Bhaktapur is the smallest among the 75 districts of Nepal. Also known as ‘Khwopa or Bhadgaon’ in the Newari dialect, this city is rich in ancient arts and cultural heritage. Bhaktapur comprises dense collects of temples, monuments, courtyards, and traditional houses constructed during different periods of history. Ancient culture, tradition, and ritual are still conserved and they reflect in the daily activities of the local Newar community. Bhaktapur is one of the tourist destinations of Kathmandu valley. Bhaktapur used to be the center of Nepal until the 17th century. Some of the major tourist destinations and monuments have been listed as the UNESCO world heritage site in Bhaktapur. Foreign tourists have to pay an entry fee to visit this historic town. Bhaktapur offers its visitors an opportunity to closely observe the ancient architecture, arts, and culture that goes back Malla periods. The Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Changunarayan Temple, 55-window palace, Dattatraya area, and Sidda Pokhari are its major attractions. Bhaktapur is also well-known for ‘Juju Dhau’ (Royal Sweet Yoghurt), earthenware potteries, and artistic wood carvings.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Although small in terms of size, Nepal is home to a diverse group of people with their own religion, culture, and tradition. Each culture and festival holds its own significance and has a unique way of observation. It is the culture and festival of Nepal that bind the people together. Regardless of one’s faith or cultural background, major festivals of Nepal are observed and celebrated by all. They act as gestures and celebrated by all. They act as a gesture to solidify social harmony and an excuse to reunite with one’s friends and family members once every year.
Similarly, there are festivals observed by a group of people from certain cultural backgrounds. These festivals are usually associated with the principal gods and goddesses of the group. Many festivals celebrated in Nepal have popular stories attached to them. In Kathmandu, there are some festivals that were started by the rulers and still in practice.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is one of the major tourist attractions of Kathmandu valley. It served as the Capital of Nepal during the Mall kingdom until 1769 AD. The courtyards, temples, palace buildings, statues, and monuments inside the square were constructed in different eras by Newari artists. Some of the major monuments and temples inside the Bhaktapur Durbar Square are the Golden Gate., 55- Window palace Big Bell, Dog barking Bell, Siddhilaxmi Temple, Taleju Bhawani Temple, Statue of King Bhupendra Mall, National art Gallery and Vatshala Temple and etc. In the Newari dialect, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square is known as “Layaku.”
The 55-Window Palace is one of the most important works of art in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. It was built during the time of King Bhupendra Mall in the 17th century. The 3-storied palace acknowledged its name for its 55 windows with superb designs carved on them.
Taleju Bhawani was the mother goddess of Mall Kings. It is believed that Taleju Bhawani was the mother goddess of Lord Indra, the God of rain. In Treta Yug (Silver Age), demon Meghraj vanquished Indra in a battle and brought the mother goddess, Taleju Bhawani from Indralok to Lanka, the kingdom of his father Rawan. When Rawan abducted Sita (The wife of Lord Ram), Lord Ram attacked Lanka to bring back Sita. He brought back Sita along with Taleju Bhawani. The story goes that the idol of Taleju Bhawani was first brought to Bhaktapur from Simrangad during the era of king Rudra (Jaya Rudra Mall) Mall in the 14th century. At the time, Bhaktapur was the capital of Kathmandu valley. It is also believed that the idol of Taleju Bhawani was brought to Bhaktapur by the then King Yaksha Mall in the 15th Century for protection of the city from bad energy and evil spirit. After Yaksha Mall divided the kingdom among his sons, Tajelu Bhawani was also installed in all three kingdoms. It is also believed that Kumari is the incarnation of Goddess Taleju Bhawani when he arrived in Nepal upon his exile.
King Bhupatindra Mall made a great contribution to the development of Bhaktapur. Born to King Jitamitra Malla and Queen Lalmati in 1674 AD, King Bhupitandra Malla ruled the kingdom of Bhaktapur for 26 years. During his reign, the kingdom prospered in the field of Newari arts and crafts. The 55-window palace and Nyatapola Temple were built during his rule. He also made an important contribution to the renovation and restoration works of various temples and monuments. There is a statue of King Bhupatindra Malla a top of a stone pillar paying homage to the guardian figure goddess Taleju Bhawani in front of the Golden Gate. It is said that the statue was also constructed to raise public belief towards the Mother Goddess Taleju Bhawani. King Bhupatindra Mall was fond of literature, arts, and culture and he contributed largely to these fields during his reign. He died in 1722 AD.
The temple of Nyatapola is situated in the courtyard of Taumadi Square. It is the tallest and one of the most impressive temples in Nepal. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Siddhilaxmi, who is represented as the manifestation of the wealth of Hindu mythology. It was built by King Bhupatindra Malla in the 17th century. It is said that the king has personally carried bricks for the construction of this temple. The stairway leading up to the temple flanked guardian figures of animals, humans, and gods. It is believed that the elephant above the strong man standing on the front is ten times powerful than the man and it continues so on with each creature on the stairs. Only the temple priests are allowed inside. The temple is opened once every year. Nyatapola survived the earthquakes in 1943 and 2015 AD with minor damage to the ceiling of the fifth floor.
The temple of Bhairavnath is a famous ancient temple located close to the historic five-storied temple. The temple houses the idols of Bhairavnath and Betame. There is a popular legend regarding the origin of this temple that says Bhairavnath, who was attending the Lingo Festival of Bhaktapur in a disguise of a man, was spotted by the royal priest Aachaju and made the attempt to capture him on his king’s order. Bhairavnath sensed the attempt being made by the king’s men to capture him and tried to escape sinking himself on earth. Aachaju cut off Bhairavnath’s head with this Tantric sickle. The priest was later overcome by regret for his action and installed the served head of Bhairavnath in the temple. The temple of Bhairavnath was rebuilt after it was demolished in 1934 AD; every year during the festival of Bisket Jatra, the idol of Bhairavnath is paraded around the town for two days in a chariot procession. Bisket Jatra is one of the main festivals observed in Bhaktapur.
The Dattatraya temple is a three-storied pagoda styled temple constructed in the 15th century by King Yakshya Mall. The temple houses an idol of Dattatraya, a unified form of three principal Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The temple is believed to have been constructed out of a single tree. Every year, a huge number of female devotees throng this temple during the Nepalese calendar month of Shrawan (July-Aug) and Bhadra (Aug-Sept) at the festival of Teej.
The Doleshwor Mahadev temple is located at Sipadol-6, just 4 km south of Jagati of Bhaktapur. This temple is worshiped as the head of the Lord Kedarnath. According to the long-held belief, the head of the deity originated in this place while the remaining part of the body is located in Kedarnath of India. A large rock outcropping amidst green forests is worshiped as a representation of Lord Kedarnath. People can touch and worship the stone deity only three times a year during Shiva Ratri, Akshaya Tritiya, and once on the Nepalese month Bhadra to mark the day the sacred rock was declared the head of Lord Kedarnath Mahadev.
Among seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu valley, Changu Narayan Temple is one of them. It lies on the hilltop approximately 5 km north of Bhaktapur and 22 Km from Kathmandu. It lies at an altitude of 1540m from the sea level. The double roof temple is dedicated to Vishnu in his incarnation as Narayan. Believed to have been constructed during the Lichchhivi period, Changu Narayan is regarded as the oldest temple of Nepal. The popular consensus and recorded ancient inscription suggest that the temple was built before 6th-century B.S. This is best exemplified by “Bijaya Stambha” at the time of Lichchhavi King Mahadev in 521 B.S. There is a traditional Newari house on the way to the temple that has been turned into a museum where ancient artifacts have kept for display. The main temple houses an idol of Lord Vishnu in a form of Narayan. It is the shrine of one of the four Narayan in Kathmandu valley. The temple premises has one of the finest displays of stone sculpture of Lord Vishnu in a different incarnation, making it one of the best places to study Hindu iconography. Temples of Kileshwor Mahadev, Laxmi Narayan, Naba Durga, and Krishna are also on the premises.
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