Bhaktapur – Medieval Trades Up Close (Part 2)

Bhaktapur is a beautiful city that’s world famous for its historical and religious architecture. But I felt that it deserved a separate post here on its amazing array of living, ancient trades that I had never seen before in such hands-on detail all in one place.  These weren’t museum activities, reenactments for tourists, or struggling ancient trades desperately trying to survive in modern society, but everyday life, money-making pursuits of Bhaktapur village.

As we walked through the narrow streets, almost every other open doorway had an ancient trade behind. We saw carvers, potters, metalwork, bakers and butchers, creating and crafting from raw materials without power or technology. We saw full processes and complimentary trades working side by side.  It was particularly fascinating to see the clay arrive in bags, a potter spin pots, and then watch them dry in the sun before heading to the open air kilns.

It was also highly unusual to me that this other medieval world existed alongside a national and international tourist attraction that was still unspoilt, still preserved, and still part of living history. The city’s famous architecture must help support Bhaktapur’s economy, but the pots they made and the flour being ground was not just to produce tourist income. There were tourists shops and touts, but it was very low key. The town felt authentic but at the same time was familiar enough with outsiders that we didn’t feel voyeuristic as we walked around. A very difficult and rare balance achieved and an amazing glimpse into the past.

Bhaktapur Pottery

Piles of clay waiting for the potter

Bhaktapur Pottery Square

Potter shaping a pot on a manual pottery wheel

Bhaktapur Pottery Making

Processing corn husks ready for kiln kindling

Bhaktapur Pottery Square

A potter stopped to show me his kiln. Love the Superman tshirt!

Bhaktapur Pottery Square

Newly baked pots from the kiln

Bhaktapur Pottery Square

Corn and rice husks drying side by side in the main square…..

Bhaktapur Pottery Square

….. alongside the freshly turned pots.


Bhaktapur Doorway

Typical Bhaktapur doorway with decorative lintel. Peering through one would reveal anything from a small living area to a trademan working.

Bhaktapur Weaving

The lady is spinning yarn. But she also had a side business going of making mats from reeds.

Grinding Flour in Bhaktapur

Wheat (or rice?) being emptied into a grinder to make flour. We watched the white powder and husks being collected in sacks

Bhaktapur Bakery

We watched this baker hand shape donuts from his huge tray of dough, stacking the donuts and leaving them to rise some more.

Bhaktapur Bakery

Tray of handmade donuts ready to be fried in the large wok of oil on the floor. We returned in the evening — cameraless– and saw these for sale, crispy brown and dusted in sugar.

Bhaktapur – Around Town (Part 1)


Bhaktapur village. From a distance the village looks quite large but ramshackle. Close up its a different story.

Shortly into our first few weeks into Nepalese life, it was a three day weekend and our only and last chance to see something of our surroundings before Latham and I had to leave for London to settle him into University. Knowing very little about where we were and what there was to do, I asked around for advice. Bhaktapur is a short drive of less than an hour out of Kathmandu and recommended by many, so we headed there for a two night stay.


Surrounding rice fields with Bhaktapur in the distance

We stayed at the attractive Heritage Hotel a short distance outside the town, surrounded by rice fields. From our room on the 5th floor we had access to a roof terrace and 360 degree views to the town and its outskirts. It was wonderful to be out of a city environment after such a short drive and watching every day life and the world go by was fascinating.


Watching crops being planted in nearby fields. That’s okra growing to the left.


Small shrines and unexpected antique construction is tucked away in unexpected places.



Crows seem to everywhere in Nepal. These were watching over the world just like me.

The village was a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel across an ancient bridge. There’s a quite steep entrance fee of approximately $11/person for foreigners which is towards the preservation of the village (hopefully). With a photocopy of your passport the entrance fee becomes valid for several days, but no one seemed to be watching after our first visit. There weren’t many western tourists, so perhaps they just recognized us and left us alone.


Bhaktapur streets were bricked and narrow. Busy with everyday traffic, apart from the occassional motorcycle, car or printed advertisement, there was very little of 21st century life to be seen.


Considering there were few western tourists, I felt pretty comfortable walking around. I felt noticed but not conspicuous, so it was easy to wander and explore.




Bhaktapur is pretty large to explore on foot and a warren of streets. We spent two days looking around but certainly didn’t discover it all or see find half of it secrets. The main attractions are the large squares, Durbar Square being the largest and a world heritage site. Its a pretty amazing collection of temples, sacred sites, statues, gateways, and ancient architecture which is all mind-blowingly packed into a large medieval square. All of could do is sit and stare in wonder. Most amazingly of all, if you explore a little further out, there a more and more squares to discover. Durbar Square may be the largest and most impressive but it is not a small remnant of ancient Bhaktapur, it is just part of the whole amazing medieval preservation which is alive with everyday life and not just a tourist enclave.


Impressive gate guards in an old square doorway


Durbar Square, Bhaktapur


Highest man made temple in Nepal



Living rooves too!



Anyone mad enough to come and visit us absolutely needs to spend a few days here. We’ll be back too.

Swayambhuneth: Monkey Temple


Buddha’s eyes looking down from the temple dome

We’ve not had much chance to be tourists in the ten days we’ve spent in Kathmandu so far.  Life has been full of work paperwork and procedures, hiring and settling staff, settling ourselves, unpacking stuff, figuring out the grocery store and what and where to buy 10,000 other different bits and pieces that we need.  Before Latham leaves for uni on Monday, I wanted to get a couple of tourist days in so his impression of Kathmandu wasn’t just grocery shelves, an empty house and crazy traffic.

So yesterday we headed off to Swayambhuneth Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site also known as Monkey temple. The temple is located on the top of a hill and its a steep 365 step climb up.

climbing up to Swayambuneth Temple

Fortunately there were level stone steps and a hand rail which made the climb much more doable. Seeing your goal in the distance helped too!

The climb is also broken up my all sorts of interesting things to look at on the way up…lots of excuses to stop and look at the details. The climb starts with troops of monkeys running around at the stairway entrance.  They are very tame, very entertaining, and I imagine pretty obnoxious too, although they gave us no problems. More on those later….  Then there’s plenty of vendors, statues, shrines along the way. Half way up there is a sort of Buddha garden with well kept statues to keep you company as you catch your breathe.

Buddhas at Swayambuneth

Close up of Swayambuneth Buddhas

Reaching the top you are rewarded with a close up view of the temple which sits in the center of a large multi-level courtyard that’s like a small village.



Strolling around Swayambuneth courtyard

There are viewing platforms all around where you can take in amazing views of Kathmandu. The temple itself is surrounded by rows of prayer wheels, flower sellers, strings of butter candles and incense burners, souvenir sellers, more statues of Buddha and, of course, more monkeys. The devout were chanting and circling the temple with drums, cymbals, and horns. Pigeons fly everywhere, stray dogs are sleeping in the most unlikely places, and monkeys pop up on the rooftops above you. There’s a lot to take in!

Views from Swayambuneth Temple

The views were a bit too hazy that day, but they were 360 degrees out across and around the city. I particularly loved these prayer flags strung out through the trees.

Buddhist Prayer Wheels

Getting a close up view of the prayer wheels. Notice how they are polished by many hands, but no one touches them at the top.


Water break at one of the many, many shrines

Courtyard at Swayambhuneth Temple

I loved all the activity. There was lots going on but it didn’t feel crowded and the vendors weren’t too obnoxious either.

Swayambuneth Monkeys

We spent a good hour up there….I could easily have spent two. We were too early to go up to the rooftop cafe and get a birds eye view of the square, so instead we took pictures of monkeys. Here are a few of the best. Loved the visit and want to go back many times!

Swayambuneth Monkeys

Swayambuneth Monkeys

The baby was fast asleep and still clinging on. Adorable!