The return visit to Bhaktapur continues! While Durbar Square is undoubtedly the one site that all visitors will see, there is more! Just around the corner from the square is Taumadhi, the real heart of the town and the place where locals meet and hang out. And not far away is Potters’ Square – that is, a newer version which no longer includes pottery manufacture thanks to twenty years plus of cheap imported Chinese plastic bowls!
The key mandirs on Taumadhi Square dominate the view below – Nyatapola on the left and Bhairab on the right. The two-storey building in the foreground is a recent construction; it houses a restaurant. I took advantage of a second-floor table to get some shots from a different perspective as I had lunch, though the shot below was taken from the fourth floor Garuda Bar on the southwest corner of the square.
The 30-meter high and five-storey Nyatapola Mandir was built around the year 1700 C.E. (i.e., 300 years ago) and has remained standing through the various earthquakes which have rattled the Kathmandu valley.
Across from Nyatapola Mandir is the Bhairab Mandir, a three-storey temple with a shrine at the front that always seems to have devotees. A smaller temple on the side collapsed during the earthquake. On the other side of the square, a commercial block also suffered significant damage but is still standing.
At the northeast corner of the square sit the wheels of the cart used during the annual Bisket Festival to carry the box containing the head of Bhairab! See the internet-sourced image below for a look at the cart in action!
I saw the red-draped matrons in the image above in front of the Bhairab Mandir shrine. Then I looked across the square to a group of young women in their late teens. Given that 40% of Nepalis are under 25, I wondered where traditional Nepali culture was headed as it collides with a more enticing set of images and narrative.
From the top of the Nyatapola Mandir, I got a backside view of the lions, elephants, and the wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu at the bottom of the steps – missing are the two griffins and the two goddesses Singhini and Byaghrini which are behind me.
A short walk down the narrow street in the image below – past the restaurants and the guesthouses – and I am in Potters’ Square. it looks very different in 2018 than it did on my first visit in 1996. Gone are the finished clay pots that covered a part of the square; gone are the pottery makers. The local industry is on its last legs thanks to cheaper modern alternatives – i.e., plastic ware from China.
The square looked like a construction zone in May of 2018 with piles of gravel and bricks here and there.
Tachapal Tol (Dattatreya Square)
At the end of my visit – I had just completed a three-week trek from Upper Mustang down the Phu Valley – instead of spending my last two days in Kathmandu, I stayed in Bhaktapur. It was a good choice; I got the quiet of the town instead of the traffic and pollution of the capital. The place I stayed at was the Peacock Guesthouse on Tachapal Tol, an area of the town I had not visited before.
Tachapal predates the other squares in the city and goes back to the 1300s; the building with the Peacock Guesthouse in it is of the same age – an example of classical Newari construction.
At the top of the square is the main attraction – the Dattatreya Mandir. Dattatreya built in the 1420s when Bhaktapur was still the capital of a kingdom ruled by Yaksha Malla, who controlled the entire valley.
In front of it is a pillar with a winged Garuda figure on top. The Garuda faces the two human figures – the very same wrestlers I saw at the Nyatapola in Taumadhi Tol.
At the opposite end of the square from the Dattatreya Mandir is a two-storey temple which I somehow managed not to get a shot of! A block of buildings from the 1300s and 1400s included my Peacock Guesthouse, as well as the restaurants whose signs you can see in the image below.
I really enjoyed my two nights and a full day in Bhaktapur. Being able to walk around the town at dusk after all the day visitors had left was a special treat, as was going for an early morning stroll as the various squares were just coming to life for the day.
The town suffered significant damage in 2015 and with my focus on the public buildings – the temples and royal palace – in the old town area, I only got a partial picture of the full extent of that damage. Hopefully, the townspeople have been able to access the funds received from international sources to aid in their own residential reconstruction projects.