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A Visit to the Ancient City of Bhaktapur, Nepal

We left Nagarkot after breakfast and arrived in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, the “cultural city” of Nepal, just a half-hour later by taxi.

 

About Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is about 20 kilometers from Kathmandu but seems a world away. The air is cleaner and the traffic in the cultural district is restricted, allowing the time to stop and look in a far more relaxed way than in Kathmandu. Being able to breathe is more than an added bonus.

 

Glass beads for sale in Bhaktapur, Nepal

Glass beads for sale in Bhaktapur, Nepal

 

Construction of the city began in the 1200’s as a kingdom and it remained a kingdom for hundreds of years.

 

We enjoyed strolling through Durbar Square with it’s many restored temples from different centuries dedicated to different gods and goddesses, each with their own unique character.  The King’s palace was also a highlight with it’s intricately carved wooden windows and elaborate golden gate.  Apparently, after artisans completed the gate in the 1500’s the king cut off their hands to ensure that no other equally splendid gate would ever be made. And I thought I had bad bosses.

 

I particularly enjoyed walking the back streets where small crops of cauliflower and corn grow, where old women take slow strolls, where babies with black-lined eyes peer from their mother’s arms, where pottery is thrown and fired, and shrines are found in the most unlikely places.

 

The Wooden Chariots of the Bisket Jatra Festival

We happened upon a gigantic wooden chariot in the square, it’s top level being heaved into place by five men on a bending ladder and boys pulling ropes and grunting in unison. Like every moment in Nepal, it seemed we might be about to witness a disaster but fortunately the final tier was secured into place and nobody died.  At that moment.

 

Bhaktapur, Nepal

Festival chariot

 

Krishna assured me that “yes, people die” being crushed by the wheels of the chariot during the Bisket Jatra Festival which was to begin in a week.

 

The Bisket Jatra Festival honors and celebrates the two most important deities of Bhaktapur and the Nepalese New Year (2071 just began). Two chariots are pulled through the streets by hundreds of men. Seeing these chariots in action in the video below makes it clear that what we witnessed was literally child’s play as far as danger goes. Astounding.

 

 

Not All is Beautiful in Bhaktapur

Despite the beauty of the city, I was dismayed to see the desperation for water. We watched as women waited by a fountain that used to run constantly. With buckets at the ready, they said they had been waiting for three days for the water to come. And suddenly, while we stood there, it came.  The women rushed to catch the precious liquid which flowed from the ancient fountain in fits and spurts.

 

Finally, the water arrives in Bhaktapur, Nepal

Finally, the water arrives in Bhaktapur, Nepal

 

We saw people crowded around a manhole, its cover removed. One by one, they lowered their buckets to the sewer to get water.

 

As in Kathmandu, the groundwater is tapped-out due to the rapid expansion of the city, and water suppliers struggle to deliver with constant electricity interruptions and ancient leaking pipes.  It’s a sad state.  A real crisis.

 

Stray dogs are everywhere and many are in terrible shape.  Two emaciated puppies with horrible mange curl up together in the middle of Durbar Square.  I comment to Kaji that it’s sad and he responds by telling me “it’s their karma”.  Dogs are considered to be in the cycle of life and reincarnation.  To Kaji at least, karma explains suffering and intervention is not needed and maybe not even helpful to the soul that needs to learn.  Compassion towards all living things is also a tenant of Buddhism, so as usual, I am mystified and cannot reconcile what’s going on here.  For an animal lover, it’s hard to observe.

 

Final Thoughts about Nepal

Visiting Nepal was a dream of mine for many, many years and I’m glad I went. The country shocked me in many ways. And not comfortably. I’d always imagined that Nepal would be very peaceful and pristine.  Perhaps I spent too much time in Kathmandu, but what I found was the complete opposite; chaos and pollution.  In one month, I got a taste.  And it was certainly more bitter than sweet.

 

 

I admit that I’m extremely sensitive when it comes to the “energies” of a place and can easily be exhausted by visions of poverty which are obviously everywhere in third-world countries like Nepal.  I was profoundly disoriented and overwhelmed from Day One and that feeling did not lessen or relax by Day Thirty.

 

I have observed that other travelers do not seem to get as “zapped” by this stuff as I do.  Is this why so many people love Nepal but I didn’t?  I have no idea.  As for my distaste, I certainly feel like I’m in the minority. But I don’t think anyone can deny that it’s a confronting and challenging place for a Westerner.  If it doesn’t significantly alter your perspective, I’d say you didn’t go to Nepal.

 

While I am deeply thankful for the experience, I can truthfully say that once was enough for me.

 

Have you been to Nepal?  What was your experience?

 

Photos of Bhaktapur, Nepal:

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