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)


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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Impressive gate guards in an old square doorway

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Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

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Highest man made temple in Nepal

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Living rooves too!

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