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Bhaktapur means ‘City of Devotees’ - an apt title for a place steeped in religious institutions and practises. Although the overwhelming majority of the city’s devotees are Hindu, there are no less than 19 Buddhist monasteries in Bhaktapur, once a formidable regional power and the fabled capital of the Greater Malla Kingdom. Today, situated just ten kilometres east of Nepal’s capital, Bhaktapur is a comparatively slow-paced and conservative place; it hasn’t progressed towards modernity half as much as its metropolis neighbour, Kathmandu. The city is chiefly celebrated for its three civic and religious squares, each home to elegant temples, palaces, artefacts, and shrines.
Formerly the seat of royal power, Durbar Square is the spiritual heart of Bhaktapur and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It boasts a profusion of temples, shrines, and monuments to Hindu deities. At its centre stands the Royal Palace, an exceptionally fine structure famous for its fifty-five ornate carved windows and its Golden Gate; currently it houses the National Gallery of Art. Nearby, a large bronze bell is rung twice a day as a tribute to the goddess Taleju.
Tamadhi square lies to the southeast of Durbar Square, a much smaller but no less impressive historic area. Here stands the city’s grandest and most renowned temple, the Nyatapola Mandir, dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi. Rising to a height of thirty metres, it is the tallest freestanding pagoda-temple in Nepal. Built in 1708, it remained virtually unscathed following a massive earthquake in 1934, much to the amazement of the Nepalese people. Many visitors come to the temple to worship the goddess Bhairbhi, a deity with Tantric origins. While the interior of the Mandir is accessible only to priests, from the outside visitors can glimpse doors and windows carved with divine figures, stone statues of legendary Rajput wrestlers, motifs of elephants, lions, griffons, and tantric goddesses.
The final of Bhaktapur’s three squares is Dattatraya Square. This is the oldest square in the city, having housed the original Royal Palace in 1427. The primary attraction in Dattatraya is the much celebrated—and extraordinarily aesthetic - Peacock Window. Located on the first floor of the temple in the southeast corner of the Square, this elaborate wooden carving depicts a peacock splaying its nineteen feathers, surrounded by foliage and cherubic figures. Thirty-five smaller birds frame the peacock, and at the base of the carving there are Hindu deities.