The town of Bhaktapur is located only 15 km (10 miles) east of Nepal's capital - Kathmandu. Great for a day or weekend trip, it boasts the most spectacular of Katmandu's royal plazas (called durbar) - Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The square is a living museum - with numerous ancient monuments, temples and buildings at every corner. What's more, if the weather is clear, you can admire the Himalayas from the nearby village of Nagarkot situated on one of the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. You can also have a chance to experience real Nepalese hospitality by staying over with a local family in a traditional house - that's far more exciting and authentic than sleeping in yet another, boring tourist hotel.
How to get to Bhaktapur from Kathmandu
From the tourist area of Thamel in central Kathmandu, the easiest option is to hail a taxi. Especially, if you don't have time to waste. Although it's only 15km, the drive might take up to 45 minutes due to heavy traffic, especially during rush hours. The cost should be around 800 NRS (8 USD/7 EUR) which is really not that expensive at all.
Another option is to take a bus. It will be considerably cheaper (usually less than 0.50 cents!) but much more time consuming and less convenient. There are two types of buses in Nepal: tourist and local. Tourist buses are more comfortable and less crowded. However, slightly more expensive. Local buses will let you see some more of the local way of life. They are usually much older, loud and shaky but it's a cool experience to ride one!
The express buses depart from Bagbazar, around 25 minute walk from Thamel. The fare is around 30 NRS which you can consider nearly free! To find the right bus station in Kathmandu might be a challenge, but you can ask in one of the many tourists offices, alternatively, they might organize a bus transfer, a tour, a taxi, private driver or whatever you wish for.
I traveled in Nepal with a local, small company, I received the best service at a very good price, I've seen and stayed in the local, traditional places and I couldn't be more happy. I deliberately asked for bus connections and a stay in a local guest house and they organized it all for me. If you are interested in such a trip, contact me here. I am also planning to do the Mount Everest Trek next year so if you want, you can let me know and join me! The more people go, the cheaper it is!
What to see at Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur Durbar Square is the most spectacular, cleanest and best maintained plaza in Kathmandu. Wikitravel says that because it's off the actual city of Kathmandu, it's less crowded. I found the exact opposite. It was the most touristy place around the capital and, I'd say, best prepared for tourists. Unfortunately,also most expensive - to enter, all foreigners (with the exception of the citizens of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) must pay the 15 USD (1500 NRS) fee.
Having said that, Bhaktapur Durbar Square is beautiful and seems like a living museum - it was founded in the 12th century and many of the temples and monuments are centuries old. The architecture is stunning and very diverse. Dark brick buildings contrast with beautifully carved and decorated wooden and sandstone temples of different styles. To be exact, it's actually not one square, but a maze of little streets and smaller plazas where you can feel as if you were in a different world.
The main and largest square is the Bhaktapur Square where there are the most important monuments, for example: 55 Windows Palace, Golden Gate, Big Bell and Vatsala Temple (which was unfortunately destroyed by the 2015 earthquake). It's a center of important religious events, when I was there, I witnessed a huge procession of traditionally dressed Hindu followers. It was pretty impressive, I must admit.
Dattatreya Square is just besides the main, Bhaktapur Square. It's smaller, with a beautiful Dattatreya temple. Next square is Taumadhi Square. A large, 5-level Nyatapola Temple proudly stands in the center. You can climb it to get amazing views of the square and another, little smaller temple on the left - Bhairavnath Temple. Most of those temples date back to 17th-18th century.
To get to Pottery Square, you'll have to get through some narrow, winding streets, that have a more traditional touch with all the clay artifacts displayed all over. There are many restaurants and cafes but if you want to try a local one, you have to move away a little from the main squares. Try Dalhi Baht - it's a really tasty and spicy Nepalese dish, however usually vegetarian, so not the ideal option for meat lovers.
With the entry pass, all visitors get a map as well as a leaflet stating the general information about the square. In case you need more information and you want to hear about some legends and stories from a local, hire a guide, there are many of them walking around Bhaktapur Square.
I also visited the two other important Durbar Squares in Kathamndu: Kathmandu (Basantapur) Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square. In my opinion, they are more rough and less touristy than Bhaktapur. They were also badly affected by the 2015 earthquake (especially Basantapur). I will soon post an article about Kathmandu with the detailed description of the two Durbar Squares and other sites worth visiting in Nepal's capital.
How to get to Nagarkot
The best way to get to the village of Nagarkot from Kathmandu is to go through Bhaktapur, as you can visit both places. There are many buses between the two towns - for around 30 NRS (0.20 cents), you can also hire a taxi, driver or a tour. It's also possible to go there directly from Kathmandu, skipping Bhaktapur. You will find all the information in the tourist offices as the bus companies often change timetables. A taxi from Kathmandu should cost around 15 USD/13 EUR (1500 NRS), from Bhaktapur 8 USD/7 EUR (800 NRS).
I got a local bus to Nagarkot and it was an adventure! The road is very steep and the ride is bumpy, a few foreigners were complaining that it was "the worst ride i their life". Then I thought - "you didn't travel enough!" I honestly don't understand people like that. If you expect luxury, go to private resorts in Maldives and not the countryside in Nepal! I really enjoyed the ride!
Nagarkot - the hills, the Himalaya views and the stay at a local home
On the way to Nagarkot, a local boy from the family we were supposed to stay with overnight joined us. We got to the top of the hill (nearly 2000 meters/6500 ft. above sea level). The center of the village on the top of the mountain has a few shops and hotels. However it's not impressive at all. It doesn't resemble those beautiful, traditional villages of Annapurna Trails (which I described here). I would avoid staying in one of those hotels. Stay with a local family!
It was quite sunny but much colder than down in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. However, we were really unlucky because exactly where the mountains were meant to be were only clouds. Not even a single peak visible. Because we'd experienced very capricious weather in Pokhara and during the Poon Hill trek, I was quite prepared for it. Nevertheless, kind of disappointed, we took the bus back towards Bhaktapur to the family's home.
We received such a warm welcome from the family members that all the sadness caused by the weather disappeared in an instance. It was exactly the way I had wanted it to be. A simple, traditional house and zero pretentiousness. After an amazing meal, the kids took us by the hand and walked us around the village. So much nicer than in the center on top of the hill! We met all the uncles and aunts as well as their families and even farm animals. I was really astounded by how different the children were there than in the western world. Just like in good old times. They didn't play on their iPhones, they didn't try to show off who had the best clothes or most expensive toy. Instead, they took out a chessboard and started playing with us! It's just like the best childhood memories came back once again!
After a quiet, idyllic night surrounded by beautiful, green hills of Kathmandu Valley, we decided to try to go to the top of the hill once more to check if we can see the Himalayas. The weather wasn't great but at least we saw something! The peaks of the highest mountain range in the world were partially covered by the clouds, but the view was spectacular anyway. It was the last day in Nepal and I was a bit saddened. I thought it was the last time I had a chance to see the Himalayas but on the way back, I could admire them one more time from the airplane window! What a nice surprise!
It makes me feel completely helpless when I think how unfair it is that such a tragedy as the 2015 earthquake struck such good hearted, warm and amazing people. You'd think it couldn't get worse - but it does - it happened not in Wall Street where the billionaires have their headquarters but in one of the poorest countries in the world! It all makes you realize how fragile our life is. Get the most of it! And if you can help in any way - do!
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