Bhaktapur is an ancient Newar Kingdom from the 12th century, located 8 miles from downtown Kathmandu. Bhaktapur was the largest and most powerful of the three main Newar Kingdoms, the other two being Kathmandu and Patan. Today, the city of Bhaktapur is known and visited for its well-preserved ancient architecture including courtyards and UNESCO world heritage sites; many of which withstood the devastation of the 2015 earthquake. Bhaktapur also has fewer crowds, and less traffic/pollution, making it a perfect day trip from Kathmandu.
A Brief History of Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur was part of an old trade route that connected India to Tibet, which aided in building the kingdom’s importance and wealth. Many of the city’s iconic architecture and designs were from the 15th century under King Yaksha Malla, and many of its temples blossomed in the 18th century under the rule of King Bhupatindra Malla. According to Lonely Planet, “at its peak, the city boasted 172 temples and monasteries, 77 water tanks, 172 pilgrim shelters and 152 wells.”
Top Best Things to Do in Bhaktapur
Taste Ancient Wo/Bara Newa Cuisine at the “No-Name” Restaurant
There is a tiny restaurant without a name, located between an alleyway and a hidden courtyard which serves a popular local dish: wo / bara — a lentil crepe. It can be ordered plain or with an egg or buffalo meat. On the side, you’ll get some delicious sour soup and roasted potatoes. The real magic here is the local experience, trying a dish that’s been made for hundreds of years, and watching it all up close as it’s made to order right in front of you.
Look for a sign that reads “Nepal bara wo available here.”
Take a Pottery/Ceramics Class
In Pottery Square, you can drop in on artists crafting their ceramic works and inquire about a lesson. You can sit down and learn to mold and craft cups and bowls, and then paint and design them. You can sign up for a day course or even take a long term class for a few days or weeks.
Bhaktapur is a wonderful town to go shopping for crafts, books, antiques, paintings, souvenirs, local goods and so much more. You’ll pass stores and street stands selling all types of interesting and unique things to buy and/or peruse through. Lovers of shopping for artisan crafts should consider Bhaktapur travel for this alone!
Try the Famous Yogurt/Kurd
One of Bhaktapur’s culinary speciality is juju dhau a yogurt made from buffalo milk! It is naturally sweet so sugar usually isn’t added; but is flavored with cloves, cardamon, and/or coconut. It is served in a traditional (and eco-friendly) clay bowl. As you wander through Bhaktapur streets look out for the stands that sell this Nepalese delicacy!
The Best Places to Visit in Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur Durbar Square (Main Square)
Without a doubt, this is the most important place to visit in Bhaktapur. Allocate enough time to take in the history and the beautiful details around this historic square. Here are just a few of the important sights of Bhaktapur’s main central square:
– 55 Window Palace: elaborate carvings which houses the National Art Gallery
– Ancient Lions Gate
– The Big Bell
– Golden Gate at the entrance to the Taleju Temple Complex
– Pashupati Temple – rings two times a day for the Goddess Taleju
– Barking Bell
– Yaksheswor Mahadev Temple: decorated erotic wooden carvings
– Chyasin Mandap
– Siddhi Laxmi Temple
– Phase Dega Temple
Taumadhi is the second more popular square to visit in Bhaktapur! It is closely located besides Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Pottery Square making it an easy stop. Taumadhi Square is home to Nyatapola Temple— the tallest pagoda temple (5 stories) in Nepal dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi. It is also home to the Bhairavnath Temple which houses sculpture of Bhairav, which is considered a manifestation of Shiva.
Dattatreya Square is Bhaktapur’s 3rd most popular square, renown for its many Hindu monasteries, temples, and museums. The most famous being the Dattatreya Temple from 1428, allegedly built from the timber of one tree.
Bhaktapur is famous for pottery making: the art of shaping the clay into art or basic household tools such as cups, bowls, and piggy banks. As noted above, you can sign up for a pottery class to more deeply learn about this local traditional lifestyle in Bhaktapur. However, if you don’t have time, you can at least stop by Pottery Square to check out the craft of pottery making and meet the hardworking artists.
Stepping into Pottery Square is like walking into an open-air artist’s studio. You’ll come across rugs full of drying pots, you can see ovens burning, the molding of the clay, and artists crafting their pottery.
Day Trip to Bhaktapur Tours
Consider a day trip to Bhaktapur, where you can wander down its narrow alleys and stroll through its ancient cobble-stoned streets dotted with cute stores and restaurants for hours. I did a day tour with the ethically conscious and sustainable travel company: Royal Mountain Travel. For just $35 they included a full-day tour with a local female guide and driver who took us around and gave us tons of amazing local insights. This day trip also included a visit to Panauti. Travelers who want to extend their time may consider a homestay in Panauti.
Costs to Enter Bhaktapur
Tourists traveling to Bhaktapur must pay an entry fee of approximately $15 USD (or 1500 rupees) to enter the town. This money helps maintain, repair and preserve Bhaktapur. If you’re staying in Bhaktapur longer, bring your passport to have your ticket stay extended.