December 10, 2014 – December 13, 2014
After Bandipur we took a bus back to Kathmandu to work out our entry visa for India. Since the process involves waiting a week, we decided to visit the old capital city of Bhaktapur nearby in the Kathmandu valley. The city is filled with ornately constructed Newari traditional buildings, temples, shrines and palaces. The Newars are a hill people with much influence in the Kathmandu Valley.
Just a short 45 minute bus ride from downtown Kathmandu will take you to Bhaktapur, which from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley, also known as Nepal. In 1482 one king divided power among his three sons, and thereafter Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan (also in the Kathmandu Valley) fought and tried to outdo each other with elaborate buildings. The heart of the city is a maze of tiny pedestrian streets, wandering haphazardly around dozens of old intricately carved wooden and stone buildings. The narrow streets keep the traffic down a bit but not entirely as motorcycles still rampage through the streets with hardly a glance for pedestrians, but there are still far fewer vehicles whizzing by than in downtown Kathmandu. The quieter, and safer pace makes walking the streets to check out the buildings and shops a more pleasant undertaking. The old downtown part of the city (which is the primary part worth visiting) can be very touristy, westerners are a common sight wandering the streets snapping pics and drinking coffee at the modern coffee shops and cafes which can be found around the city. They have implemented a $1500 Nepalese Rupee charge for foreigners to enter the city, around US $15.00, if you are staying for multiple days be sure to have them right the date range on your ticket, and keep it on you when walking through town. You only have to pay once, but they will check occasionally.
Bhaktapur is centered roughly around Durbar Square, (cover photo) the central courtyard or plaza which is completely closed off to all but foot traffic and filled with the largest temples and shrines. There are plenty of guest houses and hotels around Durbar Square, we stayed at the Mountain Guest House, the nicest we could find in our budget price range, and it also happens to be one of the closest to the central square (about a 30 second walk away).
Nagarkot and a view of the Himalayas
If the weather is nice and the air is clear, which can be a rarity in the smoggy Kathmandu Valley, consider a bus ride to the nearby hilltop town of Nagarkot. One and half hours north by bus, this small town offers the best view of the Himalayas from anywhere near Kathmandu. You can even hike to a higher hill where it’s possible, though not likely with the pollution, to see Mt. Everest. Even though the day we went was one of the clearest we had we decided it was still too hazy to make the hike, but the rest of the range west of Mt. Everest was nicely visible.
Another treat to be sure not to miss is King Curd, a very popular and tasty local treat that is very much a Bhaktapur specialty. It is a thick yogurt served in traditional clay pots, made by boiling buffalo milk, with cloves, cardamom, coconut and cashew nut, no sugar added. The mixture is allowed to cool slowly and curdle into a thick, slightly yellow yogurt. There are dozens and dozens of shops selling it and we found that the price went down and the quality went up the farther we walked from the tourist covered Durbar Square. Prices can be as high as US $2.50 for a bowl of fake imitation yogurt at the touristy restaurants on the square, to as low as US $0.35 cents for a bowl of the real stuff a few blocks away. A good tip is to look for small shops which advertise the stuff in Nepalese and not just in English. The shops selling the fake overpriced stuff won’t be targeting locals with their signs, locals know the real stuff. King curd was so good we went from shop to shop trying a bowl at each, noticing the price drop and taste get better and better as we walked away from the central touristy part of town.
Changu Narayan Temple
For another day trip we walked to the nearby Changu Narayan Temple, just north of Bhaktapur. Our guide book said it would be a pleasant walk through small local villages, we didn’t find it to be that exactly. The road to Changu Narayan is more of a sample of the great poverty and pollution that is plaguing much of Nepal. Horrible smells, smoke and trash are everywhere giving testament to Nepal’s growing trash problem.
While it did show us how many of the locals live it is not particularly pleasant or good for your lungs, we would suggest taking the very cheap and short bus ride instead.
Once at Changu Narayan you can visit the temple there and the small shops which are very similar to those found in downtown Bhaktapur.
Bhaktapur was definitely the highlight of our time spent in the Kathmandu Valley. It was a much nicer and cleaner place to spend our time waiting for our Indian Visas, than Kathmandu.