Now that we are officially halfway through Pre-Service Training (PST), we are allowed to start traveling within one hour of our training site (by bus) during our time off. So this Saturday, a few other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) and I decided to explore Bhaktapur. We were excited to play tourists for a day and see what this historic city had to offer.
Located about 13 km (8 miles) outside of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, which literally translates to place of devotees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with stunning architecture, history and culture. It’s temples tower above the city and history comes alive as you wonder through the brick-lined streets. It is said that Bhaktapur was one of the most well-preserved historical sites in Nepal, representing how the Kathmandu Valley would have looked during medieval times. Unfortunately, however, the 2015 earthquake caused devastating damage to the city, which is still very evident today, almost four years later.
We started our day early, meeting at the local bus park around 8:30. It was easy to find the right bus and, since it’s a popular route, the bus quickly filled up and we set off. The bus was cramped, but fortunately not over crowded (meaning no one was hanging off the roof or out the windows). It’s just an hour-long trip from Panauti and only costs about 40 cents each way.
Getting to Bhaktapur was a breeze. But getting INTO Bhaktapur was another story. The bus dropped us off along the main highway and after a short 15-minute walk, we were in the city centre. What we didn’t realize was that in order to enter the city of Bhaktapur, foreigners have to buy a 1500 NPR ticket (which is about $14 USD). Now I know $14 doesn’t sound like much, but on a Peace Corps budget, it’s a very significant chunk of money. We weren’t sure we could afford a ticket so we decided to walk around a bit to find some food before deciding if we wanted to stick around.
That plan didn’t work.
We literally got chased out of Bhaktapur by a security guard on a motorcycle.
We quickly realized if we wanted to do anything, even just get some coffee, we were going to have to fork over the 1500 NPR.
Bhaktapur better be worth it, we thought.
Once we were in the city, we were able to access the temples, shops and restaurants without any problems and we decided to start the day at a coffee shop that had great reviews online. And let me tell you, Beans Coffee Shop did not disappoint! I absolutely love coffee, but have found that good coffee very hard to come by here. In fact, I haven’t had a real coffee since arriving in Nepal six weeks ago. However, Beans had a huge menu with everything from basic coffee, to macchiatos to frappes. I opted for the caramel macchiato and it was the perfect way to start our day in Bhaktapur! In my mind, that 1500 NPR was already worth it.
After coffee, Leah and I decided we needed a snack to hold us over until lunch. Lucky for us, there was a French fry place right next to the café called Aalucha. The fries looked good so we split a large order of standard fries with two dipping sauces. Now, I know what I’m about to say is an incredibly bold statement, but those fries were the best fries I have EVER had. Hands down. They made me stop dead in my tracks as the perfectly seasoned fried chunks of aalu (potato) smothered in a delicious sauce hit my tongue. Honestly, those fries alone were worth every single rupee that ticket cost.
After recovering from my french fry coma, we headed to Taumadhi Square, home to the Nyatapola Temple, which towers above the city. At five stories high, Nyatapola is the tallest temple in Nepal and an impressive sight to see. We took some photos, climbed up the temple’s stairs and took in the views of the square below us.
After checking out Nyatapola, we spent some time walking around the city. We stopped in a few stores, bought a some souvenirs, chatted with locals (in Nepali of course!) and enjoyed the beautiful temples we found along the way.
Eventually we wandered into a paper store. The store featured handmade, traditional paper that was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed looking around at some of the pieces and books. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but the next thing I know, the owner, Raam, a gentle and kind Nepali man, was taking us to his house to show us where he creates the paper.
We ended up spending over an hour with him as he gave us a tour of his wood carving collection and showed us how he makes this traditional paper. Eventually, he led us up to the rooftop where a small temple, built by his son, stood overlooking the city. We sat down with him and enjoyed tea while we chatted about religion, US politics and happiness.
His joy was contagious and, even after saying goodbye, we hung to his words of wisdom, overwhelmed by his kindness and eagerness to share his passion with us. I ended up buying a small piece of hand-made paper to remember this experience and can’t wait to hang it up in my room when I move to my permanent site in a few weeks.
After leaving his shop we headed back to Taumadhi Square, where we found a nice rooftop restaurant that overlooked the Nyatapola Temple and square. They offered many classic Nepali dishes, such as momos, but also many western favorites, such as pizza and veggie burgers. We enjoyed some food and beer as we took in the views around us and talked about how amazing the day had been.
Overall, our day in Bhaktapur was nothing short of amazing. Although it started off a bit frustrating with that hefty price tag to get in, it was worth every single rupee. From the coffee and french fries, to the beautiful temples, to our time spent with Raam, it was a great day all around. While some people are able to sneak into the city without paying for a ticket, my advice is just to pay. Yes, it’s a bit expensive just to visit a city, but that money is being used to rebuild the historical landmarks that were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Buying that ticket is supporting the rebuilding of this city, the preservation of its history and the resilience of its people. After my day spent exploring the temples and interacting with the locals, I was so happy that I invested in this beautiful, historical city.