Love Letter to the Streets of Bhaktapur, Nepal

Author: Surena Shrestha
Date: 2018-10-12

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One fine Saturday, I went on a day trip to Bhaktapur, Nepal, on a mission to rediscover my love for the bricks and the stone and the gilded peaks. It was an impromptu decision and an exercise to veer off the normal visits to Bhaktapur, which would only include a trip to the Durbar Square and maybe Siddhapokhari. I walked around random streets, following the lure of the mysterious gallis (alleyways), and found myself in beautiful chowks (courtyards). As the residents of the private traditional Newari houses looked out through their Ga: Jhyas (wooden windows) towards this stranger admiring their chowks, I held my palms together in Namastey (traditional way of greeting).

Now these chowks are not entirely private; they’ve always been sort of semi-public spaces since centuries ago when people were more social, didn’t hesitate to make conversations with strangers, and didn’t look on with suspicion when somebody entered their chowks. Now, however, there might be a few raised eyebrows, some words of caution thrown a kid’s way, and an inquiring line about your presence in the chowk. But as soon as people realize that you’re there to just soak in the essence of the old town of Bhaktapur, they welcome you with the same old smiles; you might even get a nudge towards another hidden find.

My visit clashed with the monsoon season, and oh! how it poured! Rather than letting the rain dampen my spirit and chase me away into seeking shelter, it lit a sense of childlike joy in me. I could feel the rain seeping into the traditionally paved streets of Bhaktapur; the petrichor emanating from all around me. I watched as the rain danced on the beautiful jhingati tiles on the roofs of the traditional houses. You look wonderful in the rain Bhaktapur!

The pots as they gleam even in the dull shade of the rainy day in Taumadhi Tole (pottery square) and the potters as they work on a new piece are both a vision of beauty. And don’t even get me started on the ju:ju dhau (king curd). A visit to Bhaktapur without tasting this delicious yogurt would be an absolute shame. It doesn’t matter where you are in Bhaktapur, ask a local to point you to an outlet and enjoy yogurts fit for kings! I myself stumbled upon a “Bikram Ju:ju Dhau Center,” where I snagged myself two earthen pots of ju:ju dhau.

And to get more of an authentic experience, why not ditch the fancy cafes for a day and try out a glass of chiya (milk tea) at a local tea shop? Add in conversations with the old men and women of Bhaktapur, and you’ll be sure to leave with smiles, stories, and blessings.

I also visited Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and I’m not lying when I say my eyes welled up with tears. The damage done to the heritage by the 2015 earthquake is one of the saddest sights. This was why I’d been putting off a visit to this place for over 3 years.

But still, Bhaktapur, you are still so beautiful, even with the cracks, the tears, and the splits. You are standing strong still as your people build you up brick by brick with their blood, sweat, and tears. When in Nepal, go to Bhaktapur and spend a day there, get lost, find stories, and listen to the music of the bells as they guide your way.

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