By Anuska Joshi
Bhaktapur or ‘temples that mirrors the mountain’, according to Lonely Planet, is an ancient Newar city in the east corner of the Kathmandu Valley. It literally translates to the city of devotees. It was the capital of Nepal during the Malla era until the second half of the 15th century. Today, it is the third largest city in the Kathmandu Valley with a population of more than 80,000.
The charm of Bhaktapur, also know as Bhadgaon, lies in its winding streets full of rich display of art and crafts in the form of pottery, paintings, wood crafts and metal crafts. The laid back feel to the place with locals gathering for chats is what allure the tourists too. The place is filled with Hindu and Buddhist religious sites and art with 19 Buddhist monasteries (Vihars), tantric wood-carved windows, and prayer wheels, among others.The Newar culture is one of the most ancient cultures of Nepal. As Newars practice both Hinduism and Buddhism, the cultural and religious divergence and convergence gives Bhaktapur its authentic taste. The city is home to many Buddhist monuments and shrines, including Lokeswor Mahavihar, Prasannasheel Mahavihar, Chatu Brahma Mahavihar, Jaya Kirti Mahavihar, Sukra-varna Mahavihar, Dipanker Mahavihar and also many Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Ganesh and other deities.
Many festivals are celebrated here throughout the year to mark the seasons, pay tribute to gods, and remember historical and legendary events like Dashain, the longest festival of the year, lasting 15 days which honors the goddess Devi Durga. Another important festival is Gai Jatra, the Cow Festival, which focuses on families in bereavement. Every family, who lost a relative in the past year, participates in a procession with a cow or a young boy dressed as a cow. The cow, it is believed, helps the deceased reach heaven. Then there is Bisket Jatra, the Nepalese New Year celebration, in which chariots are pulled through the streets and ultimately a tug of war over them determines who will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. This celebration is also observed with picnics and other private get-togethers.
One of the most authentic Bhaktapur culture is the women dressed in Haku Patasi. Haku Patasi is the traditional dress of women in Newari community. Haku means ‘black’ and Patasi means ‘Sari’ in Newari language. Haku Patasi, or the black sari, is the traditional dress for Newari women and it is different from regular saris. It is usually heavier.The black sari has broad red border and yellow lining in between. It is a hand-woven fabric made of pure cotton and signifies Bhaktapur in its old-fashioned lifestyle where most of the works are still done by hands, whether it be pottery or metal craft or even cloth designing and making them from scratch. The Haku Patasi is wrapped around the waste and goes up to the ankle. It is worn along with a full-sleeved traditional blouse, with a patuka, which is a cloth belt. Usually shawl is also worn around.
Bhaktapur is home to skilled potters and their skillfulness can be seen in the range of shops selling clay pots, and even wind chimes and piggy banks. The two pottery squares here are widely popular for their productions. Potters, who are Kumaha by cast, shape the clay in various forms. First the lumps of clay are shaped on wheels and then they are dried under the sun for two to three days. Next they are fired in chimneys for three full days. The pots, masks and various other trinkets made of clay are the most popular tourist souvenirs to take from Bhaktapur.
Along with pottery, artistic endeavors are also found in galore in Bhaktapur. Paubhā is a traditional religious painting made by the Newar people of Nepal. These paintings depict deities, mandalas or monuments, and are said to help the practitioner meditate. Though they look similar, there is a difference between the Paubha paintings and the Thanka paintings. There are only around a 100 Paubha painters in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. As the Paubha paintings include the deities revered by the locals and the other Nepalis, Paubha painting is a way of showing our culture and religion. The beautiful, intricate and geometrical perfect patterns of the Paubha painting require a lot of detailed works to make it a truly masterpiece of art.In the picture shown here, the painting required a total of one and half months and still has a full three or four days of work remaining to be fully complete, according to the painter, Madan, who has been in profession since long. Chinese tourists are the largest buyers of this paintings and the price begins from around Rs 300,000. These painting are also used for worship.
With so many treats to the eyes, Bhaktapur also has food equally pleasing to the taste buds. Along with many Newari dishes, Bhaktpur is famous for Ju Ju Dhau. Ju Ju Dhau is the famous yogurt from Bhaktapur and is a do-not-miss-at-all recommendation from all the visitors to Bhaktapur. Ju Ju Dhau literally translates to the King of Yogurt and its taste does accurate justice to its name. The thick curd also comes in authentic Bhaktapur pots and is a real delicacy. Fresh buffalo milk makes the curd richer and creamier. The famous yogurt is made by boiling and sweetening the milk. The milk is mixed with the culture, and poured into the red clay pot. The red clay pot does not only contain the yogurt, but because of its porous nature exudes the excess liquid from the yogurt resulting in the thick, creamy and delicious yogurt. The pot is then placed in a warm area and wrapped in thick cottons to maintain the temperature for the yogurt to set. After all these processes monitored and carefully tended by hands, the yogurt is ready to hit the market.