Remembering Bhaktapur

City life in Bhaktapur, Nepal

City life in Bhaktapur, Nepal

The year, 1999. It was a bucket list trip, but not the usual sort. For more than two years, my sister Sally and I had watched our middle sister Sue struggle with a brain tumor. Her last evening with us, she was listening to a book on tape which murmured tales of India as the medics took her from home to the hospital. After she died, Sally and I vowed to take the trip that Sue had longed to do, and to take her along with us.

Sisters at temples

Myself (left) and my sister Sally (right) among the temples of Bhaktapur, 1999

For six weeks, we made our way across the Indian subcontinent, backpacker-style: on the slimmest of travel budgets, using local transportation and staying in cheap accommodations. Three of those weeks were spent amid the wonders of Nepal. One morning, we decided to find our way to Bhaktapur, knowing it was a walled medieval city with extraordinary architecture and priceless temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bhaktapur's Durbar Square

Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square and the Golden Gate, left

I hit my head as we got on the Number 7 bus for Bhaktapur. Sally had no problem. The Newari of the Kathmandu Valley are not a tall people, so clearances in doorways are scarcely more than five feet tall.

An ornately carved wooden doorway in Bhaktapur

An ornately carved wooden doorway in Bhaktapur

When we disembarked, we discovered foreigners had to buy a 300 rupee ticket to enter the city, much like a National Park. Fair enough. As we walked to the city center, its Durbar Square, we marveled at the wood carvings that graced doorways and windows.

Intricate architecture was everywhere in Bhaktapur

Intricate architecture was everywhere in Bhaktapur

View of Tachapal Tole

Peacock Restaurant had the best view of the temples of Tachapal Tole. (Sally White)

Durbar Square Bhaktapur

Durbar Square was a marvel of architectural styles. Some temples looked like ziggarauts, with steep tall steps guarded by reclining stone creatures.

Kali and guardian at the gates of an elementary school

Kali and guardian at the gates of an elementary school (Sally White)

While a cultural heritage icon for Nepal, Bhaktapur is also a living, breathing Hindu city. Cows wandered by chewing on stolen snacks. People hung their laundry from windows and across shrubbery.

Laundry hung along the edge of a water tank

Laundry hung along the edge of a water tank

Brick home with intricately carved wooden shutters

Brick home with intricately carved wooden shutters

It was a relief to walk the city streets without being accosted by touts as we’d been in Kathmandu. Instead, craftspeople displayed their wares and waited for you to come to them. We saw a flute-seller walk past holding a tall tree made of flutes.

Potters Square (Sally White)

Potters Square (Sally White)

Bhaktapur is known not just for wood carvings – none of which would fit in our backpacks – but also for pottery, which was set out to dry along the bricks of the streets. As Sally took photos, I negotiated for a tiny clay ram, an incense holder that would fit in my pocket. It sits above my desk to this day.

Hearing the news of the devastating earthquake in the Kathmandu Valley was a shock: the loss of humanity, the loss of priceless heritage for a warm and friendly country. Bhaktapur had already lost many of its ancient temples in the 1934 earthquake.

Sally on stairs to a temple lost in the 1934 earthquake

Sally on stairs to a temple lost in the 1934 earthquake

Nepal touched me deeply. I only need to look up and around me as I write for the reminders of how the journey shaped me as a traveler and a writer.

Helping Nepal

Many charities are helping with relief efforts in Nepal. 100% of your donation to Seva Foundation will be used to assist earthquake victims. While the foundation is normally focused on helping those going blind to see, their network of clinics and doctors in Nepal allows them to immediately help earthquake victims with medical needs. Make a donation here.

Comments

  1. Marie Claude Arnott says

    Thank you for your moving memories of Bhaktapur that some of us will never have, and for the beautiful photographs that some of us will never get to take. It’s a precious reminder that any of the wonders of our world can disappear on any given day, (I am donating in Canada where the government will match all donations to the Red Cross).

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  2. says

    We have nothing to compare to this beauty and delicacy. There are so many different kinds of tragedies… and loss of history and beauty is just one. Thanks for sharing this.

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  3. Clarence York says

    Thanks for your memories. My son, then 15, and I lived in Europe during much of the 80s and decided to visit Nepal during 1985. We spent an exciting 6 weeks living out of our backpacks with Thamel as our home base. Bhaktapur was one of the many wonderful places that we visited. Three years ago, I decided to trek to Everest Base Camp and climb Island Peak before I got too old to do really crazy things. Adventure is in our family genes and my son decided to make the trip with me. We had a wonderful time during the month we spent in Nepal, of course making Thamel our home base, and spending a day in Bhaktapur. We marveled at the wood carvings, sculpture, architecture, colors, and people gong about their daily business. We are so thankful that we were able to see Bhaktapur a 2nd time. Nepal…

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