Follow the Red Brick Roads – in Bhaktapur!
By Dave Fox
The first thing you notice in Bhaktapur is the bricks. The buildings are made of bricks. The temples are built from bricks. All the roads are paved with bricks. The town glows in an off-red hue that envelops you and feels otherworldly.
We arrived in Bhaktapur in the early afternoon on a one-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. Within minutes, we knew we had made a mistake. While the town was recommended as an easy day-trip, we wished we were staying overnight.
We climbed a small hill, thwarting persistent sales pitches from freelance tour guides. We paid our 1,500 rupee (US $15) entrance fee to the city center – a price that seemed steep until we realized the funds are used for restorations and maintenance. We began our wander at Durbar Square, a busy gathering spot that hosts a royal palace and the “Palace of 55 Windows,” a building adorned with intricately carved wooden frames.
From there, we continued to Taumadhi Tol, a smaller square whose centerpiece is Nyatapola, Nepal’s tallest pagoda. We tromped up steep steps toward the top. Halfway there, a sweet old lady asked me to take her photograph and extracted a 10 rupee (10 cent) tip from me.
At the top, we had a dizzying fiew of Bhairabnath Mandir, a shorter temple; of people scurrying through the plaza; and of Himalayas silhouetted in the hazy distance.
The last of the three squares along the stroll touted by guidebooks and brochures was “Potter’s Square.” Men spun potting wheels by hand. Hundreds of clay pots lined the streets, drying in the sun.
Once we had covered the tourist-trodden route in our guidebook, we wandered further, away from the big squares and temples, into the back streets of Bhaktapur.
Block after block, the sea of brick continued. Little courtyards revealed modest shrines. Small Hindu temples were tucked away in quiet alleys. Women sat, cross-legged, along the sidewalks, selling produce and yak-wool shawls.
Nepali pop music blared from a tinny speaker inside a butcher’s shop. Roosters crowed and motorcycles buzzed. The scent of wood fires filled the air. We lingered as the sun began to set, trying to squeeze in a few more photo ops before night fell. While the main sights were worth a visit, our aimless meandering, away from the tourist crowds, felt more intriguing.
We walked until we were thoroughly lost, then asked someone to point us to the main highway where we found a bus back to Kathmandu. Our ride back to the Nepali capital was an adventure in itself. That tale is coming soon, along with some Nepali bus survival tips.