8. Bhaktapur, Nepal: Ancient Palaces and Pagodas
(I originally posted this in February 2014. I'm re-posting it so you can see the massive loss of cultural heritage caused by the earthquake in Nepal. Bhaktapur was largely levelled by the quake.)
By then, a lot had changed. Cafés no longer served up hash brownies and marijuana milkshakes. Many hand-crafted souvenirs had been replaced by mass-produced kitsch from China. And Kathmandu's once-clear mountain air had become amongst the worst in the world. The Himalayas might have been nearby, but there was no way you could confirm it with the human eye.
Still, Nepal offered what it had always offered -- small villages resplendent with ancient palaces, pagodas, temples and squares. My favourite was Bhaktapur, Nepal's former capital from the 11th-15th century. Located 20 kilometres east of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur was a major pit-stop on the historic overland trade route from India to Tibet.
The focal point in Bhaktapur is Durbar Square. Author E.A. Powell once wrote, “were there nothing else in Nepal save the Durbar Square of Bhaktapur, it would still be amply worth making a journey halfway round the globe to see." A bit of hyperbole there, but there are more than enough WOWs in Durbar Square to thrill the avid traveller, photographer, architecture buff, artist, or history lover.
The Golden Gate is the entry way to the 15th century palace of 55 windows. The Gate will dazzle your eyes with its pantheon of golden Hindu Gods and symbols.
The five-tiered Nyatapola Temple, built in 1702, is Nepal's tallest pagoda temple:
The Temple, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi, is fronted by five pairs of stone figures: legendary Rajput wresters-Jaimal and Pata; a pair of elephants; a pair of lions; a pair of griffons; and a pair of tantric goddesses known as Singhini and Toyahagrini. Each pair is supposed to be 10 times stronger than the one below it.
Similar, but with a different set of stone figures leading to its door, is the Siddhi Lakshmi Temple:
The Vastala Durga was built in 1696:
The Durga appears to be adorned with images of the Hebrew Star of David:
It's not a Star of David, though. It's the ancient Hindu Hexagram. The HH is a six-pointed star made up of two intertwined triangles. One triangle is pointed up to the heavens, the other is pointed below. Sort of like a Star of David. Only not.
The Bhairabnath Mandir, is dedicated to the Hindu god of terror. Its entrance is protected by golden lions - both large and mini - and a number of shrines:
The Square contains numerous sculptures, with the most venerated being King Bhupatindra Malla in prayer position:
Today, after a couple of decades of instability due to Maoist insurrections, royal assassinations, and parliamentary stalemates, Nepal is regaining its prominence on the global tourism circuit. But here's a word to the wise: if you go - and you really should - make sure you enter and exit the country by land. Nepal's aviation industry, never good, is getting worse by the day. It ought to be shut down completely until Nepal can figure out how to safely fly people into, out of, and around the country.
This past weekend, a Nepal Airlines flight from Pokhara crashed shortly after take-off, killing all 18 aboard. In December, the EU put all of Nepal's airlines on a blacklist and banned them from flying to the EU on safety grounds. According to the BBC, since 1949 - the year the first aircraft landed in Nepal - there have been more than 70 different crashes involving planes and helicopters, in which more than 700 people have been killed.
You may want to make it to Nirvana, but, trust me, it's not the way you'll want to get there.