Kathmandu Valley has long been the heartland of Nepal’s Newari community, which featured the three rival kingdoms in the city states of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan during the rule of the Mallas between the 12th and 18th centuries. From religious customs to culinary traditions, this little town will bowl you over with its plethora of heritage attributes and gentle ambience.
Bhakatapur Durbar Square
The serene town of Bhaktapur suffered the least during the 2015 earthquake, so you can still get to see some of its landmark features, many of which remain intact. Centric to Bhaktapur’s spiritual and cultural traditions, as in Kathmandu and Patan, was the Durbar Square – a composite collection of palaces and temples. Of significance is the pagoda-style temple, the Nyatapola Temple, one of the country’s tallest pagodas. Built in 1702 during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla, it is dedicated to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. Of note too is the 55 Window Palace, also built by King Bhupatindra Malla. Pop in for a visit at the National Art Gallery, filled with a great collection of paintings and traditional artefacts.
Darbar Square is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the best examples of Newari architecture. From the top of the stairs, you get splendid views of mountains and Taumadhi Square awash with souvenir shops, restaurants and a couple of shrines.
Tryst with a ‘Living Goddess’
Worship of the Kumari – the ‘Living Goddess’, is a Newar tradition that goes back over a thousand years. There are various Kumari in Nepal, but the most significant is the Kumari Devi (Raj Kumari) of Kathmandu. Others live in Bhaktapur and Patan, respectively. A visit to the Kumari Ghar in Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square opens up an opportunity to get a viewing of the virgin goddess at the ornate Newari-style ornamented window of her sacred abode on earth. Kumari, an incarnation of Taleju, is chosen from Shakya and Bajracharya clans of the Newar community.
Shilpakars, one of the oldest clans in Bhaktapur, are long renowned for their wood crafting skills. Wandering around the town, you will discover excellent examples of Newari architectural pursuits and their expertise in woodcraft reflected in temples, buildings, and windows. A fine example of this craft is the beautifully detailed carvings of the Golden Gate, which debouches into the courtyard of the royal palace at Durbar Square. Dattatreya Square was once filled with palaces, mansions, temples. You can still find vast traces of the excellent woodwork architecture that defines Newari culture. The landmark Dattatreya Temple is another beautiful mirror of this craft.
Bhaktapur is an excellent place to sample traditional Newari cuisine. What you cannot miss here is Juju Dhau, or King Curd, the local yoghurt made from buffalo milk. Served traditionally in clay pots in shops around town, it is deliciously thick and creamy.
Spend some wonderful moments browsing around the well-preserved Pottery Square. You will find all manner of utilitarian and decorative items in shops and at the workrooms located around the square, where you can see the artisans at work, pursuing two forms of pottery – handmade and on the pottery wheel, firsthand. The pots drying in the sun, the artisans firing and painting the pots all make for great photos. You can learn how to make traditional pottery at a studio here.
Stay tuned with the slow-travel spirit of Nepal’s ancient city of Bhaktapur and come away with a chest- full of treasured memories.