Of the three Durbar squares in the Kathmandu valley, Bhaktapur seems to have suffered the most from the Earthquake in terms of impact on tourism – the day I visited I was one of only a handful of tourists there. The fuel crisis hasn’t helped – it cost me 4000 rupees or about $40 to get there, so I made the most of the taxi ride to also see Pashupatinath temple and the Boudhanath stupa too as they are on the same side of Kathmandu.
Bhaktapur is a small town with an amazing history and worth a 30 minute taxi ride at any price to be able to escape the pollution of Kathmandu. It’s peaceful and beautiful despite damage from the earthquake and I think that is why it is my favourite place of those I visited.
I knew in advance that the town was expensive for tourists to enter but it was worth it to wander the 4 squares. The cost to enter at 1500 rupees is quite expensive but the area has been a world heritage site since 1979 and so the cost is comparable to visiting other world heritage sites and the money goes to the upkeep and restoration of buildings. Which after the earthquake it felt like the right thing to do my bit.
I don’t know if it was the peace and quiet but it is a very pretty town despite damaged to buildings from the earthquake. The biggest impact on the town is clearly the fuel crisis as I spotted only one other tourist while I was there. There are 4 squares in Bhaktapur so make sure you visit them all.
Pottery square in particular is small but interesting and worth a visit to see local Newari pottery being made.
On the way back into Kathmandu I stopped at Pashupatinath temple the main Hindu site for cremations in Nepal. I was glad to hire a guide here to explain the site and the rituals taking place. It seemed intrusive and rude to visit a holy crematoria as a tourist and gawp at people who are amidst their grief, watching them ritually wash their dead and cremate them. But at a distance on the other side of the river it’s possible to be there and not be too intrusive – in the hour I was there I saw 6 bodies lovingly washed and wrapped and 4 pyres lit.
Not being Hindu myself I couldn’t go into the main temple but the whole site is so big it didn’t seem to matter. This did spark an interesting conversation with my guide about religion as he assumed I was Christian as I’m a white European and was surprised for me to say I’m in fact Buddhist. So as he was Hindu we had a long debate about karma, death and rebirth. As a Buddhist I didn’t find Pashupatinath a sad place, perhaps because people are celebrating the lives of the dead and perhaps because I don’t belief in death being the end.
From there I headed to Boudhanath stupa. I knew in advance that it had been badly damaged in the earthquake and was being restored. While the top of the stupa is gone there has been a lot of worth to clear rubble and begin rebuilding work. Its a shame it has suffered so much damage being the largest Stupa in the world, and on the world heritage list since 1979. Despite the damage it is a very important site to Buddhists, said to house the remain of the third incarnation of Buddha, so it was still busy with pilgrims circling the stupa and praying.
Whilst there I also visited Shechen temple which was very badly damaged and currently having its foundations reinforced.
Around the stupa are many of the Tibetan Thangka painting shops and having had a tour of a painting school where students were creating mandalas and other images, it’s easy to see why they are so expensive.
The temple in the centre of the stupa circle was certainly worth a visit as despite being busy with tourists it was the first place I managed to find a sense of peace in the bustling city, meditating long enough to still my mind and feel calm.