After the 2015 Quake

When it comes to sightseeing post-earthquake, the attractions remain the same as they ever were: temple-studded medieval squares, narrow cobblestone streets winding between red-brick houses, and hidden courtyards peppered with temples, statues, cisterns and wells. And Bhaktapur remains refreshingly devoid of the traffic and pollution of Kathmandu and Patan, though more and more motorbikes and cars are beginning to threaten its pedestrian charms.

However, many traditional buildings that survived the earthquake have since been declared uninhabitable and are slowly being torn down. The scars of the disaster are still clearly visible and it will take years for the city to fully recover. As you wander the streets – the best way to experience Bhaktapur – you may have to pick your way through damaged streets and rubble, and duck under temporary props securing precariously leaning walls.

Durbar Square

Bhaktapur’s Durbar Sq was once much more crowded than it is today. Victorian-era illustrations show the square packed with temples and buildings, but the disastrous earthquake of 1934 reduced many of the temples to empty brick plinths, with lion-guarded stairways leading to nowhere. More structures were destroyed in the deadly earthquake of 2015, including the iconic Vatsala Durga Temple and the Fasidega Temple, and many village houses collapsed at the entrance to the square. However, there is still plenty of stunning medieval architecture on display.

Expect to be approached by a string of freelance guides as you walk around; they charge Rs 300 per hour.

Tachupal Tole

Tachupal Tole was the original central square of Bhaktapur and it formed the official seat of Bhaktapur royalty until the late 16th century.

Bhaktapur’s Ponds

Around the outskirts of Bhaktapur are a series of enormous tanks, constructed in the medieval period to store water for drinking, bathing and religious rituals. The tanks still play an important role in the social life of Bhaktapur – in the mornings and afternoons, locals gather by the ponds to bathe, socialise, take romantic walks and feed the giant carp and turtles that somehow survive in the murky waters.

The most impressive tank is the ghat-lined Siddha Pokhari near the main bus park. This rectangular reservoir is set inside an enormous wall that is broken by rest houses and towers that have been consumed by the roots of giant fig trees. You can buy bags of corn and rice to feed the fish for a few rupees.

During the annual festival of Naga Panchami in the Nepali month of Saaun (July to August), residents of Bhaktapur offer a bowl of rice to the nagas (serpent deities who control the rain) who live in the Siddha Pokhari. According to legend, a holy man once attempted to kill an evil naga who lived in the lake by transforming himself into a snake. An attendant waited by with a bowl of magical rice to transform the yogi back into human form, but when the victorious holy man slithered from the water, his terrified assistant fled, taking the holy rice with him and leaving the yogi trapped for eternity in his scaly form. To this day, locals leave a bowl of rice out at Naga Panchami in case the snake-yogi decides to return.

Other significant tanks include the nearby Bhaiya Pokhari (across the road to the south), the Guhya Pokhari (across the road to the east) and the Kamal Pokhari (at the northeast end of Bhaktapur on the road to Nagarkot).