Bhaktapur and Nagarkot: A motorbike adventure

Behind these clouds are the Himalayas, the top of the world. View taken from Nagarkot Tower.
Behind these clouds are the Himalayas, the top of the world. View taken from Nagarkot Tower.

I found myself walking up the fog-covered road to Nagarkot tower a few minutes before the sun set on the mountains surrounding Kathmandu Valley. I was wet with sweat and the constant precipitation from the gray sky. I was catching my breathe, still suffering from the effects of nicotine which I soon after gave up.

But I was having the time of my life and I had no regret on pursuing this adventure.

This was a day before I left Nepal. I made a new friend during my stay who decided to bring me to Bhaktapur and Nagarkot on his motorbike. Unlike Patan, these areas are not walkable so I decided to take him up on his offer – he was a fellow journalist anyway.

Visiting Nepal in September is less than ideal – the weather is unpredictable with constant drizzles and cloudy skies. We had to stop by a coffee shop on the way to Bhaktapur because we were getting wet from the drizzle.

Always travel with a local

It’s always different when you travel with a local – this has been proven time and time again throughout my travels. Their know-how and local knowledge is much more valuable than anything you can find on blogs and books.

On our stop before Bhaktapur, we went to a local coffee shop where I only paid NPR5 for the hot chai tea I drank. If I were by myself, I would have paid NPR 60 for the same drink – or I would not have found the local shop in the first place.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square used to be the center of Nepal.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square used to be the center of Nepal.

When we finally arrived in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the third durbar in Kathmandu Valley, my friend Niranjan had a helpful tip that saved me a lot of money.

“Don’t speak,” he said, “you look Nepalese so if you don’t speak they won’t charge you.”

Bhaktapur Durbar Square from one of the broken stupas.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square from one of the broken stupas.

I didn’t. I walked through the square’s entrance pretending to be a local and it actually worked. We even went inside the museum inside the square, where relics similar to those in Patan Museum were displayed, paying the local fee for the ticket. All I had to do was keep quiet.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square had the widest space among the 3 durbar squares I visited. It also had the most elegant of structures. The Palace of 55 Windows shows the masterpiece of wood carvings during the 17th century when it was remodeled. The Golden Gate, which Nepalese claim to be the most beautiful and richly molded of its kind in the world, is also a wonder to behold.

Like the other durbar squares in the valley, this one, too, was heavily affected by the April 2015 earthquake, as seen in the wooden beams that hold what’s left of its centuries-old temples. There are a couple of structures that visitors can climb up to get a view of the entire durbar square. These are the bases of what used to be towering temples before the quake.

We spent less than an hour inside Bhaktapur, which literally translates into “The Place of Devotees”. Just walking through the ancient city’s cobbled streets was enough to see that there’s nothing there that I haven’t seen in the other durbar squares.

The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur.
The Golden Gate of Bhaktapur.

What sets Bhaktapur apart though is that it used to be the capital of Nepal until the second half of the 15th century and that it is the biggest of the 3 kingdoms in Kathmandu valley. It is best known for its special yoghurt, which is a must-try when visiting there.

Misadventure to Nagarkot

There are few places to view the Himalayas near Kathmandu and Nagarkot is one of them. Located some 32 kilometers east of Kathmandu, Nagarkot was on top of my travel bucket lists when I was making my itinerary to Nepal.

This is the view you pass by on the way to Nagarkot. It's definitely less polluted than Kathmandu.
This is the view you pass by on the way to Nagarkot. It’s definitely less polluted than Kathmandu.

I almost didn’t go here because I had a difficult time looking for public transportation. Thankfully, it was just a motorcycle ride away!

Two-thirds through the steep ride up the mountain, however, Niranjan’s engine started acting up because of bad motor oil. We ended up trekking the last and steepest roads up to Nagarkot Tower to catch the view of the Himalayas before sunset.

On top of Nagarkot Tower, the highest I've been in Nepal.
On top of Nagarkot Tower, the highest I’ve been in Nepal.

Niranjan parked the motorbike in a shop we passed by. He was obviously embarrassed of the incident so I kept telling him that this was the kind of adventure I was looking for and that it was totally okay. We passed by houses, army camps, and watchful trees in the 30 minutes we trekked before reaching the tower.

The view on top was nothing short of breathtaking. Hidden among the clouds that rarely gave way to the majesty behind it were the Himalayas, the top of the world. I only saw a fleeting glimpse of the mountains because the fog was heavy and night was beginning to fall. I clearly wasn’t prepared for the cool breeze on top of the mountain but it was all worth it. I would’ve opted to stay longer on top of the tower had it been allowed to stay after dark.

The walk down, as always, was faster and the motorbike no longer acted up on the way down. We had dinner back in Thamel and recalled our adventure.

“That’s something you can only experience in Nepal,” my friend said.

Namaste, Nepal!

Thank you, Niranjan!
Thank you, Niranjan!

I spent my last day in Nepal shopping for trinkets and souvenirs. There are a lot of places I wish I had the time to visit in the country like Pokhara and Chitwan, so I have a reason to go back.

On my next trip to Nepal, I also hope to climb the base camp to Mount Everest or try to do the cross-country travel to or from India, as I did in some countries in Southeast Asia. These are definitely on my travel bucket lists.

My trip was as I planned it to be – a mental, physical, and spiritual break from the craziness of my job and Philippine society post elections. The world used to believe that Kathmandu was the legendary Shangri-La during ancient times. For the week I spent there, despite the monsoon rains, the muddy roads, the horrendous traffic, and the broken infrastructures, Kathmandu really was.

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