August 07, 2013. Wednesday. Our second day in Nepal. Despite half lethargic, I fought a good battle with the alarm in my phone that morning. I had to hear it snooze thrice before my senses finally came into full conscious state. It’s 7AM on the phone but a quick glance on my wristwatch on the desk showed it’s 9:15AM already. The discrepancy was obviously due to the fact that the time in Malaysia, where my family and I are currently based, is 2 hours and 15 minutes ahead of Nepal. I took the effort of interrupting my family’s restful sleep. Not long after, Tina, Gabby and I rose from the king-sized-bed of our cheap but spacious suite and made ourselves ready for a day’s visit to the City of Devotees or what the Newars called, Khwopa or Bahdgaon. We planned a Do-It-Yourself-day trip to Bhaktapur!
We could’ve taken a minibus from our accomodation in Kathmandu to Bhaktapur at around 20 rupees per pax for 40-minute-ride but we prioritized speed and convenience this time. Not that we’re in a hurry to get to our destination but we wanted a more comfortable trip. With dusty and bumpy road, inside a minute taxi cab without airconditioning unit, I never meant luxurious but just comfortable than taking a minibus.
A few meters outside Thorong Peak Guest House, Suzuki hatchbak taxi cabs were parked at the narrow and busy alley of Thamel. Drivers were actively waiting for passengers like eagles in hunt for prey. I walked towards one of them and asked him how much rate would he charge for him to take us to Bhaktapur. “One Thousand Rupees.” the driver replied in a blink. I never tried to haggle as the cost was exactly half than I expected and it’s quite a steal for a 12-kilometer-ride from Kathmandu. I looked at Tina and Gabby and we all hopped in. Bhaktapur, here we come! 🙂
Thickly populated streets of Thamel, the touristy area in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After almost an hour bumpy taxi ride along those muddy and narrow brick alleys and dusty public roads, with all windows up and no airconditioning, we safely arrived in Bhaktapur; just in front of the ticket booth to Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Similar to Kathmandu Durbar Square, there was a volume of local touts waiting at the gates, who offered us a guided tour inside for US $5 per hour, complete with flawless English annotation. With mutual courtesy, we declined, smiled and walked our way the entrance of the plaza.
One of the many things my family and I admire about Bhaktapur was it’s a less crowded place. We saw less tourists compared to the volume who flocked to Kathmandu Durbar Square the day before. Perhaps because of its distance from Kathmandu. Or probably because it’s still monsoon season in South Asia until mid-September and by October onwards, the many tourists who long to experience Nepal will begin to flock like migratory birds.
Good morning, Bhaktapur! It’s our pleasure to be here!
It was already half hour past 9 in the morning and notably, tourists were out of sight yet. Good! We owned Bhaktapur Durbar Square for a moment! We started taking touristy shots.
Behind those all-choreographed-photos were more natural and candid moments…
Of course, those captions were just for laughs! 🙂 For the record, Gabby’s not grumpy the whole time in Nepal, and those facial reactions were unintentional and were just caught on cam by her mom while she’s taking test-shots.
Going back to Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the plaza gradually became alive before our eyes!
Then we found love in Bhaktapur.
Bhaktapur is utterly picturesque! Everything built during the Malla Kingdom around 16th and 17th centuries and beyond, with their ancient Newari architectures that combined intricate woodcarvings in the pillars and windows of temples and palace to the various exquisite stone and metal sculptures of deities and guardians in a plaza so historic that anyone could imagine, looks nothing short of magnificent! Bhaktapur is a spectacular visual feast!
Indubitably, my amateurish photos don’t do it justice.
While we were in awe at the beauty and serenity of our surrounding, I kept telling my family that we’re neither lucky nor fortunate but very blessed to be given an opportunity to experience what seemingly like another world’s grandeur. At that point, my silent wish and prayers went out to heaven for more people to be inspired to travel and travel with their love ones and create a journey of their own. Experiences are always priceless!
Of course, we didn’t let the opportunity pass us by. So with our love for each other and our love for photographing each other (uhmm, doesn’t that sound like narcissim? Not! …But a celebration of this trip to Nepal and posing for posterity!), we took a ton of photos at Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Fine! Only a few, in our standards at least, as our stomachs were already growling for a much-needed breakfast.
We savored breakfast within the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, just in front of a Hindu temple with Kama Sutra carvings. Yes, you read it right. The insanely artistic carvings in wooden struts, supporting the temple’s roofs and ceilings, of mostly missionary positions and menage a trois of humans and yes, with animals, were stratigically installed for protection against the virgin God of Thunder. Need I say more?
Breakfast was at Shiva’s Cafe Corner (Authentic Kitchen). We wanted to taste more authentic Nepalese dishes so we ordered their breakfast specialties – Dragon’s meat and dinosaur’s eggs. Of course, the last part was a big joke! We had these plates of continental breakfast plus hot coffee with milk and chocolate for Gabby. Everyning’s fine except for the bacon strips. It has a little taste that our tastebuds disagreed. It must be buffalo’s; we regret that we didn’t ask.
After breakfast, we met an old Newar woman who barely speaks English. Her being handicapped to communicate verbally with us was nothing compared to her Swan Neck Deformity and Ulnar Deviation on her hands. In simple English, she’s suffering from the signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis. She tried to communicate softly in Nepalese but we’re mutually lost in translation. What Tina and I understood was her gestures when she showed her hand deformities. Ugh, the downside of aging!
On a lighter note, youngsters were spending their break time from a nearby Secondary School within the square and we came across a few of them. Tina asked their names and tried to jot it down on her smartphone. She never expected that these teenagers would be delighted.
Meet Kareeshma, the 14-year-old local resident of Bhaktapur who posseses one of the most gorgeous faces in Nepal that we’ve seen (Read: Ordinary Nepalese men and women, from being security guards at the airport to souvenir shop vendor in the streets can give any good looking celebrity a run for their money). We’re not sure if Kareeshma’s aware of her potentials to become a movie star or at least, an amazing model in prints and whatnot. Honestly, she never asked a cent from Tina and me after we took multiple photos of her. She was content by mere looking at her pictures.
After our brief interaction with Kareeshma, Gabby became successful in asking me and his mom to take his jump shots at one of our favorites spots in Bhaktapur, a countless times. He reached a point of almost exhaustion in joy, so he finally stopped and he requested if we could go inside the Art Museum. We did and paid a very minimal admission and camera fees, but frankly I didn’t enjoy it. Not because the century-old pieces of stones with Newari inscriptions, Thangka paintings and Hindu god images aren’t interesting but in my own opinion, everything outside that building is literally an open museum to behold!
Then we strolled our way to Nyatapola Temple. We passed by stunning terracotta road and alleys lined by souvenir shops that were equally enticing.
We never walk this beautiful alley everyday. Never.
Erected in 1702 during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla, the 5-tiered tallest temple in Kathmandu Valley, Nytapola Temple still stands with all its might at 30 meters above Taumadhi Tole. From Rajput wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu, elephants, lions, beaked griffons with horns of a ram and two goddesses, the stairway to reach the Nyatapola Temple is lined by these guardians in stone figures. Within the Taumadhi Tole are souvenir shops that sell exotic items from Hinduism and Buddhism that best complement the temple. This area in Bhaktapur is something that will linger in our memories forever.
The drizzle came too perfect for us to seek refuge at Cafe Nyatapola in time for lunch. We had Mixed Chow Mein, Macaroni and Cheese for Gabby and Clubhouse Sandwich that had buffalo instead of chicken. This time, it’s for real that we had buffalo on sandwich. I prefer it rather than chicken because there’s outbreak of bird flu virus in Kathmandu during our visit. For dessert, we had the famous yoghurt of Bhaktapur. Creamy, tangy and cheesy. Delicious! Huge servings and affordable too!
We finished our lunch and the raindrops were gone. Time to go out of Cafe Nyatapola and head straight to Potter’s Square.
One of the most fascinating areas in Bhaktapur is the Potter’s Square. In all modesty, it exposes tourists and visitors to the ceramic industry that serves as a means of living. It was an eye-opener not only for Gabby but for Tina and myself to see and experienced a slice of lifestyle of some people in Bhaktapur.
Unknowingly, we already passed by the so called, Potter’s Square. Because of the recent drizzle, the small plaza was emptied of pots that were supposed to be drying under the heat of the sun; we missed the square and continued our walk to a few meters more. After asking local people for directions, the next thing I knew was my hands were filled with mud, trying my best to come up with a small masterpiece.
Gabby followed and tried making his own pot. Apparently, the mechanical potter’s wheel was too big and too low for Gabby, so he had his efforts. Nonetheless, it was so nice to see him smile and happy with what he did.
I wrote down the names of the two Nepalese potters we met but I regret I lost the paper somewhere.
We paid the first friendly potter at total small amount of 250 Nepalese Rupees (US $ 2.54) for allowing me and Gabby to experience their work. It was the price he humbly asked. Too cheap I know; not even enough to buy a decent 3 meals at least. I wish I could’ve given him more.
Then we were invited by the second potter at the next shop. He offrered FREE trial of his electrical potter’s machine. He and Gabby made cute little pieces together easily. While Tina and I were gladly documenting the scenes.
Then, it was time for the trainee to become the champion. 🙂
The second potter informed me that it takes 3 days minimum to dry a piece, because after making it for few minutes, it must be dried for at least 24 hours and then set in inside a huge brick oven for 3 days or more. Then and only then, they can earn money.
We bought two pieces from the second potter’s shop and brought them home as souvenirs.
We left Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur and walked our way to but a few more souvenirs en route to the gate where we took the taxi cab back to Thamel in Kathmandu.
Bhaktapur’s beauty goes beyond its woodworks and woodcarvings, stone sculptures and temples; more than being considered Nepal’s cultural gem. Bhaktapur is incredibly beautiful because of the strength and resilience of its people. Obviously, their strength doesn’t come in force but from their bravery and willingness to live. The local people of Bhaktapur consciously continue to preserve their heritage and lifestyle with almost no modern technology and mostly dependent on their skills, creativity, culture and craftmanship. Their devotion and dedication to their gods, their arts, their tradition make them one of the most beautiful and wealthiest people! They’re beautiful and strong because they’re able to thrive and smile their happiest despite and inspite of.
After bidding goodbye to the potters we’ve met, I asked Gabby of what he learned. Our very own wonder boy replied that he noticed they’re doing a difficult job simply to earn money. I thought living in Bhaktapur is for the brave and the willing.
It was only our second day in Nepal. It’s still surreal. Everything’s beautiful.
I cannot express how happy I am that I experienced Bhaktapur with Tina and Gabby.
To be continued.
*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.
This Nepal Blog Series includes :
- Our Unforgettable Journey From Malaysia to Nepal
- Incredibly Beautiful Bhaktapur
- Patan : The City of Fine Arts in Nepal
- Beneath Buddha’s Watchful Eyes : Boudhanath Stupa & Swayambhunath Stupa
- Nagarkot : Sleeping in Nepal’s 7000 feet
- Our Last Moments in Nepal : From Nagarkot to Kuala Lumpur International Airport