Originally to service the old trade route between Tibet and India, the city was formed in the 12 th century around Tachupal Tol, the oldest part of the city. Between the 14 th and 16 th centuries, Bhaktapur was at its heyday, more powerful than any of the other Valley kingdoms. Once the capital of the Valley, Bhaktapur is the most unchanged of the three cities of Kathmandu and Patan. Retaining something of its medieval atmosphere, Bhaktapur embodies the essence of the Newari city. Although the city suffered damage from the 1934 earthquake, most of the buildings have been restored and it is another of the five important World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley; a real ‘must see’ place.
Despite frequent rebuilding as the result of earthquakes, the city’s architecture and organization remain an excellent example of town planning. Neighborhoods, roughly organized by caste, are centered on a main square with a public water source, temples and a Ganesh shrine. In the 12 th century, the King of Banepa moved his capital here and ruled a unified Valley for the next three centuries. It was the last of the cities to fall to Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1768, since then its importance diminished considerably.
Made up of three large squares, each are filled with temples showing some of the finest architecture in Nepal. Surrounded by countryside, local people here are predominantly farmers, if not engaged in the traditional crafts of pottery, metalwork, art and woodwork.
Durbar Square Much of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and it appears much emptier than the Durbar Squares in Kathmandu or Patan. Amongst its many attractions are substitute shrines for the four great Indian pilgrimage sites and the Golden Gate. This is the most famous piece of art in all Nepal, an exquisite monument of gilded metalwork constructed in 1753. The northern side of the square is taken up with the palace that was founded in the 15 th century by Yaksha Malla. The National Art Gallery occupies the part of the palace that is open to visitors.
Potter’s Square This is the neighborhood of the potter caste, where hundreds of clay vessels are set to dry in the sun before being fired in makeshift kilns. Families work in the open producing tiny oil lamps, teacups, bowls, vases and water jugs. This huge square is full of potters’ wheels and is the center of Bhaktapur’s pottery industry. At the back of the square are the straw-fired kilns used to fire the pots.
Taumadhi Tol Beyond the Potters’ Square, t his square is important to the local people and more intimately tied to daily life and festivals than Durbar Square. It is dominated by the five-roofed, 30-meter high Nyatapola Temple, the tallest in Nepal.
Main Bazaar This brick paved street and its offshoot alleys reveal the heart of Bhaktapur, as life spills into the street – women wash their laundry, children play, old men squat in doorways for a chat and shopkeepers sell all the necessities of daily life.
Tachapal Tol This is the original town center, dating from the 8 th century. Many of the pilgrim rest houses and those that sheltered ascetics have become private dwellings, whilst others remain as fully-fledged temples. The famous ‘Peacock Window’ is down an alley off the square.
Around the edge of the town can be found the old ponds or tanks that were built to store water for drinking, washing and religious ceremonies. These still form a social focal point.