bhaktapur: history and faith’s perfection

The taxi driver revved and stirred dust as we pulled away from the chaos that is Kathmandu with his outdated Suzuki hatchback. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, he turned his DVD player on, the first time we ever saw one since arriving in Nepal, and played a morning prayer video of some sort. I was lost in the music while gazing outside the window until Ron violently nudged me to check out the monitor. On the TV is a group of people praying to a statue that disturbingly looked like R2D2. We stared at the screen with disbelief; the hair on our arms, standing.

We eased through the morning traffic. The EDSA one-minute-difference rule is the same- the earlier you get out of the house the better; or else, the unpaved Nepali roads will swallow your hours into unproductive gagging. The gagging part may be caused by anxiousness because of missed appointments or the dust that freely enters all your facial openings, including your pores. As we leave the city and all its billboards with Shah Rukh Khan’s face (or similar-looking men with unsexy schnäuzer which some cultures find attractive. I don’t.), we entered into what felt like a wormhole…

And then, we were there – the city of Bhaktapur. The trade route between Tibet and India, the old capital of Nepal, the city of devotees, the ancient town, and the place where papa Brad Pitt shot scenes from his movie ‘Seven Years in Tibet.’

We entered the gates of Bhaktapur bitch-mode on as tour guides hovered around us offering guide services around the town. We ignored them, as should you when you go there. The durbar square is vast, dotted on the sides by temples too many to remember, its pavements and buildings are bricks made within its very own pottery square. It would help to brush up on your Hindu literature to identify the intricate carvings on the doors, windows, and walls of the buildings. My suggestions: Mahabharata, Ramayana, and yes… Kama Sutra.

You might probably exclaim, “Kama Sutra?!? Why would Hindus carve sex positions on temple walls? How indecent! You are so bastos!” To which I can only answer, “Gaga! Ikaw ang bastos!

Aside from the fact that Hindus believe that sensual and sexual pleasure are things we should aspire for (yes, we need sex. Consult Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.), the carved statues aim to cleanse us of desires before entering the sacred temples. In this way, you can fantasize and think of all the nasty things you want to do to your significant other (or the object of your demented affection) all you want while outside and you can pray or meditate without the worldly appetites that distract you from communing with the One inside the temple walls. Make sense? I know, but don’t expect the Catholic church to share our sentiments.

It is amazing how the alleys, big or small, invite. And I wondered how a place so unmanicured and so unkempt can give me a tantric beat so  I would not want to stop walking. My nose was slaved by the subtle smell of masala. The hanging chaos erased the chaos that was going on back home. The cool breeze made me forget to take a shower.

Bhaktapur gave us a different delight in people watching. Normally, we’d check out the worst-dressed people and the hot guys passing by. By the way, there are no shortages of those in Nepal. You can pick one guy, slap aviator shades on his pretty brown eyes, and voila! You have a Calvin Klein model smelling like curry and handing you a plateful of momos. They are to die for… the momos, of course.

Creased with age, the elderly reflects the troubled past. So much strife in keeping an identity that is slowly being wiped away by neon lights blinking in the middle of durbar square. The young’s supple face eases the tension. Underneath her dirtied face is a beautiful Nepal.

Our mornings were blessed with tradition. The locals’ produce strewn on the streets broke the stream of brown dirt into colors of the earth. We shared tea among the local men who stared at me quizzically. Perhaps it was the first time they saw a girl clad in a passable Newari outfit having tea and cigarettes so early in the morning while all ladies toiled with their faces buried into their goods.

And as all great traditions, the Nepali way of life has to be transcended. Hand in hand, fathers and their sons make their way to the steps of Nyatapola temple. The fathers beat their hands into salutation to their gods and watch as their sons’ little hands immitate their movement. Many years into the future, these sons will take their sons to that very temple and will guide them to do the very same hand gestures their fathers and the fathers before them taught the next generation.

As we leave the winding maze-like streets of Bhaktapur, a certain feeling of ageing overcame us. Every tiny detail carved on its walls, the thread that hangs on the edges of the women’s sari, the dust that accumulated along the collars of the men, and the snot that dried up on every child’s face are bathed in culture. You can see in their intense eyes how being a Nepali is the most important thing in the world. You can feel the pressure in their hands, how tightly they cling on to their grand past. They struggle as their old and calloused hands bruise, but oh how they cling to the past.

Each Nepali face I saw begged me to linger. And I lingered, because, at that moment, that was the only way I can come close to love, to god, to culture, to patriotism. Every tiled roof, temple, shop, motorbike, and person were carefully placed at the right moment so that when I panned my eyes to wherever direction, I saw history and faith’s perfection.

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  • Sky|

    November 28, 2012 at 1:10 am

    Agree, the momo’s are to die for. Our flatmate here in KL is a Nepali whom shared the traditional way of preparing their famous dish. Oh boy, the rolling pin ooops never mind hahahaha.

    Your Nepal series gave us an idea what to expect which somehow coincides what our Nepali friend told us. 🙂

  • AJ

    November 28, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Ok this got me sold…again. Nice slice of culture this is. My kind of travel. The Calvin Klein models, Nepali style, are a must-see. :))))

  • Filipina in Flip Flops

    November 28, 2012 at 9:20 am

    You write so beautifully! And I love the photos on this. My friends and I were choosing between Nepal and Sri Lanka for our 2013 trip and ended up with Sri Lanka, but I would definitely want to go to Nepal someday. Soon, if I had my way.

    The R2D2-like deity: hilarious. The Calvin Klein-ish street food vendors: I want to see for myself. This was such an entertaining post, it satisfied my wanderlust this afternoon (while I sit and work in front of my laptop in my lonely office cubicle). 🙂

  • Tiny Girl with Big Bag

    November 28, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Love your photos! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Jonathan Vitug

    December 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Hi AJ,

    Do Pinoys need a visa to go to Nepal?
    After reading this, I’m thinking of going there in 2013!


  • flip'n travels

    December 4, 2012 at 3:54 am

    @skyboundfortwo: lol! that’s awesome! you should visit to see how great the place is!
    @aj: the guys are uber gwapo! masala tea and spice for me, please?!
    @filipina in flipflops: thanks! sri lanka is also an awesome place, but nepal has its own charms! we’ll wait for your nepali adventure!
    @tiny girl with big bag: thanks for dropping by 🙂
    @jonathan: we can get visa on arrival. all we need is to pay 25$ for a 15-day stay. enjoy your trip!

  • bipin karmacharya

    March 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    some snaps of bhaktapur durbar square

  • Jing

    May 31, 2015 at 5:46 am

    hi! i was browsing through

  • Jing

    May 31, 2015 at 5:56 am

    hi! i traveled in nepal in april 2014 and was browsing through my pics as I was getting nostalgic after that great earthquake in kathmandu. i was also searching for pics of how bhaktapur was affected by the earthquake and pleasantly stumbled upon your post. your last photo of the old man very much resemble this photo I took a year ago. I think he’s sitting on the same spot. and i enjoyed reading your hilarious post. =)

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