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

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Coca-Cola doors

Coca-Cola doors

brightly colored goods for sale

brightly colored goods for sale

vegetables, anyone?

vegetables, anyone?

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bright red shoes

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colorful masks

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wood carvings

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more wood carving products!

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vegetables for sale!

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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.

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