Behold the ancient Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Nepal | 91

First Published on June 13, 2017

If Patan Durbar Square deserved a second visit, then Bhaktapur Durbar Square definitely merited one. After all, it is the largest of all the Durbar Squares in Nepal and I did leave a lot unseen during my epic Indo-Nepal road trip. The 2nd time was a complete day dedicated to the points of interest in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. I had actually made a note of my missed Bhaktapur attractions and gone looking for them. This updated post will now serve you as a perfect guide to the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Get ready to get your senses on fire as you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu
Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu was one of the three kingdoms of Nepal.  that I had mentioned in my earlier post. This virtual tour of Bhaktapur Durbar Square will make you will realize that this one is far bigger than Patan Durbar Square – not just in terms of its spread but also in terms of its imposing monuments. Despite the damage done by the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, these Bhaktapur attractions are still grandiose enough to create a frenzy within you.  As long as you follow my lead and keep this Bhaktapur Durbar Square Guide handy, you will be sorted.

Nepal was divided into three kingdoms – each of which has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are called the Durbar Squares. I have managed to visit all three of them over two trips to Nepal and put together a detailed travel guide on each. Click through them and enjoy the various virtual tours.

History of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The numerous temples in the City of Devotees - Bhaktapur Durbar Square
The numerous temples in the City of Devotees – Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur translates to a “city of devotees”. Also called Bhadgaon and Khwopa, this was one of the three major kingdoms of Newar people. In fact – this was the capital. The earliest chronicle refers to its establishment in the 12th century by King Ananda Malla of the same Malla dynasty that set up Patan. The place thrived and prospered owing to its location on the famous trade route between India and Tibet. Possibly that is why there are so many elaborate buildings and temples in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

Snapshot of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Route one past the Newari Homes
Route one past the Newari Homes

There are two ways to enter the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The first takes you through a narrow lane along the Newari houses. The 2nd takes you past a school and through the gates near the Bhaktapur temples. I used both these over my two trips Bhaktapur. Either one will lead you to the first of the 4 main squares of Bhaktapur Durbar Square – the Basantpur Chowk.

The 2nd route from the parking, via a school and a temple to the other end of Basantpur Chowk
The 2nd route from the parking, via a school and a temple to the other end of Basantpur Chowk

The four squares of Bhaktapur Durbar Square include

  • Durbar Square or the Basantpur Chowk
  • Taumadhi Square
  • Pottery Square
  • Dattatreya Square

Each of these squares is home to gigantic relics of the past. They are all interconnected to each other and it is best to begin when you arrive – that is – the Durbar Square. From there, you should move in the same order as listed above. And that is how this guide has been designed.

Durbar Square or Basantapur Chowk

through a narrow lane along the Newari houses
Basantpur Chowk of Bhaktapur Durbar Square – from the 2nd entrance

This is the main square where we ended up spending a considerable amount of time. Designed for the royalty, Durbar Square of Bhaktapur has a collection of temples and royal homes. Let’s see the various points of interest in this square of Bhaktapur.

Ugrachandi Devi and Bhairab statues at the Lion’s Gate

The first approach along the Newari homes and around this well
The first approach along the Newari homes and around this well

If you enter the Bhaktapur Durbar Square from the path of the Newari homes, you will come across a well. Close to that, you will see a secondary school with two large statues of lions. Go close to it and on either side of the gate are two statues.  The Ugrachandi Devi is an incarnation of Durga while Bhairab is the fierce form of Lord Shiva. Both these marked the entrance to the royal palace in the earlier days. Unfortunately, the original gate got destroyed in the Earthquake of 1934 and in its place came in the current school gate.

Close up of the Lion guardian at Durbar Square in Bhaktapur
Close up of the Lion guardian at Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

Now the interesting thing about these statues lies in the tale of its unfortunate creator. As the legend goes, there was an immense rivalry between the three Malla Kings – not for political power but for being the maestro of art. King Bhupatindra commissioned the first statue of Ugrachandi Devi. The artisans created a lovely 8 -armed Goddess vanquishing an enemy with her lion on the side. Such was the creation that the impressed king cut off his artisans’ hands – just so that they would be unable to replicate the sculpture.

However, one sculptor was ambidextrous and he was the one who created the 12-armed statue of Bhairab. After the creation was done, his 2nd arm was also, chopped off. And thus, ends the ghastly tale of these beauties. 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!

Fasi Dega Temple

Fasi Dega Temple - destroyed except for the guardians
Fasi Dega Temple – destroyed except for the guardians

The temple lies in rubble but the guardians remain intact. This one was dedicated to Lord Shiva. You can recognize it by the pair of elephants at its base.

Siddhi Laxmi Temple in Durbar Square

One of the temples at the entrance of Durbar Square, Bhaktapur
One of the temples at the entrance of Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

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. The guardians on the ground floor are a pair of humans. They are followed by horses, then rhinos and next comes in the lions with human faces. Finally, we have camels. I would say…what a variety!

Chyasalin Mandap of Bhaktapur

Chyasalin Mandap of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Chyasalin Mandap of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

This is diagonally opposite the Siddhi Laxmi Temple. 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 earthquake in 1934. Thankfully, it was strong enough to survive the Gorkha Earthquake.

The place is a good viewpoint for Sunsets over Bhaktapur Square. On my second visit, I did see people on the 2nd floor but when I tried to get up, the entrance was locked. Guess, it is only for authorities. Apparently, besides shielding the palace, it was used as a meeting point and a stage for poetry recitation, dramas and songs.

Mini Pashupatinath temple in Durbar Square Bhaktapur

I know it is very tempting to see the palace that is right in front of the Chyasalin Mandapa. But just hang in there for a bit. Go around the Mandapa, past the many shops to the temple right behind it. This 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.

Mini Pashupatinath temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Mini Pashupatinath temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The mini Pashupatinath temple is also, called Yakeshwar Mahadev, named after King Yaksha Malla. It was his consort and the builder of the temple- Sansardevi who named it so. Built in the 1480s, this is one of the older temples of Bhaktapur.

Krishna Temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The collapsed Krishna temple with only the guardian Elephants remaining
The collapsed Krishna temple with only the guardian Elephants remaining

The Krishna temple of Durbar Square Bhaktapur is all dust and stones now except for its elephant and lion guardians. Likely the place is all boarded up. It lies between the Mini Pashupatinath Temple and the Chyasalin Mandap.

Taleju Bell of Bhaktapur – Bell of Barking Dogs

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”.

Taleju Bell with the destroyed Vatsala Devi Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Taleju Bell with the destroyed Vatsala Devi Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The bell belonged to the Vatsala Devi Temple. Vatsala Devi is an incarnation of Goddess Durga. Apparently, the temple was built with a Shikhara – typically seen in the North Indian Temples. As you will see, the temple has been destroyed and besides the bell, all that is left of it.

Statue of Bhupatindra Malla

While in this square one must 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 Basantpur Durbar Square. The statue stands tall despite the various earthquakes and is quite impressive when you look at it against the blue skies.

The Statue of Bhupatindra Malla
The Statue of Bhupatindra Malla

It is interesting to note that that such attribution to the Kings is present in all the durbar squares of Kathmandu. However, our guide assured us that this one is the prettiest of them all. :-). He also, added that the statue was made after the King of Kathmandu Durbar Square had made his own column. King Bhupatindra was so impressed by his counterpart’s creation that he asked for the artisans responsible for this art. Upon King Bhupatindra’s request, the artisans made his statue taller than that of the Kathmandu King’s.  This was just the beginning of the Ego trips of these two kings.

When the Kathmandu king realized this, he ordered these artisans to break down the pillar and lower the height in the dead of the night. Now since Bhaktapur was a bigger kingdom and had more might, the wrath of King Bhupatindra was fearsome. It is believed that following the reaction of the angry king, the statue was restored to its original height!

The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

There is no missing this jewel of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Bhaktapur 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. Besides this, it is also, termed as Nepala Dhvaka – meaning the gate to Nepal as well as Palad Dhvaka or the gate of the gatekeepers.

The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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.

The Golden Gate is considered to be one of the key tourist places in Nepal. The shining color is owing to a gold-plated copper surface. It was erected by King Ranjit Malla in the 1750s and opens to the centerpiece of Bhaktapur Square – the Palace of 55 Windows.

55 windows palace of Bhaktapur

55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square in front of Chyasalin Mandapa

The famous Golden Gate leads 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.

Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar or the 55 Windows Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Pachpanna Jhyale Durbar or the 55 Windows Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The palace was started during the reign of King Bhupendra Malla in early 1720s but was finished by his son – King Ranjit Mala in the 1750s. Each wooden window of the 55 Jhyale Durbar has an intricately carved lintel. No one stays in the palace anymore and it remains locked most of the time, unless Kumari – the Living Goddess of Nepal visits it and gives a glimpse through one of the windows.

Pretty lintels over the windows of the 55 Windows Palace
Pretty lintels over the windows of the 55 Windows Palace

This is the same palace that I asked you to hold on to when we moved forward from Chyasalin Mandap. What you saw in front of the Mandapa was the residential quarters of the Royal Malla Kings. The palace also, has other areas like the Taleju Temple and the Naga Pokhari. If you are a Hindu, you can step through the Golden gate of the 55 windows palace and discover these. For the others, well, this virtual tour is all I can offer you. Of course, there is the National Art Gallery that you can visit on the other end of the Palace, next to the Golden Gate.

Taleju Temple of 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 on the campus (not exaggerating!!!)

One of the royal doorways within the 55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
One of the royal doorways within the 55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Visiting this section was an absolute treat. 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.

There are two major shrines within the Taleju Chowk. One is dedicated to Taleju Bhawani while the other one is for the Living Goddess – Kumari (an incarnation of Taleju herself). Both these are locked and opened only during festivals like Dashain

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!

Naga Pokhari

Naga Pokhari within the Palace, Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Naga Pokhari within the Palace, Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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.

The Main Serpent in the Naga Pokhari at Bhaktapur
The Main Serpent in the Naga Pokhari at Bhaktapur
Tiny temple shrines around the bath
Tiny temple shrines around the bath

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!

National Art Museum in Durbar Square Bhaktapur

The National Art Museum that is open to all
The National Art Museum that is open to all

This has been built in the 55 windows Palace and is open to all. The entrance to this is next to the Golden Gate. The gallery holds various statues, art and antiques found in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Note the statue of Hanuman right outside the gallery. This is a rare form Hanuman – a fierce one – called Hanuman Bhairab. It is worshipped for its strength and devotion.

The Bhairav Hanuman
The Bhairav Hanuman

For some reason, I always managed to get here when it was about to close (lunchtime breaks). Somehow, managed to get in before it did but naturally, did not have time to capture it all.

Char Dham temples

Char Dham temples in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Char Dham temples in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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. The Rameshwar temple – dedicated to the Vishnu incarnation – Ram is the open shrine with 4 pillars. The original temple was destroyed during the earthquake

Next to that is the Badrinath temple for the Vishnu incarnation of Narayan. This is followed by Gopinath temple. This temple is also, referred to as Jaganath temple and it has three shrines dedicated to Krishna, Radha and Balaram. And finally, the last temple here is that of Kedarnath, recognizable with its Shikhara styled roof. The others are Pagoda style.

Fancy doing the whole pilgrimage right here within a few meters of each other! It is no wonder that it is referred to as Chota Char Dham (Small Char Dham).  If you are ever here in October or November, watch out for their annual festival when they bring out the deities of these temples in a palanquin and set out in procession.

Taumadhi Square

You can even do the Char Dham Temples after your entire Bhaktapur trip as it is a good exit point too. Either way, the next place that you need to go is past the Mini Pashupatinath Temple, on to the perpendicular street that opens out to the next square. Taumadhi Square will make you feel like a Lilliput. And it is not just the height of the two towering monuments that make you feel that but also, the workmanship.

The 5 storied temple – Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. 

Measuring over 30m, the Nyatapol Deval temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square is considered to be the tallest temple in Nepal. As much as one tries to appreciate the Bhairavnath temple that was right across it, you will find yourself being drawn to the larger than human-sized sculptures that lined the steps up to the Nyatapol Temple.

Nyatapol Deval - the tallest Temple in Nepal at Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Nyatapol Deval – the tallest Temple in Nepal at Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The name Nyatapola means a 5 storied roof. The temple was built for Goddess Siddhi Lakshmi who symbolizes auspiciousness. It is believed that one of the reason to build this temple was to calm the aggressive influence of Lord Bhairavnath. It is believed that only his wife – Goddess Siddhi Laxmi could calm him down. Hence, the King planned one temple for the Goddess right across the mighty Bhairavnath temple of Taumadhi Square. The temple was yet another Ego Trip that King Bhupatindra Malla had to show his power. He built this tallest temple in a matter of 7 months with the help of his allies – or at least that is what his book of accounts say.

The guardians of Nyatapol Deval at Bhaktapur Durbar Square
The guardians of Nyatapol Deval at Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The five tiers of the roof of Nyatapola Temple symbolize the 5 elements of nature. It is believed that its foundation is larger than its base. Possibly a huge reason why the temple has survived the earthquake. Along the steps, the larger-than-life guardians symbolize the ascending power. Each guardian of the temple had powers 10 times 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 is the elephants, then the Lion and Tiger pair – Singhini and Bhagini who are topped by the Griffins.

The Nyatapola Temple is closed to everyone except the priests. It is opened only once a year during the Dashain festival.

Bhairavnath Temple at Bhaktapur

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 avatar of Lord Shiva – Bhairavnath. The temple does pale a little compared, especially since it is right across one of the best features of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. However, pay a little attention to its wooden struts and windows. They definitely have gorgeous carvings.

Bhairavnath Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhairavnath Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

A dismantled chariot lies around the temple. The Bhairavnath Temple Bhaktapur takes out its deity in a procession during the Bisket Jatra every year. This takes place in April.

There are a few more minor temples in the Taumadhi Square Bhaktapur. However, with tons of other places to see in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, we should move to the next major courtyard.

Pottery Square

You need to move in the direction opposite to the Nyatapol Temple. Just enter one of the many lanes – they ultimately take you to the famous Pottery Square of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. This place will awe you in a very different manner. It is filled with shops and workshops creating local art and craft  – a lot of which I have covered in my earlier post on Nepal culture and tradition. The area has been a heritage market place of Bhaktapur.

Potter at work in the Bhaktapur Pottery Square
Potter at work in the Bhaktapur Pottery Square

Even today, as you walk around, you will find the old Newari kilns and workshops. There is a central open drying area where you will find numerous creations being sundried. You might notice that the moist clay is black in color while the sun-baked one seems reddish. This is because the local clay, called Dho Cha is black. The interesting part is that this clay is dug annually from mud pits that run to 10 – 12 feet. The name of the clay means – “The Clay of Gods”.

Black clay being put out to dry
Black clay being put out to dry
The Open drying area - notice how the sunbaked clay turns to red
The Open drying area – notice how the sunbaked clay turns to red

The local potters of the Talakwo Pottery Square are happy to show you their skills. Starting with the Potter’s wheel, they will tell you the little details that go into making that one delicate urn. It is amazing to see how they mould the edges and paint the surfaces to give you that Angry Bird Money Bank. Remember to tip them off for their time – even if they do not ask you for it.

Moulding of the clay pots in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Moulding of the clay pots in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Finished earthen wares on sale in the Bhaktapur Pottery Square, Kathmandu
Finished earthen wares on sale in the Bhaktapur Pottery Square, Kathmandu

Thangka Art shops of Bhaktapur Durbar Square have artists at work too. You can quietly stand behind them and observe their skill or chat with the owners to know what goes behind this intricate painting. I have shared quite a bit of this process in my post on Norbulingka Institute.

Besides these, you will find shops selling dolls, tiny bronze statues and singing bowls. It is a great place to shop but remember to bargain well.

Dattatreya Square of Bhaktapur

The fourth and the final square of the Bhaktapur Durbar Square was the Dattatreya Square which I missed out on in my first trip. However, the 2nd trip amended that. From the Pottery Square, head back to the Nyatapola Temple. This time, if you are facing the temple, enter the right lane, past the Bhairavnath temple. Apparently, this square is the oldest amongst all the Bhaktapur squares. It is also, called Tachapal Tole – the Tole referring to a marketplace.

A sunken bath on the way to Dattatreya Square of Bhaktapur
A sunken bath on the way to Dattatreya Square of Bhaktapur

The walk to the Bhaktapur Dattatreya Square is a little longer than the other squares.  Along the way, you will find plenty of interesting shops, traditional Newari homes, temples, small sunken hitis (stepwells) and occasional monastery. In fact, I found this one, at the entrance of Dattatreya Square.

Unidentified monastery of Dattatreya Square
Unidentified monastery of Dattatreya Square

It was the exquisite doors that drew me to the place. Through the open doors, I saw a white Stupa. With the intention of asking for permission, I stepped in. However, there was no one in sight. I just did a quite once-over of the place and exited. However, I did get a good look at their doorway with 2 lion guardians.

Past that, you will find a sunken well and from there starts the Dattatreya Square.

Dattatreya Square of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Dattatreya Square of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Dattatreya Temple of Bhaktapur

This 3-storied Pagoda roofed temple is the centerpiece of Dattatreya Square. Like the square itself, the Dattatreya temple is possibly the oldest temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu. It was built by King Yaksha Malla in the 1420s but was opened to public only after he died. The temple is dedicated to the Trimurti Gods – Lord Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. They form a single form in the guise of Lord Dattatreya.

Dattatreya Temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Dattatreya Temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Within the temple, each floor has exotic carvings. Most of them are erotic in nature. In fact, you can see some of them from the outside. At the entrance, you will find the gigantic statues of the wrestlers – Jayamal and Phattu. Alongside them are the symbols of the Lords – a conch for Vishnu, a Trishul for Shiva and the waterpot for Lord Brahma.

The symbols of the Gods alongside the wrestlers
The symbols of the Gods alongside the wrestlers

What is unique about this temple is that it is supposedly, made from wood from a single tree. Despite being the oldest temple in Bhaktapur, it has stood strong through various earthquakes.

Don’t miss the Garuda on a pole in front of the temple. Close to it on the other end of the Dattatreya temple, is another pillar with a lion mounted on it

Close-up of the Garuda Statue
Close-up of the Garuda Statue

Peacock Window of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The one unmissable place to visit in Bhaktapur Durbar Square – specifically Dattatreya Square – is the Monalisa of Nepal. This is a gorgeous Peacock Window located in a building behind the Dattatreya temple. All you have to do is go around the temple and look to your right. The building is quite nondescript and the only way to figure if it is the right one is to step into a narrow lane and look at the windows. If you spot this one, you have reached your destination,

Peacock Window Bhaktapur - one of most treasured attraction of Kathmandu
Peacock Window Bhaktapur – one of the most treasured attraction of Kathmandu

The shop opposite the building, allows you to come in and see the window from their first floor. This will give you an eye-level view. However, they do expect you to look at their wares in return. πŸ™‚

The window has survived the earthquake and is treasured for its amazing artistry. The 3D peacock with its feathers forming the lattices was installed in the 15th century.

Museums in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

If you are wondering what that building with the Peacock window is, then here is the answer. It is called the Pujar Math and this is the woodcarving museum of Bhaktapur Durbar Square. There are three floors filled with gorgeous Newari woodwork.

A window of the Wood Carving Museum of Bhaktapur
A window of the Wood Carving Museum of Bhaktapur

Right opposite that is a Bronze and Brass Museum of Bhaktapur. This too, has three floors and showcases the metal artistry of the Newaris.

I am pretty sure that by the time you are done with all these, your senses would be frenzied. However, if you still have some space, then head over to the Bhimsen temple and the Laxmi Narayan temple in front of the Dattatreya temple. They are smaller but are quite pretty too. In my case, I just gave them a once over and decided to return as I could not have absorbed anymore. I think maybe instead of a day-trip to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, I should have stayed here over a few days, allowing the gaps to calm my senses. But well, I can’t complain. I did see all the key attractions of Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

If you are heading to this gorgeous UNESCO Heritage Site, you don’t have to be worried about where to start. You already know the key attractions of Bhaktapur as well as the stories attached to them. All you need to do is pin this as your guide to Bhaktapur Square and share it around with anyone who asks – What to see in Bhaktapur Durbar Square?

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How to get to Bhaktapur from Kathmandu?

  • Kathmandu is easily accessible by flights from any part of the world. You can also, try a road trip from India as I did
  • Bhaktapur is around 13 km from Kathmandu. You can catch a bus to Bhaktapur from Kathmandu. There are plenty of regular buses plying between these two areas.
  • Alternatively, hire a cab for your journey to take you and bring you back to Kathmandu.

What is the best time to visit Bhaktapur?

Bhaktapur is pleasant between March and April as well as October to November. May to July might be uncomfortably warm while December to January might be cold. The square is open throughout the day. However, some of the attractions like the palace are time-dependent and close by 5 pm. Starting early morning is recommended as it does get a little sunny at noon and you do need a full day to cover all of this.

There are two major festivals that you should consider when visiting Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The first is Dashain – which falls around October and November every year. This is when the Taleju temple is opened for the public. There are processions and celebrations in various squares of Bhaktapur.

The 2nd festival is Bisket Jatra that takes place in April, on the Nepali new year. This is when the Bhairavnath procession takes place. You might also, be able to see Kumari – the living goddess.

Where to stay in Bhaktapur?

Given the number of things to see in Bhaktapur, it might be a good idea to spend a day or two here. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses in Bhaktapur Durbar Square itself that can offer you a comfortable stay. These are centered around Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square and Dattatreya Square. They are all within walking distance of the Bhaktapur attractions. Remember – there are no vehicles allowed in the square.

You can book the hotels in Bhaktapur online through the Resources section below.

Day Trips from Bhaktapur

If you have taken my advice on staying back in Bhaktapur, then you might want to consider day trips to these locations from here.

  • Nagarkot – This is a gorgeous hill station where I managed to spend an overnight. You get lovely views of the Himalayas and maybe, even the Everest. Check out my post on Nagarkot through this link. There are regular buses that take you from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot
  • Changu Narayan Temple – This is a little away from the main square and hence, needs a separate trip. It is around 4 km. The Changu Narayan Temple is the oldest temple in Kathmandu Valley. Combine this with a visit to Hanuman ghat – the cremation grounds near Bhaktapur with tons of statues.
  • Dhulikhel – Approximately 16 km from Bhaktapur is yet another hill station called Dhulikhel. It is a great place for hiking, especially during Sunrise
  • Thimi – This is a historical place in Nepal that also, fell on the trading route between India and Tibet. It is also, known as Madhyapur. It offers you an offbeat collection of heritage monuments.
  • Panauti – At 18 km from Bhaktapur, Panauti is a perfect choice for the heritage buffs. It’s durbar square pre-dates that of Bhaktapur.

What to eat in Bhaktapur?

Have you ever heard of Ju Ju Dhau?  The name means King Curd and it is a specialty of Bhaktapur Durbar Square.  This Newari yogurt is set in earthen pots and is either eaten plain or with fruits as a dessert. It is used as an offering at the start of a journey and is considered auspicious too. You will find it in many stores as well as cafes in Bhaktapur. Make sure you try it.

Juju Dhau - King Curd of Nepal
Juju Dhau – King Curd of Nepal

Besides this, there are plethora of cafes offering you local Nepali meals, Tibetan cuisines and even continental cuisines. I tried the two different cafes over my two trips. The first one is located in Basantpur Chowk, near the Pashupatinath temple of Bhaktapur. It was called Shiva’s Cafe. The 2nd place was in Dattatreya Square and was called New Cafe de Peacock Both the places had yummy Thukpa and Momos. Of course, I was partial to those. You can always try something else. Just end it with Juju Curd.

Where to shop in Bhaktapur?

Shopping in Bhaktapur Durbar Square Kathmandu
Shopping in Bhaktapur Durbar Square Kathmandu

From Thangka art to Newari Pottery, Tibetan Singing Bowls, Wind Chimes and artistic statues, there is just plenty to take home from Bhaktapur. As mentioned earlier, the best places to shop in Bhaktapur would be Dattatreya Square and Pottery Square. Each shop offers you a competitive rate. Just make sure you visit at least 2  – 3 shops to know the mean price. And then, just bargain well!

Travel Tips

  • 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.

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91 Responses

  1. Crimson April

    Guess I have seen this place in a documentary by a film-maker. But this is vast and elongated beauty that you have captured. Loved to read this well-detailed post. Not much of a history buff though, but I guess it is peaceful and astounding there. Thanks a lot for sharing such in-depth info. Ami πŸ˜€

    • Ami

      Even if you may not be a history buff, this place does attract people. You should just go there for the cultural vibes. Thanks for stopping by, April

  2. Milijana

    OMG, what a way to say someone thank you for making a masterpiece and to cut his hands off! Horrible! The Lions Gates are a truly masterpiece, as well as the Broken Temples and Durbar Square!

    • Ami

      You will find a lot of famous people resorting to cutting off the hands so that no one could build the same thing. Cruel indeed. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Joy Generoso

    You definitely saved the best for last. I hope one day i’ll get to explore this place and learn more about the history. Thanks for the helpful tips and guides. πŸ™‚

  4. Vaisakhi Mishra

    I had just heard of the level of destruction and loss of heritage that had happened in Nepal because of the earthquake. Glad things are not just back on track in Nepal but people are valuing the area more (seems so from your pics!) Nyatapol looks so amazing! πŸ˜€

    • Ami

      Thanks Vaisakhi . Things are definitely getting better. This place was just amazing

  5. Samantha Elisabeth

    This is so beautiful! I was supposed to visit Kathmandu recently, but changed plans last minute. It’s definitely still on my list! That Golden gate is just stunning! I like how you broke everything down so I can reference this when I do finally go instead of just blankly looking at all the pretty architecture.

    • Ami

      Thanks Samantha. I do hope you get around to visiting soon. Happy that this will guide you around

  6. Megan Indoe

    Wow you really did some extensive research for this post! We just went to Kathmandu back in February and visited Bhaktapur! It was so sad to see the earthquake damage still, not only there but everywhere. I found the temple of the living goddess to be intriguing as well!

    • Ami

      Thanks to our guide and useful signs around, was able to understand a lot here. It sure was fun discovering it.

  7. Claire Summers

    How have I never heard of this place! Wow! I can’t believe how well preserved it is. I love visiting historic sites like this. Yet another country I have now added to my long list!

    • Ami

      If you like sites like this, then Kathmandu has 2 more of these. An absolute treasure for you.

  8. Blair Villanueva

    I am imaginingbhiw lavish the life during those old days here. Even without the modernization of today, knowing that they managed to built these structures meaning they are into advancement.

    And the techniques are superb, no wonder still many researchers are trying to figure out the exact technique the’ve used to make these structure standing proudly for hundred of yearsn

    • Ami

      I agree. They sure had some foresight and technology which we are unable to understand

  9. My Travelogue by Bhushavali

    Its indeed depressing when such fantastic structures are lost to natural calamities!!! Its stunning that even houses look as gorgeous as the temples! Those staircases with animals & human statues on either sides, everywhere is just wow! Hope it gets restored well!

    • Ami

      I too hope so but whatever is there is still amazing and I do hope you visit it. U will love it Bhushavali

  10. kemkem

    Absolutely wonderful images that make you feel you’re right there. I would definitely like to visit Katmandu. The statue of Malla is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Tania Mukherjee

    Trust me, I am crying right now after going through your post. I visited Nepal just a few months before the devastation struck, I saw exactly these buildings that are now reduced to rubble and dust stand in all its glory. I thought Durbar Square to be a very unique place, a mixture of culture, history and happiness, it pains me to see it in its current form. But you are right, we must be optimist and adore the glory of what remains!

  12. Paige Wunder

    Wow! This definitely looks like a beautiful area of Nepal, but you can definitely see some of the destruction from the 2015 earthquake. I’m glad to see much is still standing. Thank you for sharing beautiful tips and photos for my upcoming trip to Nepal.

    • Ami

      Thanks Paige. Let me know if you need any other help for your trip… Am sure you will have fun

  13. melbtravel

    I remember going here before the that horrible earthquake and I thought that temples where beautiful. It is a shame to see how much destruction there was. I am glad to read and see that people are still going back there and bring funds into the country

    • Ami

      Though some is lost, there is still enough standing to draw people. I agree it is good people are visiting and encouraging some improvements here

  14. Vibeke Johannessen

    This looks amazing, your photos really makes me want to visit Kathmandu right away. Nepal in general seems like a very unique place to travel to. It is scary when earthquakes happens in these places because buildings and monuments and houses cant handle it.

    • Ami

      Disasters can strike anywhere but it how places come out it that makes the place interesting… Nepal has learnt how to move ahead and that is heartening to see it

  15. Cat

    It was sad to see some of the heritage buildings were destroyed by the earthquake. However, I’m also glad that there are some that remained intact, for example the 5-storied temple! It is interesting to learn that the guardians have more power than the ones lower to them.

    • Ami

      Yes, there is enough left for us to admire and enjoy despite the earthquake and one must go for that. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Veronica

    I was there so many years ago and I can’t recognize any of the places from this post. Thank you for the historical background.
    I want to visit again with more knowledge about the place.

  17. Ana Ojha

    What a beautiful compilation of some amazing architectures that Kathmandu has to offer! Your pictures give the glimpse of those ancient days when Nepal was in its full glory!

  18. 100cobbledroads

    What a wonderful collection of architectural gems lie enclosed in the Durbar Square! Its a pity that the earthquake struck here. Details are really exquisite, no wonder you took so many pictures.

  19. noelmorata

    What an excellent post Ami, this was one of my favorite visits to Katmandu and such an amazing place….I was also able to bargain hard for a lot of amazing bronze and ceramic souvenirs πŸ™‚

    • Ami

      Those souvenirs are just gorgeous… I should have got more. This place was amazing

  20. quirkywanderer

    Simply gorgeous. Now I know what you meant when you passionately described the place. JUST amazing. Love the in depth documentation Ami. Very well done. The 55 windows place looks delightful.

  21. Momma To Go

    what what an informative post! Do you take notes as you go??? How do you remember all of this information? Also that is so neat that you rode into Katmandu, not flew, that must have been an incredible journey.

    • Ami

      Thank you. Your compliments made my day. The stories I tend to remember as they are really interesting. I do tend to note down the names of important monuments so that I can share them all.

  22. Sandy N Vyjay

    The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is indeed a mute testimony to the grandeur of a time that has slipped into the annals of history. However the same nuances of the richness of the old culture and heritage dances alive in your post through your vivid and vibrant imagery. Loved reading this and was transported into another dimension of place and time.

    • Ami

      Thank you. This place is a treasure trove for heritage lovers. Enjoyed putting together the post.

  23. Aneesha Rai

    This location has so much character. Can actually see the fusing of cultures in this place through the architecture. Loved reading this!

    • Ami

      Thank you Aneesha. Loved writing this post as it really helped me revisit this place.

  24. Kate

    This place has it’s own distinct strong character. Love that there are shops and cafes in this place. You have an amazing share on this.

    • Ami

      Thank you Kate. The place is quite a lovely one and that itself speaks of its popularity

  25. gokulr27

    That is a nice dose of history. This post really takes you back in time.

  26. backpackways

    Interesting read!! I was in Durbar Square 5 years ago on my short visit to KTM. Thank you for taking me back through this post.