Behold the ancient Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Nepal | 71

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!

Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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

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

Temples in Bhaktapur destroyed by the Gorkha Earthquake
Temples in Bhaktapur destroyed by the Gorkha Earthquake

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

Old Newari buildings, partially damaged by the Earthquake. Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Old Newari buildings, partially damaged by the Earthquake. 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.

Doorway to a Newari home, Bhaktapur
Doorway to a Newari home, Bhaktapur
The old Newari well in Bhaktapur
The old Newari well in Bhaktapur

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
Lion gates leading to Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Lion gates leading to Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Durbar 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

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

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!

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.

Mini Pashupatinath temple

The first sight of the main Durbar Square in Bhaktapur with the boarded up parts and Chysalin Mandap
The first sight of the main Durbar Square in Bhaktapur with the boarded up parts and Chysalin Mandap

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Chysalin Mandap

Chysalin Mandap in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Chysalin Mandap in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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

Taleju Bell of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Taleju Bell of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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”.

Golden Gate

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

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

55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
55 Window Palace in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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.

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

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

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.

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!

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 hidden within the Naga Pokhari
Tiny temple shrines hidden within the Naga Pokhari

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.

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. The Patan one and this one I have witnessed, while the third one remains to be seen with my own eyes.

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. 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!

Taumadhi Square

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

Bhairavnath Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhairavnath Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar 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 

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

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

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!

Pottery Square

One of the buildings in the Pottery Square of Bhaktapur Durbar Square
One of the buildings in the Pottery Square of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

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.

Dattatreya 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.

Getting here

  • 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.

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.
  • 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


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71 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 😀

    • 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. 🙂

  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! 😀

    • 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 🙂

    • 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.

  27. AllGudThings

    The Bhaktapur Durbar square looks amazing and it really needed a special mention too. Gorkha earthquake has led to lots and lots of devastation but good to see they are recovering now. The Newari homes and Chysalin look beautiful and the wooden architecture of 55 windows palace is simply beyond words. Looking forward to visit and explore Nepal in future.

    • Ami

      And am pretty sure you will love this side of Nepal Suruchi. Thanks for your lovely comments.

  28. asoulwindow

    I spent an entire day and Bhaktapur 2 years ago. I went after the earthquake. It is inspiring to know how Nepal has picked up the pieces and moved on. The monuments were still in great condition post earthquake.

    • Ami

      Yes, it is quite heartening to see that things have moved forward positively. Bhaktapur Square was a beautiful place and I hope to manage another visit here.

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