In my last post, I did say that I was saving the best of my Nepal stay for the last. In reality, this place was the last of my major visits in Kathmandu and seems like the higher force did want me to experience the best at the end. There was no relieving the frenzy that Patan Durbar Square had set except for those few minutes in our van that transported us to yet another UNESCO heritage site in Kathmandu – the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. If anything, this increased the frenzy within me and set all my senses on fire!
The Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu was one of the three kingdoms that I had mentioned in my earlier post. Bigger than the Patan Durbar Square, this one was quite majestic and imposing with its set of monuments. I with the rest of the ScoutMyTrip team reached here at lunch time and with my first step into the area was quite willing to forgo my meal. I only wanted to quench the thirst to explore that hit me at Bhaktapur. However, the rest of the team ensured that better senses prevailed and we soon began our exploration after satiating our protesting bellies.
History of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur I guessed means a center of devotees as Bhakt in Hindi, means devotees. And boy! Was I right? It indeed translates to that. This place is also called Bhadgaon and was one of the three major kingdoms of Newar people. The earliest chronicle refers to this as being set up in the 12th century by King Ananda Malla of the same Malla dynasty that set up Patan. The proof of its name is evident in its numerous temples – far more than the Patan Durbar Square.
Some of these still stand tall while a lot of them are now just rubble and dust. The Bhaktapur Durbar Square just wrenched my heart for the devastation caused by the Gorkha Earthquake was evident from the time we walked in. The damage here was far more than what I saw at Patan Square. It did pain to see so many homes and heritage buildings lost forever but being a true optimist, I also, regaled in the glory of witnessing what remained. And that remains the essence of this virtual tour of Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Snapshot of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
We entered the square through a narrow lane that took us along the Newari houses. I found that the Newari homes were not as intricate as I saw them in Patan but I can also, attribute the same to the damage caused by the natural disaster. Here and there were signboards with old pictures of what the place really looked like before the calamity. And that itself was a proof of how amazing this place was.
Circling around an old well, we finally walked to behold a majestic site – the Royal Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Quite unlike Patan where it was a clear two rows of monuments, this was a huge square of gigantic relics of the past. Our guide explained that what we were witnessing was just one of the 4 main squares of Bhaktapur. And that bit of information itself was an adrenaline dose for me!
The four squares of Bhaktapur Durbar Square are
- Durbar Square
- Taumadhi Square
- Pottery Square
- Dattatreya Square
This was the main square where we ended up spending a considerable amount of time. It is also, termed as Basantpur Chowk and has a collection of temples and royal homes. From Palaces to royal baths and interesting tales, this square was my favorite among the four that we visited. Sharing some of my favorite parts of this square of Bhaktapur.
Lion Gates & Broken Temples in Durbar Square
Though there was only collapsed buildings behind these majestic beasts, the tales that accompanied them made these interesting. As per our guide, there were some beautiful carvings of the deities next to these lions and the whole structure with the Lions made the entrance to Bhaktapur. The gate was so beautiful that the King did not want it duplicated and cut off the sculptor’s hands. Hmm…for those who know the story of Taj Mahal, the same is being said of Shahjahan. Interesting how people just cut off the tools that made the masterpiece back then!
I was quite mesmerized by what looked like an entrance to a temple. The temple seemed gone but the elaborate sculptures on the staircase remained as a hint to what might have been another masterpiece.
Mini Pashupatinath temple
I’ll admit that my heart sank as I moved towards the main durbar square. The center of the square was all boarded up and you could see the magnificent structures all being restored. My heart sank thinking I might be here at the wrong time – the fear of not being able to witness what was lost and that of what was not yet restored. However, as the square opened out, I could see some structures intact around the boarded spot. The Pashupatinath temple was the first that we explored from the outside.
The temple is said to be a smaller version of the main Pashupatinath temple of Kathmandu.The temple roof that was held by stunning carvings was the key draw to this temple. Some of them quite erotic in their pose.
They say that there was a Krishna temple just behind this one which fell down. All that you can now see are the guardians of its gates – note the elephants.
This is what I saw all boarded up from the other side as I approached the square. The building was used as a theater of sorts and also, as a hall for meetings. They say that the original purpose of this was to shield the powerful force that could hit the palace from the Pashupatinath temple behind it. That is why it was built octagonal. The present structure has been rebuilt after the first two earthquakes. Thankfully, it was strong enough to survive the Gorkha Earthquake. They say that the place is an amazing view point for Sunsets over Bhaktapur Square.
The Taleju Bell
Quite like the Taleju Bell of Patan, there is one in Basantpur as well. This one faces the Taleju temple within the Palace and was rung twice a day to honor the family Goddess Taleju. The temple around it used to be called the Batsala temple and that as you can see, no longer exists. The bell has a very comical tale to it – they say that the dogs used to bark every time that it was rung. Naturally, it got the name “Barking Dog Bell”.
There is no missing this jewel of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Golden Gate literally shines down on you. Considered to be a key masterpiece of this heritage site, this gate is popularly referred to as Lu Dhowka in the local language. This is where you can get a glimpse of the famous family Goddess Taleju. She is the many-hands Goddess in the center with her attendants around her. Right above her is the sculpture of Garuda and around the gate, you will find several other deities and nymphs. Taking a picture of this took me a lot of time. Why? Was it a photographer’s challenge?
Of course, it was! Not because of any factor like light, angle etc. It was just getting the door free of crowds! And I don’t blame them at all. I mean, who would not want to be photographed in this beautiful frame!
55 windows palace
The famous Golden Gate led to the gorgeous 55 windows palace (Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar). If you thought that I was crazy at Patan about the wooden artwork, this place had me absolutely blown with its intricate wooden windows and doors. And it is not just me who thinks so but the world! Considered to be one of the best known wooden architecture, this place is unmissable in the entire Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Unaware that photography beyond the entrance is prohibited, I managed to capture one of the many marvels of this palace. The entrance for the King and Queen with their statues around the doorway. After this point, I was asked to put away my camera and was closely monitored by a sniper in the campus (not exaggerating!!!)
Most of the palace is out of bounds for tourists and you can only enjoy the outsides of it. However, if you are a Hindu, you are in for a treat as you are allowed to visit the elusive Taleju temple.
This is one section of the blog where I cannot treat you to visual pictures. Visiting this section was an absolute treat and if I had the time, I would have to spend a lot of it here. Every nook and corner of the temple were elaborately carved with colors and gold. The small shrines and the various pillars around here were just stunning. A lot of damage is evident but there has been a lot of work done to make it functional for all the Hindus, especially during their festival.
The one section that I distinctly remember visiting this temple was the kitchen area. I am unsure of whether this was the temple kitchen or the royal kitchen but it sure had a low ceiling. There wasn’t anything unusual either but it was the sheer journey of bowing low through those intricate doors and narrow passages that have this section stuck in my head!
The royal bath of the Naga Pokhari in the 55 Window Palace was an absolute gem. This is where you can see the sniper but thankfully, he did not care much now as this section was open to photography. I am so glad that it was for it would have been really a challenge to describe the sights.
I think the Slytherin room of the infamous Harry Potter might have derived its inspiration from here. From the taps to the walls and even within the bath area, there were just myriad sculptures of these serpents. They say that the gilded tap spouted water from a natural spring that formed the main bath. There used to be various sculptures and idols around the bath but a lot of them have now been vandalized and stolen. Possibly, another reason for the sniper stationed there!
Statue of Bhupatindra Malla
Exiting this square to move to the next one would not be complete if we did not pay tribute to one of the main Kings responsible for it. Unmissable is this huge statue of King Bhupatinder Malla who is given the credit for a lot of monuments in this square. The statue stands tall despite the various earthquakes and is quite impressive when you look at it against the blue skies.
It is interesting to note that that such attribution to the Kings is present in all the durbar squares of Kathmandu. The Patan one and this one I have witnessed, while the third one remains to be seen with my own eyes.
Char Dham temples
If you are facing the Bhupatindra Malla Statue, on your right, you will find a set of 4 temples. These are known as the Char Dham Temples – a term that is familiar to any Hindu. Essentially, the temples are based on the same concept as what is in India and as described in the link. Except that here, instead of Rameswaram, there is Kedarnath as one of the temples. The remaining three have been named as Dwarkanath, Badrinath and Jaganathpuri temples. Fancy doing the whole pilgrimage right here within a few meters of each other!
The 2nd square that we visited in Bhaktapur was this one – marked by two towering monuments that make you feel like a Lilliput. And it is not just the height that tends to make you feel that but also, the workmanship.
Bhairavnath Temple in Taumadhi Square
The three-storied temple is built by the same King Bhupatindra Malla in a typical pagoda style of Nepal. The temple is dedicated to the fierce avataar of Lord Shiva – Bhairavnath. As mighty and imposing that it looked, it was overshadowed by another stunning piece of work – the 5-storied temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Nyatapol Deval – the 5 storied temple
Measuring over 30m, the Nyatapol Deval temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square is considered to be the tallest temple in Nepal. As much as I tried to appreciate the Bhairavnath temple that was right across it, I found myself being drawn to the larger than human-sized sculptures that lined the steps up to the Nyatapol Temple. I cornered the guide for some more information on this and here is what I understood.
Each guardian of the temple had powers higher than the ones lower to it. The base level of the temple had two famous Nepali wrestlers – Jayamal and Phattu. (Incidentally, Phattu in Hindi means coward -what an antithesis). The next level were the elephants, then the Lions who are topped by the Griffins. The mighty temple is dedicated to the wife of Lord Bhairavnath and has withstood every earthquake in this area. Absolute power to the woman!
From here, we moved to the famous Pottery Square to see some local art and craft. The entire area is filled with shops that sell not just Pottery but also, Thangka art and other interesting things. I shall not go into details of this square as I have it covered in my earlier post on Nepal culture and tradition. Do hop over to discover what I saw in this particular square.
The fourth and the final square of the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was the Dattatreya Square which I missed out on. Time was short and with the rains threatening to pour down on us, we gave it a miss to head back to Oyo rooms, Kathmandu. I could not but do a little research to know what I had missed here – it was a lovely Dattatreya temple and intricate peacock windows. Seems like this particular square was all about Hindu and Buddhist cultures merging together.
Sigh! Well, as they say, you cannot have it all. I suppose an early close at Bhaktapur Durbar Square was required for my exploding senses. All in all, it was a perfect end to my Nepal stay. Hey, but that is not all from me. You forgot – the Indian chapter of this road trip. Stay tuned as I return soon with some more amazing sights from my Epic Indo-Nepal Road trip– a journey to remember.
- Kathmandu is easily accessible by flights from any part of the world. You can also, try a road trip from India as I did
- Once in Kathmandu, you can board a bus to Bhaktapur, which is around 45 minutes from Kathmandu center. Alternatively, hire a cab for your journey to take you and bring you back to Kathmandu.
- All the monuments are covered under a single entrance fee to Bhaktapur. This is Nepali Rupees 1500 if you are from a non-SAARC country and Nepali Rupees 500 for SAARC Nationals.
- There are no vehicles allowed inside the main Durbar Square of Bhaktapur
- The only way and the best way to experience this place is to walk around. Flat shoes and cotton clothes are advised.
- You can shop here at the various squares but remember to bargain hard!
- Beware of pickpockets
- There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in Bhaktapur. You can even use the restrooms within these for your requirements.
- If you are a history buff, I would recommend one complete day to visit all of Bhaktapur. What I have described is just a fraction of the whole.
P.S: I visited the Bhaktapur Durbar Square as a part of my Indo-Nepal Road Trip with ScoutMyTrip