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Escape to Bhaktapur

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

I woke up miserable. Being scammed the day before had really done a number on me and my trust in people had been shaken. The streets I'd previously felt 100% safe walking through now felt dangerous. All I wanted to do was stay in my hotel room and hide but I knew that I needed to do the opposite. Get out and face the world so that I didn't become avoidant. I put some breakfast in me and voice-noted some friends. Had a good cry in the process and faced the day.

I needed to get out of Kathmandu. I was over it. But I wasn't in the mood to explore anywhere too touristy and tackle yet another round of politely telling people to sod off and leave me alone. I decided to head to Bhaktapur. A temple-heavy town with a supposedly more relaxed vibe. Rajan the tour agent and local "fixer" had taken me under his wing and hooked me up with a private taxi driver who would sit and wait for me all day. The safety blanket was really appreciated and in return I helped him write a thank you letter to a charity he was involved with. Quite funny being asked to be an English expert on the spot!

The taxi ride was spent in silence. I didn't even look out the windows any more. Nepal's busy dusty streets and wonky architecture were no longer of interest to me and I just wanted to keep my head down. "Would you like a guide?" asked the taxi driver. *sigh".

In Bhaktapur, the SECOND I opened the taxi door to the hot city air, a man came at me with a big grin on his face. Despite me keeping my head down and showing him zero interest, he followed me all the way to the ticket booth and told me where and how to buy my ticket despite the taxi driver taking care of me. I bought my 1500nr ticket (a tenner) and he kept following me down the road. I tried to engage in polite conversation and played the usually effective "I'm an artist, I'm just here to paint!" card. He switched it up and offered to show me a mandala. Argh! NO! I got frustrated enough for him to get the message and leave me alone.

I'd safely made it to the temple complex, which, to be fair, really impressed me. The architecture and details on all the buildings were beautiful. I also only seemed to draw the attention of three or four guides who backed of a lot easier than those at Durbar Square. These ones seemed a lot more relaxed. More aggressive however, were the women selling beads! They were all wearing pink as part of some organised bead peddling gang and made quite the insistent little army. Even waving my own beads at them wouldn't make them go away. I think it just advertised me as a bead lover haha it actually became quite funny interacting with them.

When I get to a new place, I find it easier to have a quick scouting walk vs sitting still and drawing the attention of the locals. Eyeing up the safe places to retreat to. Cafes. Potential sketching points. Areas with shade. All while trying my best to walk with purpose! Taking a lap around the side streets, Bhaktapur definitely had a much more relaxed vibe. There were less people in the streets. Less traffic to almost run you over. Nobody tried to lure me in to their shops. This was more like it!

In the town square sat the HUGE Nyratapola Temple which would make a great painting at some point. I could tell that this place could keep me busy and a few hours wouldn't really cover it. I clocked a few café options for lunch (the most Western, least intimidating ones!) and before tucking into my first painting, stopped for a cappuccino to take a breather. I felt pretty safe and relaxed, all things considered.

I then settled in to paint Bhaktapur Dhurbar Square, rapidly becoming one of my favourite painting spots yet. The southern-most temples providing a high platform to keep me out of the way of tourist & guide attention and their rooves protecting me in a blanket of shade. The perfect angle for composition and only one man offering to show me his mandala! Winner!

A highlight of my day, if not my whole trip was an entire school class invading my space. It was hilarious. I was descended upon by a hoard of tiny blue track suits. Lots of "Woooooow!" "That's amazing!" "Are you an artist!?". One hero came out with - "My uncle is an artist too, he can draw better than that".... "well he's probably older than me, he's had more practice!". One kid loved drawing so I told him to keep doing it lots and lots. Another kid gave me a BLUE GLITTERY STAR! I asked if it was for doing good work and he said yes. Yay! I've kept it to this day. The teacher apologised for the invasion but it was all pretty adorable stuff.

Durbar Square, when I finally got there three days later! Prints Available

I enjoyed the location so much that I ended up spending the whole afternoon on the same painting. A new record at three and a half hours. As the sun got lower in the sky, some teenagers sat on the temple behind me and sang away to an acoustic guitar. It was exactly the relaxed vibes I needed after yesterdays shocker of an afternoon.

Time was getting on. I went for one last scout to decide on a second day. In the time it had taken me to finish painting, the main square had been converted into a political rally. Hundreds of chairs lined the street, filled with elderly locals. Upbeat music warmed people up for what I'm sure would be quite the show. I sat on the top steps of the Nyatapola temple, soaked up the sunset and reluctantly dragged myself away to find my driver.

All in all, it was just what I needed to recover from the drama of the day before. Plenty of adventure, a fascinating place to explore and sitting still long enough to enjoy it. I had one day left in Nepal and given the choice of exploring Patan, right in the middle of Kathmandu vs a return trip Bhaktapur, the choice was obvious. I'd been through more than enough on this trip and I would happily sacrifice my last day of exploring if it meant feeling comfortable, safe and drinking coffees outside beautiful temples.

Happy days.


Thanks for reading!


I'm also a Motion Graphic Designer and available for commissions


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