The whole of Nepal already seems like one big museum, but step back to the ancient city of Bhaktapur, and you not only step into a series of curated artifacts, it almost seems like you’re stepping back in time. While Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, Bhaktapur, which is just 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) east of the capital, is the city of culture. It is known by several names such as Living Heritage and Nepal’s Cultural Gem. It might be the traditional homes or the several traditions still kept alive in the area such as pottery making, wood carving, and brass making. Whatever it is, Bhaktapur is where the past meets the present, all in an intimate city that effortlessly maximizes the beauty of both worlds.
If it’s your first time in Bhaktapur, here are a couple of things to see in terms of art and places of interest, that you’ll surely want to visit:
Bhaktapur is a city of and for the arts. You’ll see a lot of stunning architectural details that date back as far as the Malla Kings. The Golden Gate in Durbar Square is no different. It stands out amidst the whitewashed palace walls because of the bright red gate and the most well-preserved metalwork in all of Nepal. As a highlight, you’ll find the god Garuda, a half-human, half-bird figure, battling with serpents. Directly below him is the goddess, Taleju Bhawani, the goddess of the Malla Kings, one of the earliest inhabitants of Nepal. On the other side of the entrance to the Golden Gate is the inner courtyard of the Royal Palace. The Golden Gate also marks the end of the Golden Age of Newari architecture.
Address: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
The Nyatapola Temple is one of the tallest temples in Nepal. From afar, it looks like three hats toppled on top of one another. It is about five stories heigh, and Nyatapola literally means “five stories” in Newari, one of the oldest languages in Nepal. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Lakshimiare, the vengeful manifestation of the goddess, Durga. She is said to also bestow auspiciousness to those who ask. The temple was built between 1701 and 1702 and was only mildly raptured by the 1934 and the 2015 earthquake. The Nyatapola now is a testament to the Newari’s craftsmanship, despite the fact that it was only built in 7 months. It is said that when it was opened, around 23,000 people showed up for the feast, not unlike today where many tourists flock to the temple not only for its height but also for the stunning stone guardians that guard its entrance, each one said to be stronger than the other, ending in the two strongest wrestlers - Baghini and Sanghini.
Address: Taumadhi Square, Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
Built inside the old Royal Palace, the National Art Gallery is considered to be the best museum in Nepal. It was established in the 1960s by the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Nepal. There are two main sections in the gallery, the stone art section, and the painting section. The former holds some of Bhaktapur’s medieval sculptures, that date all the way back to the Lichavi period when the earliest settlers of Nepal thrived in art and architecture. The latter offers ancient manuscripts and scroll paintings. The paintings are a combination of Hindu religious iconography and ancient Malla depictions, such as portraits of all the Shah kings. On the walls of the corridors are ancient creatures that serve as important figures in Nepali folklore.
National Art Gallery
Address: Durbar Square, Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
There are two Potters’ Squares in Bhaktapur - one in Dattatreya Temple and square, and the other is Talako’s Potters’ Square at the south of Durbar Square. While both are now a bit touristy, the former is a little off the way, so you’d best venture out into the latter unless you want to buy in bulk. As mentioned, Bhaktapur’s traditional culture is still very much alive, especially with a new set of willing and enthusiastic tourists as an audience. You’ll find though that they aren’t just doing this for tourism alone. Most Nepalese still actually use these in their homes as kitchenware or homeware. The area is famous for the rows and rows of gray and red clay pots basking in the sun, drying. Customers can take their pick off the freshly made ones, or they can also have something made and customized on the spot.
Address: Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
A good number of Bhaktapur’s places of interest are found in Durbar Square. The Palace of Fifty-five Windows is found smack in the center of it. This palace is usually used for royal ceremonies, starting from Jaya Malla, the last of the Malla Kings. It was named as such because of the fifty-five balconies, that are visual proof of the talented hands of the wood carvers in ancient Nepal. The palace opens out to several courtyards, but you need to take the entrance from the Golden Gate.
55 Windows Palace
Address: Durbar Square, Bhaktapur, Nepal
The city of culture
Bhaktapur really lives up to its name as a City of Culture. It also just happens to be called the City of Devotees as well. While modernization has reared its head, much of the ambiance remains to be very old-world. This may be due to several organizations who are making painstaking efforts to let Bhaktapur remain as the cultural gem that it is.
Travel tip by Nepal Local Expert - Pragun
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.