A City Stuck in Time: Bhaktapur, Nepal

The hot air was stale and polluted the day we ventured from Kathmandu to the ancient city of Bhaktapur.  Our taxi was part of a constant stream of chaotic traffic.  Trucks, mopeds and cars maneuvered around each other in the quest to move along faster on a road with no lane dividers.  Incessant horns blew and exhaust fumes enveloped as the scene of poverty played out around us.

Being a World Heritage Site, Bhaktapur was in all the tourist brochures I glanced at in Katmandu, yet our taxi driver stopped to ask for directions.  We came upon a little hut and four men engaged in a game of cards at one of the city entrances.  Due to Bhaktapur’s historic significance a fair admission fee was paid.  The driver proceeded to take us over a narrow one-lane bridge, which seemed more suitable for foot traffic.  After he honked his way through the pedestrians he was greeted to a road that was under construction and could go no further.  A few more questions to locals and we went back the way we came.

Another entrance found us next to a small reservoir.  A few men passing the time by fishing must have intrigued our driver for he proceeded to get out of the taxi and just watch.  In the back seat we were perplexed as to the purpose of this pause.  Perhaps it was to get more directions.  We had already paid him so the meter was stopped.  Ten minutes had passed before the decision was made we would walk from here.  A drive that seemed longer than a mere 8 miles ended at a city that appeared to be stuck in time.

Bhaktapur looked like something out of the 15th century with its red tiled roofs perched upon brick buildings, making up the town’s overall burnt red color palette.  A traditionally religious place, Bhaktapur is known as the City of Devotees and is steeped in Hinduism and Buddhism.  An influence that is prevalent in the architecture and art.  Little has changed since medieval times.

Once inside the gate we were lured into an art school that taught the art of Tankha, paintings of the Buddha.  There are three types of tankhas- Mandala, Circle of Life and Life of Buddha.  In Bhaktapur, like Kathmandu, everyone wanted us to buy something and the school was no different.  Outside the school the narrow pathways meandered along cobblestone streets and passed storefronts filled with Nepalese paper, pashmina scarves and beaded necklaces.  Strands of dried scarlet chili peppers dangled overhead in front of wood carved windows.

Pathways lead to courtyards and squares, like Durbar and Tumadhi, that were dotted with palaces, pagoda-style temples, monuments and shrines.  Pedestal statues lined the stairways to these ancient buildings.  Here it was easy to capture the essence of Bhaktapur by the sights, sounds and smells.

The daily routines of life went on like in any farm town.  Rice and freshly dyed yarns were laid out to dry while women pounded wheat.  Uniformed school children traveled in groups taking shortcuts along sideways, stray dogs slept in the shade and shopkeepers tended to their merchandise.

A quiet, modern respite was found above it all at a rooftop café.  Not only did it afford a break from the sun, but also a view to the distant mountains that was only obstructed by temple spires with gold adornments that glistened in the afternoon sun.

Bhaktupur: A nice hamlet frozen in time that still holds on to tradition, providing a cultural adventure to those who enter its gates and a recommended relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Katmandu.

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