arrival in nagarkot & sunset views of the langtang range

Tuesday, January 22: After our time in Bhaktapur, we drive up winding mountain roads for about an hour until we reach Hotel View Point in Nagarkot (Hotel Viewpoint).  As we drive up, I can see undulating hills indented with terraces.  Many of the terraces are brown or bare because it’s winter, but some are covered in yellow-flowering mustard.  I am enamored by these terraces, which are so all-encompassing that they cover nearly every slope in the valley.

the view during the drive up to Nagarkot

the view during the drive up to Nagarkot

Nagarkot is not really much of a village.  The primary reason for its existence is the views it offers of the Himalayas, most notably the panorama of the Langtang Range.  The standard activity is this: enjoying the sunset and the sunrise over the mountains.

a map of the Langtang Range found on the hotel balcony

a map of the Langtang Range found on the hotel balcony

According to Wikipedia, Langtang Lirung is the highest peak of the Langtang Himal, which is a subrange of the Nepalese Himalayas, southwest of the Eight-thousander Shisha Pangma.  Though not high by the standards of major Himalayan peaks, Langtang Lirung is notable for its large vertical relief above local terrain. For example, it rises 5500m above the Trisuli Gandaki to the west in only 16 km. It has a large South Face which long resisted climbing attempts. The list of the world’s highest 100 mountains puts it at number 99 (Wikipedia: Langtang Lirung).

Hotel View Point and the Langtang Range

Hotel View Point and the Langtang Range

the Langtang Range from the hotel

the Langtang Range from the hotel

a view from the balcony of the hotel to the gardens below

a view from the balcony of the hotel to the gardens below

Hotel View Point balconies

Hotel View Point balconies

When I arrive at the hotel, since I didn’t eat lunch in Bhaktapur, I have a wonderful lunch of Nepalese Vegetarian food: basmati rice, black lentils, vegetable curry, spinach green curry, pickle, papad (some kind of mushroom curry?), salad and curd.  I top this amazing lunch off with a banana lassi.

Nepali vegetarian food

Nepali vegetarian food

After lunch, since it’s still a while before sunset, I take a walk down into the village, where I see some interesting little shops and cafes.

Chill out

Chill out

Chill Out Restaurant and Nepali writing on the blackboard

Chill Out Restaurant and Nepali writing on the blackboard

funky business in town

funky business in town

I also see, coming out of a wooded area, several women with huge bundles of sticks on their backs.  They are being propelled forward at high-speed down the mountain by their heavy burdens.  I try to run to catch up and pass them, so I can take a picture of them from the front, but I can’t catch them, they are moving so fast.  So all I get is a rear view of their bundles and their rapidly moving feet.

Ladies carrying bundles of wood

Ladies carrying bundles of wood

scurry, scurry

scurry, scurry

I pass one shop that sells those droop-bottom pantaloons, or whatever you call them, that all the Western hippies wear in Nepal.  It always looks to me like they’re carrying a load in their britches.

pantaloons with droopy crotches

pantaloons with droopy crotches

After my walk, I treat myself to an Everest beer on the terrace and then I get cozy in my room for a while before dinner, where I continue reading What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.  The book is so good now, I can hardly put it down; I read it every chance I get.

an Everest beer before sunset

an Everest beer before sunset

the Langtang Range view enjoyed with an Everest beer

the Langtang Range view enjoyed with an Everest beer

my room at Hotel View Point

my room at Hotel View Point

Finally, when I think it’s about time for the sun to go down, I climb to Hotel View Point’s highest tower, accompanied by about 25 Chinese tourists.  I am the only non-Asian person in sight.  All the Chinese are wrangling for the best view with their fancy cameras.  We all take pictures and I position myself at different spots around the hotel balconies, of which there are many, and take various shots, some of which are posted here.  It’s freezing cold!!

Sunset

Sunset

sunset at Nagarkot

sunset at Nagarkot

sunset at Nagarkot, looking away from the Langtang Range

sunset at Nagarkot, looking away from the Langtang Range

sunset over the Langtang Range

sunset over the Langtang Range

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the sun sets over the Himalayas with Nagarkot in the foreground

Sunset amidst the trees

Sunset amidst the trees

the sun sets over the Langtang Range

the sun sets over the Langtang Range

After the sun goes down, a buffet dinner is served in the chilly dining room.  I eat small pieces of fried chicken, lukewarm spinach, cold steamed cauliflower, broccoli and carrots, noodle soup in brass bowls (the only warm thing!), and some limp oily French fries.  Believe me, it’s not even worth taking a picture of this meal.

the dining room at Hotel View Point

the dining room at Hotel View Point

By the time dinner is over, I’m so tired of listening to the Chinese, and I’m so cold, that I go to my room and burrow under as many blankets as I can pile on the bed from the cupboards in the room.  Brrrrr.   I plan to pass on sunrise in the morning because I already saw the amazing sunrise in Pokhara and one is just fine by me, thank you very much.

Looking out over the hotel grounds to the Himalayas

Looking out over the hotel grounds to the Himalayas

Advertisements

bhaktapur: potter’s square

Tuesday, January 22:  At the Potter’s Square, or Kumale Tol, we find potters giving shape and size to lumps of clay.   They make earthenware ranging from such household goods as pots, jars, stovepipes and disposable yogurt pots to cheap souvenirs such as animals and birds. As pottery in Bhaktapur is a family job, we can see entire families contributing to the work.  Because this square caters to tourists, the potters have the incentive to continue to work with traditional methods, using hand-powered wheels or forming clay by hand.

a shop selling pottery made at Potter's Square

a shop selling pottery made at Potter’s Square

families working at Potter's Square

families working at Potter’s Square

Pottery at Potter's Square

Pottery at Potter’s Square

Potter's Square

Potter’s Square

Potter's Square in Bhaktapur

Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur

a potter using the traditional hand-powered wheel

a potter using the traditional hand-powered wheel

bhaktapur: taumadhi tol

Tuesday, January 22:  Taumadhi Tol is the center of Newari culture in Bhaktapur.  It’s a lively square that contains two of Bhaktapur’s most distinctive pagodas.

The graceful, five-tiered Nyatapola is Nepal’s tallest and most classically proportioned pagoda, and it dominates Bhaktapur.  Since the pagoda was completed in 1702, all but priests have been barred from the sanctuary.  Apparently, this is because its tantric goddess, Siddhi Lakshmi, is so obscure, that she has no devotees.  Rather than being named for its goddess, it’s named for its architectural shape:  in Newari, nyata means “five-stepped” and pola means “roof.”  On the steep stairs going up the pagoda are five pairs of guardians: Malla wrestlers, elephants, lions, griffins and two minor goddesses.  Each pair is supposed to be ten times as strong as the pair below (Lonely Planet Nepal).

the five-tiered Nyatapola

the five-tiered Nyatapola

one of the pair of elephant guardians

one of the pair of elephant guardians

one of the lion guardians

one of the lion guardians

the view to the west side of the square

the view to the west side of the square

I climb up the steep and narrow-depth stairs, and the view from the top is dizzying.  Coming back down is quite scary as the stairway is precipitous and has no handrails.  I look down on the square below and see the more squat pagoda: Bhairabnath Mandir.

Bhairabnath Mandir from the top of Nyatapola

Bhairabnath Mandir from the top of Nyatapola

me after climbing down from Nyatapola

me after climbing down from Nyatapola

The other pagoda on the east side of the square is the thick-set Bhairabnath Mandir.  Leaning against its north wall are stacked solid wood wheels used on chariots during the Nepali New Year’s celebration called Bisket Jatra.  According to Highland Asia Travel: Nepali New Year and Bisket Jatra, the legend goes that every man who married the Bhaktapur Princess died the night of the honeymoon, so no one dared to marry the Bhaktapur Princess again. Finally, there was a brave prince who vowed to solved the mystery. He married the princess and he stayed awake the night of their honeymoon.  As the princess fell asleep, two giant serpents crawled out of the two nostrils of the princess. The prince quickly took out his sword and chopped the snake heads off. The next morning, the two serpents were publicly displayed on a pole.  Even today, in the traditional ceremony of Bisket Jatra, serpents are carried in the form of long ribbons.

Bhairabnath Mandir

Bhairabnath Mandir

chariot wheels used in the Bisket New Year celebration

chariot wheels used in the Bisket New Year celebration

 

bhaktapur: a mysterious courtyard & auspiciously-placed prayer wheels

Tuesday, January 22:  Batu takes me to a courtyard that I later write in my notes is a Buddhist monastery, home to the Bhaktapur Kumari. Apparently, the Kumari of Bhaktapur has greater freedom than her cohorts in Kathmandu and Patan.  She can leave the house, play with friends, and visit school with other children.   A Kumari is believed to be the goddess Taleju incarnate until she menstruates, at which time the goddess is believed to leave her body.  Kumari means “virgin” in Sanskrit (Wikipedia).

Is this the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives???

Is this the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives???

According to , Wikipedia: Kumari (children), eligible girls are Buddhists from the Newar Shakya caste (Buddha’s clan of origin) of silver and goldsmiths. She must be in excellent health, never have shed blood or been afflicted by any diseases, be without blemish and must not have yet lost any teeth. Girls who pass these basic eligibility requirements are examined for the ‘thirty-two perfections’ of a goddess. Some of these are poetically listed as such:

  • A neck like a conch shell
  • A body like a banyan tree
  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • Thighs like a deer
  • Chest like a lion
  • Voice soft and clear as a duck’s

In addition to this, her hair and eyes should be very black, she should have dainty hands and feet, small and well-recessed sexual organs and a set of twenty teeth.

The girl is also observed for signs of serenity and fearlessness (after all, she is to be the vessel of the fierce goddess Durga) and her horoscope is examined to ensure that it is complementary to the King’s. It is important that there not be any conflicts as she must confirm the King’s legitimacy each year of her divinity. Her family is also scrutinized to ensure its piety and devotion to the King.

However, as the king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, was stripped of his title and duties in 2008, I’m not sure how they determine compatibility with “the King.” (!)

inside the temple

inside the temple

After I return home, when I try to identify exactly what the name of this courtyard/temple is,  I’m not sure after all that this place is really the Kumari’s home.   I can’t find information or pictures anywhere online or elsewhere to verify this.   So.  I will say this:  I think this MIGHT be the place where the Bhaktapur Kumari lives. I never see the girl here, as I did in Kathmandu, so I have no proof.  Oh well.  At least I love the red prayer wheel, and the other little prayer wheels lined up along the exit corridor.

Here is the mystery place, unidentified and open to your imaginative interpretation.

a large red prayer wheel in a corner

a large red prayer wheel in a corner

other prayer wheels in the exit corridor

other prayer wheels in the exit corridor

In the courtyard, some TV celebrity (also unidentified) is being filmed by a man who looks like a professional camera-man.  The celebrity, wearing traditional Nepali costume, tells us he is doing a special for Nepali television.  However, I don’t write down what he says, so I forget now what the program was about.  Oh well.  Here he is, whoever he is and whatever he is doing.

a Nepali TV celebrity

a Nepali TV celebrity

bhaktapur: durbar square

Tuesday, January 22:  Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square has two claims to fame: 1) It was listed a World Heritage Site in 1979 and 2) it was used in the filming of ancient flashback scenes in the 1995 film Little Buddha.  It lacks the architectural harmony of Kathmandu’s Durbar Square due to a 1934 earthquake that destroyed several of its temples.  It also has never served as a commercial or social focal point to Bhaktapur, according to Rough Guide to Nepal.  However, it is the main square of the city and is a mixture of stone art, metal art, wood carving, and terracotta art and architectural showpieces, according to Bhaktapur Municipality.

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

The Royal Palace is said to have once had 99 chowks (courtyards), but since the 1934 earthquake and resulting demotions and renovations, it now has only five. This palace was built during the reign of King Yakshay Malla in AD 1427 and was subsequently remodeled by King Bhupatindra Malla in the late seventeenth century, when the eastern wing, known as  Panchapanna Jhyale Durbar (“Palace of Fifty-Five Windows”), was built.  It was home to royalty until 1769.

entrance to the Royal Palace

entrance to the Royal Palace & The National Art Museum

The Palace of 55 Windows

The Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

inside the Palace of 55 Windows

The Golden Gate, or Sun Dhoka, is said to be the most beautiful and richly molded specimen of gilt copper repoussé in the entire world. Repoussé  is a metalworking technique in which a malleable metal is shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief (Wikipedia).   The door is embellished with monsters and mythical creatures of amazing intricacy. The Golden Gate was erected by King Ranjit Malla and is the entrance to the main courtyard of the Palace of Fifty-Five windows.

The Golden Gate ~ 1754 AD

The Golden Gate ~ 1754 AD

Turning back from the Golden Gate a doorway on the left leads through to Naga Pokhari, or “Snake Pond.”  This is an early 16th century royal bathing tank.  The waterspout is covered in thirsty animals in gilt copper, overlooked by two gilt nag figures standing clear of the water.

the door to Naga Pokhari

the door to Naga Pokhari

Naga Pokhari

Naga Pokhari

gilt waterspouts writhing with thirsty animals

gilt waterspouts writhing with thirsty animals

a nag figure looking over the bathing tank at Naga Pokhari

a nag figure looking over the bathing tank at Naga Pokhari

The 15th century Pashupati Mandir is the oldest structure in the square.  The temple holds a copy of the Pashupatinath linga, a complex symbol of Hinduism associated with Shiva, representing energy and strength.  Its roof is embellished with wildly erotic carvings.

Erotic carvings on Pashupati Mandir

Erotic carvings on Pashupati Mandir

Door on Pashupati Mandir

Door on Pashupati Mandir

Next door stands the 18th century shikhara-style stone Vatsala Durga was built by King Jagat Prakash Malla in 1672.  Shikhara refers to a rising-tower Hindu architectural style, which translates literally to, and resembles, a “mountain peak.” (Wikipedia/Lonely Planet Nepal).

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

Vatsala Durga

The Chyasin Mandap, erected in 1990 to replace an 18th century temple destroyed in the earthquake, is known as the Pavilion of the Eight Corners.

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of 8 Corners with the behind

The Pavilion of 8 Corners with the Vatsala Durga set back to the left

the Pavilion of the Eight Corners with the Palace of 55 Windows behind

the Pavilion of the Eight Corners with the Palace of 55 Windows behind

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

The Pavilion of Eight Corners

On the west side of the square, we see a school group clustered on the steps of an unnamed building.

A school group on a tour

A school group on a tour

And then we wander around and check out other interesting things in the square.

Entryway

Entryway

interesting door

interesting door

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silu Mahadev

Silu Mahadev

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir

We leave Durbar Square and go in search of the Kumari’s house.

Enhanced by Zemanta

a little hidden temple in bhaktapur

Tuesday, January 22:  Straightaway upon entering Bhaktapur, Batu takes me to a small temple hidden away in a small square.  Since it takes me awhile to get used to his thick Nepali accent, and even when I do get used to it I can still barely understand much of what he says, whatever he tells me about this little hidden temple is lost.  Usually after returning home I can somehow piece together the names of the places I saw, either by looking at a map or matching a description in a guidebook with what I saw.  In this case, I know nothing.  But.  Here it is anyway. 🙂

an alcove near the hidden temple

an alcove near the hidden temple

the temple

the temple

a prayer wheel in the temple

a prayer wheel in the temple

holy statues

holy statues

We leave the temple and proceed down narrow winding lanes to Durbar Square….

bhaktapur, nepal: harkening back to medieval times

Tuesday, January 22: This morning I bundle up and eat a breakfast of omelet masala, potatoes, chicken sausage, pancakes, broiled tomato and coffee on a wobbly table at the Kathmandu Guest House outdoor dining area.  I have packed a few things into the new backpack I bought in Pokhara for the trip I will take today.  With a driver, I will go to the town of Bhaktapur to explore.  From there, we will drive to the mountaintop of Nagarkot, where I will see a sunset and sunrise view of the Himalayas.  This time I will have a view of the Langtang Range, the western portion of a complex of mountains which also includes the Jugal Himal, home of Shisha Pangma, the fourteenth highest mountain in the world at 8,013 meters.  After spending the night in Nagarkot, I will hike down to Changu Narayan, about a 4-5 hour hike, carrying my backpack.  I try to pack light, since I will have to carry my pack.

my guide in Bhaktapur: Batu

my guide in Bhaktapur: Batu

We take off through the perpetual haze of Kathmandu, bumping heartily over potholed roads.  I see ragged and faded Bollywood movie posters on walls, and businesses that look like they’ve seen better days: Rainbow Travels & Tours, the Titanic Dance Bar, Obsession, Everest Pizza, Royal Kawaliwy Food.  I see lime-colored buildings, black-helmeted Nepalis on motorbikes, the Civil Mall, a local market with blue tarps for roofs. I see the gate to the Parliament and Supreme Court. I see too many poor people to count, all dressed in brightly colored, but mismatched clothes.  If nothing else, Kathmandu is a colorful and energetic place.

a Nepali man relaxing at a little shrine

a Nepali man relaxing at a little shrine

We arrive in Bhaktapur after about an hour.  Now that we’re escaping Kathmandu, the haze is lifting slightly and I can see a touch of blue in the sky.  My driver, Raju, asks if I would like a guide through Bhaktapur.  He has a friend he can call.  I say sure, since I don’t know anything about Bhaktapur and I only have a couple of hours.

the herringbone-paved streets of Bhaktapur

the herringbone-paved streets of Bhaktapur

We meet Raju’s friend, whose name is Batu.  After we are introduced we begin our walk through the town, which is mostly pedestrianized, except for the motorbikes that manage to sneak in.  Right away, Batu takes to calling me Catty-mam (I think!), which sounds almost like Catty-man.  I am startled every time he calls me this, but I never say anything.  Usually, whenever anyone calls me “mam,” I tell them right away to please not call me that.  I HATE it!!  However, since it sounds like he’s calling me either “Catty-man,” or some other unintelligible thing, I never say anything. 🙂

Actually, I have trouble understanding half of what Batu tells me during our whole tour.  I find myself wishing he would just point me in the right direction and leave a wide berth between us.  Plus, I love to take my time and take a lot of photos, and I can tell he’s irritated by this and wants me to hurry along.  I am so happy to be rid of him after my tour is over.

colorful shops

colorful shops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coca-Cola doors

Coca-Cola doors

brightly colored goods for sale

brightly colored goods for sale

vegetables, anyone?

vegetables, anyone?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

bright red shoes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

colorful masks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

wood carvings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

more wood carving products!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

vegetables for sale!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

fun-loving puppets 🙂

Bhaktapur is known as the “City of Devotees” and was likely founded in the early 8th century.  From the 12th to the 15th century, it was the capital city of all of Nepal.  The inhabitants of the city protected it with a wall and city gates; these remained through the 18th century, thus preserving the city’s heritage and preventing it from turning into another sprawling city like Kathmandu.  Shaped like a flying pigeon, the city spreads over an area of 6.88 square km and lies at 1401 meters above sea level.

a Newar is known by the way he carries things, with a stick with two buckets attached

a Newar is known by the way he carries things, with a stick with two buckets attached

The city is home to over 100,000 inhabitants, most of whom are peasants, according to the pamphlet put out by Bhaktapur Municipality.  Other residents are businessmen, handicraft producers and public employees.  The city is known for yogurt (juju dhau), black caps (bhadgaule topi), black saris with red borders (haku patasi), pottery and handicrafts. Inhabitants are either Hindus or Buddhists.

inhabitants waiting for water, which only comes a couple of hours in a day

inhabitants waiting for water, which only comes a couple of hours in a day

women wash their babies every day for the first 6 months

women wash & massage their babies every day for the first 6 months

some friendly inhabitants of the city

some friendly inhabitants of the city

Bhaktapur is a “Living Museum,” according to the municipality, displaying the vibrant Newar culture. Anthropologists believe the Newars are descended from the Kirats, a legendary clan who ruled the Kathmandu Valley between the 7th century BC and the 2nd century AD.  It has become a melting pot over time, as immigrants, overlords, & traders have mingled into the culture.  They have many shared traits and a common language (Newari) and their religion is a complex mix of Buddhism and Hinduism (Rough Guide to Nepal).

reflections

reflections

cotton drying

cotton drying

Bhaktapur’s Newari architecture, with its terracotta-colored brick buildings and dark brown intricately carved wood doors and windows, harkens back to the medieval.  Women wash in public taps, men in traditional dress lounge in covered loggias, and peasants sell baskets of vegetables.  The Germans have instigated a long-term sanitation program and funded a long-term restoration of the town.

mustard hung out to dry

mustard hung out to dry

I wander with Batu through the town.  I’m attracted to the shops with brightly colored merchandise and the narrow alleys with their herringbone-paved streets.  In this post are some street scenes of the town.  I will show the historical parts of Bhaktapur in another post.

Click on any photos below for a full-sized slide show.