Bhaktapur, the city of devotees, retains the ambience of the original Kathmandu Valley civilisation more than any other town. It has preserved not just the unique architecture and culture of the Newari people but is also a model for town management.
Bhaktapur evolved out of a cluster of villages on the Valley's eastern edge, straddling the vital trade route connecting India and Tibet. By the 10th century, the town was powerful and developed enough to crown its own king, Ananda. His dynasty, the Mallas, ruled Bhaktapur until 1768 when it was defeated by Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha. During the Malla period, Bhaktapur enjoyed exposure to foreign cultures and ideas brought by passing trade caravans.
Its strategic location not only brought resources, but also enough political importance that by the beginning of the 14th century, King Jayasthiti Malla decided to make it the administrative and cultural centre of the Valley. Together with Kathmandu and Patan, Bhaktapur's golden era of art and architecture took place between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Artisans competed to build the most elaborate temples and courtyards for their rulers. Pride became priority. Money was of no concern as the three city states vied with each other through aesthetics. By the 18th century, Bhaktapur had reached its cultural climax and the seat of power shifted to Kathmandu.
The new and shorter trade route to Tibet through Kalimpong and Nathu La opened by the British in the 19th century weakened Bhaktapur's role as a trade hub, and the final blow came with the annexation of Tibet by China in 1952. The new Kathmandu-Lhasa Highway built by the Chinese in 1972 bypassed the town all together.
Large parts of the Bhaktapur were destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1934. With the economy in a slump and the Mallas gone, the town was not just a political backwater but it had lost its cultural patrons.
In the 1970s, Bhaktapur was the third largest city in Nepal, but also its poorest. Its artisans and craftsmen migrated across Nepal and abroad in the agricultural off-season looking for work. Bhaktapur was only a faint shadow of its former self when the German government began its decade long involvement in the restoration and revival of this historic town.
Return to glory
The rebirth of Bhaktapur, LUKAS GRIMM
A unique German-Nepali initiative has helped restore Bhaktapur to its former glory
Old, but new, TONG SIAN CHOO
Cosy new B&B in Patan offers a modern twist to traditional Newari culture
hose heritage is it anyway?, MARIT BAKKE
Preservation of Nepali culture risks becoming something done by foreigners for foreigners
Bhaktapur, ALOK TUMBAHANGPHEY and SALIL SUBEDI
Dawn breaks over Bhaktapur like the opening of an act set in some medieval conch-shaped stage. This ancient town is a treat to behold, and a classic lesson in heritage conservation.