I’m meeting my friends at Bhaktapur around 9am today. It is about 30 minutes from Patan. I booked a ride on a pathao motorcycle but in my haste to leave, I forgot my down jacket and had to endure the freezing cold wind blasting against my face during the entire ride. I was frozen by the time I arrived at Bhaktapur and had to bask in the sun like a lizard.

We started with a visit to the Siddha Pokhari (lake) and then toured the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. You have to pay to enter the Durbar Square here. The entrance fee is Rs 1800 for foreigners. For Saarc countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), it would cost Rs 500.

Siddha Pokhari

Majority of the people in Bhaktapur are Newari and they practice Hinduism whereas most of the Tamang community reside in Boudha. The Durbar Square in Bhaktapur has amazing architecture and several temples.

We had breakfast in a shop by the street.

After breakfast, we continued with our tour around Bhaktapur.

As we meandered in and out of the streets, we chanced upon a quaint looking shop called “The Peacock Shop”. It is a factory that makes handmade paper. The entrance to the shop is along an unassuming alleyway and we would have passed it by if not for the signs. As we entered, the narrow corridor led us to a brick house. The owner, Ram Narayana, was kind enough to give us a tour of the paper factory where he showed us how the paper presses and mould were used to make their artisanal paper, which is made out of pulp from the Lokta bark. Lokta or Daphne bush (Daphne papyracea) grows wild at high altitudes (between 1,500 to 3,100m) in the Himalayas. Lokta paper was primarily used for writing sacred texts.

Since we were the only visitors at the moment, he was happy to show us his home which is essentially a personal museum with an extensive collection of his artwork and antiques. As he led us to the basement of his house and switched on the lights, I felt like I was reliving a scene from the tomb raider movie. There were wood statues and sculptures of buddha and various Gods or deities lined along the walls. Even the stair railings were carved with intricate details. He shared that he would dream of the stories and then sketch them for carving into the wood. Some of the stories are from buddhist scriptures. He was obviously very proud of his artworks and was very happy to share them with us. He spoke mostly in Nepalese so I didn’t understand much of what he said. It was so rare to have an opportunity to view these personal collections which were usually not open to public. I’d say that his collections could rival those that were displayed in the Patan museum. The highlight was the rooftop of his house, where he had a mini pavilion built in the middle to shelter the buddha statue.

After this, we walked to the pottery centre. Some sights along the way…

Bhaktapur is well known for their red bricks.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the clay that they’re using is black in colour. I like how this makes their pots look black and shiny. Me and Aaishma had a go at making just a simple cup on the pottery wheel for Rs 200.  

The ones in the middle are money banks. There’s a slot for coins. You’ll have to break it in order to retrieve your money. It’s a great way to encourage saving!

Then we had lunch on the rooftop of a shop situated in front of Guhya Pokhari. The rooftop has 360 degree views of the Himalayan mountain range in the distance. The sun was pretty hot and intense at this point in time but windy. This was one of the most memorable moments in this trip. As we sat there enjoying the mountain view, two Nepalese singers sitting next to us were strumming their guitar and humming songs. One of them is called Ane (@Raachyas). We chatted with them for a bit and they gamely agreed to sing us some Nepalese songs. So we had a spontaneous live band whilst enjoying the view.

We planned to visit Pashupatinath temple in the evening to watch the Hindu priests perform Aarti by the banks of the Bagmati river at 6pm. To save time, it is best that we head straight to the temple so I didn’t have time to go back to the hotel for my jacket. It would get cold again at night. Bibek was very kind to lend me his. Since his house is near Bhaktapur, he could go home and get another jacket. We spilt ways – Sachinn with Bibek on his bike while me and Aaishma took a public bus to the temple.

The Pashupatinath temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very popular and sacred place to the Hindus. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Hindus if they visit Nepal. I arrived with Aaishma and tried to pass off as a local (the benefit of being Asian is that I can in fact look like a Nepali) but unfortunately, I was given away by my camera (should’ve kept that in the bag). Entrance fee is Rs 1,000 for foreigners.

While waiting for Bibek and Sachinn to arrive, we observed a funeral procession from a higher vantage point. The sun was setting in the distance, turning the skies a radiant shade of crimson and orange. This was contrasted with the mood at the river bank. A dead body was wrapped like a mummy and carried to the river with family and friends trawling behind in a sombre mood. You can hear people sobbing and crying. A priest conducted a ritual by the river and then the body is carried back. Further down the river, the bodies were placed on a pyre to be burnt.

We headed down to the river to have a better view of the puja. I have had the most profound experience here. Profound because it is a poignant reminder of life and death. On one side of the river bank, you have the funeral services and cremation being carried out while on the other side of the river, you have the puja carried out by the priests with fire, drums and song chanting in an upbeat tune. The Aarti is a ceremony of lights performed to please the God and show gratitude as well as to receive blessings. All the while, right in front of us, bodies were being carried in and out and crowds stream past us. People were crying while the rituals were being carried out. A very jarring feeling each time they wail loudly. The smell was also overpowering. I’m not sure what I was feeling in the midst of this. I wasn’t scared but I’m sure it made an indelible mark in my memory. My friend was sharing that every year, there are deaths in Nepal as a result of accidents working in construction sites or as sherpa climbers guiding people up the mountains. A reminder not to take life for granted as death will come to us all. It’s just a matter of when.

“He who is wise in his heart, sorrows neither for the living nor the dead. All that lives, lives forever. Only the shell, the perishable, passes away. The spirit is without end, eternal, deathless.” – from the Bhagavad Gita

After this heavy session, we decided to have dinner at Thamel. It’s a popular shopping area for tourists as you can get clothes and trekking gear here at bargain prices before going on your hikes. Their spiced potato wedges is very delicious! I recommend trying this.

Spiced Aloo (potatoes)


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