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If you have a romantic notion of Kathmandu as a spiritual, traditional, medieval and relaxed sort of place, just change that notion to Bhaktapur. This, the 'City of Devotees' is what you hoped Kathmandu would be like.
In many ways a visit to Bhaktapur is akin to stepping back in time. We would suggest that a visit to Bhaktapur be at the top of your 'must visit' places. See if you can find a copy of the excellent film, Baraka. Those dreamy opening scenes of a misty, ethereal dawn with an intricate back drop of mystical temples and a handful of traditionally dressed locals quietly and slowly going about their daily routines were filmed in Bhaktapur.
For sure, there is a timeless air about Bhaktapur, and most of the old city is traffic free too. It's certainly also a lot cleaner than Kathmandu, as well as a much, much more pleasurable place to explore. You can almost breathe the calm in comparison.
As well as a Durbar Square and temples aplenty there are even erotic elephants (look for them carved into the Shiva-Parvati Temple). The Nyatapola Temple is a wonderful example of Nepalese pagoda architecture, not only that at approx 30m high, it's the highest too. The Golden Gate (Sun Dhoka) and the 55 Window Palace are perhaps the best examples of art and architecture in the Kathmandu Valley. Of course, there is the famous Peacock Window.
Whilst other tourists visit Bhaktapur, (particularly coach parties) in the afternoon, surprisingly most don't go beyond a 'quick fix' temples tour. And, this is where Bhaktapur really comes into its own......just step away from the temple stuff and down the narrow backstreets a whole new 'secret' side is ready for you to discover.
You really will get the most out of a visit with a guided tour. We naturally can arrange this in the company of a friendly English-speaking guide who was born and raised in Bhaktapur and still lives there with his family. Our guide will show you around the 'secret' places and 'open doors' that likely you'd not open yourself. Bhaktapur is renowned for its pottery and for certain you'll visit Potters' Square and perhaps have a go yourself. Here you'll see pottery being made as it essentially always has been. Hidden behind 'that door' is a family hard at work making beaten rice and rice flour. Our guide will take you in and you can see for yourself what otherwise you'd not see. Not only that, our guide is a walking encyclopedia of all things Bhaktapur and during your walking tour will likely invite you into his traditional (and very simple) Newari home for chai. Don't worry, this isn't a 'let's fleece the tourist' affair. It's part of Nepalese hospitality, as well as an honour too. Just watch your head on those low Newari celings!
So, you've seen the Bhaktapur that most tourists don't see. What to do? (Ke garne?.....as we say in Nepal).......head back to Kathmandu? Well, it's only 30mins drive away and that is exactly what most people do. We implore you not to do the same, unless you really want to go back to Kathmandu of course.
Think back to that opening scene of Baraka we described. Also, with your guide you've now realised that Bhaktapur isn't a big place and that wandering around is now an easy and straightforward affair. The tourists have largely now goneand its become a very peaceful place. So, why not stay in here instead? It's less costly than Kathmandu too! There may not be the bewildering number of restaurants, bars and shops that Kathmandu has, but perhaps by now you've worked out that you don't need such a massive choice.There are sufficient of all these things here. Cash machines too for that stunning piece of silver Tibetan jewellery you've seen and just have to buy.
The beauty of staying in Bhaktapur is just being able to enjoy watching Bhaktapur being Bhaktapur. We know just the place to do this. From the rooftop of our recommended Bhaktapur Guest House you can watch life go by, and as the guest house overlooks one of the main squares, there are stupendous views of the soaring pagoda temples too. Get up early and experience your own Baraka moment as Bhaktapur wakes up and calmly and slowly goes about its day. If it's clear you can usually see the peaks of the Ganesh Himal glow as the sun goes down.
Need further convincing? Time wise it's the same to Kathmandu International Airport as it would be from the centre of Kathmandu, so why not stay in Bhaktapur at the end of your holiday and leave Nepal relaxed and spiritualised? Many of our suggested Cultural Tours and Family Holidays visit Bhaktapur.
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