts abound. Nepali school groups blanketed the sites, with their squeals and chatter filling the squares.

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Nyatapola Temple, the tallest in Nepal, towers over the city. Its steep stairs and stone guardians made for a medieval jungle gym.

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And with all it has to offer, Bhaktapur made for an excellent day's escape from Kathmandu. It is easy to see why we include it on our suggested itinerary for visitors to the Valley. Escape comes at a cost, of course. Tourist entry to Bhaktapur is a steep 1100 NPR (about 14 USD) each. Taxis from Kathmandu should run about 700 NPR one way. We took a bus that leaves from Kathmandu's Bagh Bazaar for only 25 NPR each. The trip's distance is fairly short, but with frequent stops it took almost exactly one hour to reach the old kingdom. On return it took only 45 minutes. If you plan to depart from Bagh Bazaar, be sure to tell the taxi driver taking you to the bus stop that you are attempting to catch the bus to Bhaktapur. This will help ensure he drops you at the small Bagh Bazaar bus stop and not the larger "Old Bus Park" nearby.

Before heading back to Kathmandu, remember that no trip to Bhaktapur is complete without taking in Potter's Square and a bit of King Curd -- unique adventures I will let Claudine describe in tomorrow's post.

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