23-29 May 2014 #708

Get lost.....

Stray off the main, well-worn path that is lined with the usual touristy shops hawking their wares.
Toh Ee Ming in BHAKTAPUR

The ancient Newar town of Bhaktapur is the Valley’s living treasure, but is often overshadowed by its sister city Kathmandu. Just 12 km to the east, along a six lane highway you are transported back into history in a time capsule.

Bhaktapur continues to exude a sense of timelessness. Every aspect of its architecture—from its intricate woodcarvings, golden statues of kings and stone monoliths—gives a glimpse into the magnificence of the great Malla kingdom in the 15th century.

Bhaktapur was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 for its abundance of monuments, 345 in total, including the Golden Gate, the Palace of 55 Windows, the 5-storeyed pagoda of Nyatapola, and the world-famous Bhaktapur Darbar Square.

One of the best-managed cities in the Valley, Bhaktapur is upheld as a model of successful heritage conservation. The efforts to restore Bhaktapur to its former glory have been supported by the Bhaktapur Development Project (BDP), and the tourist entrance fee (Rs 1500 for tourists, Rs 100 for Chinese and SAARC) ensures that there is enough money to plough into the town’s upkeep.

ALL PICS: HARIZ BAHARUDIN

Compared to Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is significantly quieter and cleaner. There is a sense of unhurried calm in the russet-coloured neighbourhoods of traditional brick and tile. For architect Rabindra Puri, it is this authenticity and liveliness that makes it so special.

“There are so many cities around the world that are famous for their art and culture, but I feel that most of them are dead. But Bhaktapur is a living heritage, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Puri says.

Yet much of Bhaktapur still remains off-the-radar. There is so much more to Bhaktapur than the usual tourist sites of Darbar Square and pottery square.

The best way to know Bhaktapur is to “get lost”. Stray off the main, well-worn path that is lined with the usual touristy shops hawking their wares. Instead, venture into the winding alleyways, nooks and crannies and find yourself in the true heart of the town. That is the true spirit of travel -- to stumble upon small gems and make the place your own.

Bhaktapur is worth more than a day trip: if you need a respite from Thamel, this is where you go to spend a quiet weekend.


...Find yourself

Just off Dattatraya Square is a hidden gem that embodies the old-world charm of historic Bhaktapur, yet promises the most luxurious of homestays.

The three-storey refurbished Milla Guesthouse is emblematic of pure Newari style, having been touched by the artistry of Götz Hagmüller, the renowned architect who designed Patan Museum and Garden of Dreams in Thamel.

With elements like low wooden ceilings, brick walls and timber and terracotta tile floors, Milla Guesthouse retains the flavour of the Malla period architecture. However, it has modern amenities like solar panels, fast wifi and a kitchen. This melding of old and new is a truly winning combination.

As a guest, be assured of the utmost privacy—the guest house has only two rooms, each with its own attached bathroom. Once in possession of your personal set of keys (comes with a handy LED light), no one would blame you for pretending to be the proud owner of this house. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and elegantly designed with custom-made, handpicked furniture.

If you can pull yourself out of bed, go downstairs to explore the labyrinth of quaint alleyways, or opt to just sit by the balcony and watch local life play out in the charming courtyard below.

Milla Guesthouse’s secret is its top floor dining-living room with a kitchen and open-air terrace. It feels almost too good to be true, as you relax in the deck chairs and take in the views of the southern hills of the Valley. The well-stocked kitchen also makes it great for long homestays.

What makes one’s stay truly memorable are Laxman and Sanu, the friendly Nepali couple who attend to the guesthouse. Their attentive service and warm smiles make you feel right at home. They prepare an elaborate, western-style breakfast of homemade bread, complete with a platter of fresh vegetables and cheese, and steaming hot coffee.

It is this pampering that makes the steep $70 per night well worth it. Especially if you are a refugee fleeing the dust and congestion of Kathmandu.

Toh Ee Ming

Milla Guesthouse

[email protected]

+977 9851024137/ +977 9851027012

Between Dattatraya Square and Naag Pokhari, Bhaktapur

Read also:

Back to Basics in Bhaktapur, Hariz Baharudin

The rebirth of Bhaktapur, Lukas Grimm

Bhaktapur’s Mithila influence, Bhaskar Koirala

The Valley's ancient heart still beats, Ramyata Limbu

Living in Bhaktapur the Austrian way

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