Andy and I were really excited to finally see Bhaktapur, we had heard rumors that it was a completely car-free town. No more dodging speeding motorcyclist on
too-small streets and climbing over the hoods of cars when the traffic is at a standstill and blocking the width of the road. We were so excited about this possibility that we decided that Bhaktapur warranted more than a day trip and after repacking our bags we were off.
You might think that after going to all of these Durbar squares around Kathmandu we might be a little tired of seeing pagoda style temples and dirty minded wood
carvings, but when we got to Bhaktapur we were amazed afresh. The town had five squares clustered together filled with pagoda style temples, and had a more vibrant feel than any other town we’d been to in the valley. One square in particular housed a really neat looking temple named Nyatapola. It is an amazing five tiered pagoda, the tallest one in the Kathmandu Valley, and has steps guarded by two wrestlers, two elephants, two lions, two griffins, and finally the tiger and lion goddesses at the top of the steps. We were lied to, however. The person that thought to market Bhaktapur as a car-free town was a genius, I bet we aren’t the only tourists that have gotten overly excited with hope. There were definitely less cars but we had to jump out of the way of more than one speeding motorcycle, and there were a few motorcycle parades that backed up some of the major streets.
We spent a lot of time getting lost in courtyards where we would come across locals slowly separating the rice grains they had grown from the straw it was attached to with wicker sieves. On one of these walks Andy stopped at a small barber’s shack where he had decided to get a hair cut and shave. These barber shops are men only territory so I sat outside and gambled a few rupees away with some children. When Andy finally walked out of the shop a good half an hour later I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong by taking one look at his sad face. The barber had actually shaved off part of his hair in the back so you could see his white scalp which had never before seen the light of day. He also ended up with what Andy calls the ‘Friar Tuck’ style bangs. Hilarious? Yes! Now he wont get a haircut without me there to supervise.
On top of Bhaktapur being just a beautiful town in general, there was the excitement of Diwali in the air that made it feel even more magical. Diwali is a Hindu holiday
that was described to us by a Nepali as the ‘Nepali Christmas’. To us it seemed more like a cross in between Christmas, the Fourth of July, and Halloween. During the day local businesses and homes had all drawn bright red lines leading from the road into their homes so that while Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) was cruising the streets she would see the red lines and not miss that particular home. After the sunset most people had their electric lights turned off and lit long lines of candles instead. At this point the children started to roam the streets in hordes carrying wicker baskets with a picture of Laxmi going door to door asking for money. Some of the groups would perform dances and songs for money and one group of boys threatened us with Laxmi’s wrath if we didn’t give them more money. When we wandered into one of the squares we came across some kind of weird child mob straight out of Lord of the Flies. Some older kids were lighting off fireworks and throwing them into the crowd where the younger kids would surround the sparks where they would start yelling and jumping around like Homo erectus discovering fire. Each time a new firework was lit the kids got even more wild and eventually they started kicking these things around and aimed one at us. We decided to retreat to the safety of another square before we lost any limbs.
Another thing that Bhaktapur is famous for is its King Curd which is a thick and creamy sweetened curd. You can tell just how delicious it is by the fact that when we got on the bus to leave town a large majority of people getting on each had a curd in it’s clay pot wrapped in a plastic bag and stowed in the overhead compartment. We would have taken some with us too, if we had an icebox.