My fascination with the Kingdom of Nepal never wanes. I’ve written extensively on Macfilos (see links at the foot of the article) and illustrated the articles with my simple, pocketable Ricoh GR. Who needs more, I sometimes ask. Not for me a full-frame camera and a bag of lenses; I’m content to work with one focal length, 28mm, and a camera that looks like a simple, innocent point-and-shoot.
I continue my travels by visiting the cities of Madhypur Thimi and Bhaktapur, both of which lie no more than ten miles east of Kathmandu. If Bhaktapur is on every tour operator itinerary, Madhypur Thimi is often neglected. Yet both are well worth a visit. Let’s start with the neglected one.
We actually spent more time in Madhypur Thimi than in Bhaktapur. The first remains of the original town, Newar, will send us back no less than five thousand years.
Madhypur Thimi is situated in the center of the valley between Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Because of its position it served as a bulwark between Bhaktapur and Patan, Kathmandu during the late Malla period when there were often battles among the three kingdoms of the valley.
Several theories surround the name “Thimi” and its meaning. Legend says that because the people of Thimi so successfully defended Bhaktapur, the kings of Bhaktapur called them “Chhemi”, meaning “capable people”, thus praising them for their loyal constant support. Gradually, the name of the settlement became “Thimi”. “Madhya” means centre and “pur” means city; therefore Madhyapur means city located in the centre. The oldest known name of the city is “Themmring”.
The town is clearly divided into two two parts, old and new. Getting lost in the old town lanes is a sheer pleasure. Some of the city temples suffered from the devastating 2015 earthquake that occurred in the valley. Many of the temples have been damaged and were being rebuilt during our visit. The main street is a derelict surfaced road that crosses the town from north to south. The first thing you notice while walking down this street is the slow pace of the town. Old men gossiping on a shaded pati (a covered and sculptured resting place you may find anywhere in the Kathmandu Valley) while women chat on their doorsteps. It seems as if time was suspended.
The main is street is lined with small shops. Shop owners patiently wait for customers while most of their merchandise is stored inside, behind wooden doors and sometimes behind sculptured pillars typical of the Newari traditional architecture. You can buy anything you need, shoes, a wicker basket, cloth or pastries if you feel inclined.
Thimi is also well-known for its potters, You may find potteries in many backstreets of the old town. Most of the items are made either in the open air or within tiny workshops with foot-operated potters’ wheels. Once the items are shaped, they are left outside to dry in the sun. The black clay slowly turns to orange while drying.
Bhakktapur means “the city of devotees”. It was the centre of one of the three Newa kingdoms (together with Khatmandu and Patan) in the 15th century. It is renowned for its temples and Newari architecture
For the visitor Bhakktapus resembles an open-air museum. Unlike other Unesco world heritage sites, this city is pleasing in the way ordinary life and monuments mingle. There is indeed no clearcut boundary between the two except for temples. The sculptures and woodwork are truly amazing. Every square, whether royal or not, is teeming with life, be it children playing or people passing by.
Apart from pottery, Bhaktapur is famous for its tailors and weavers, whether they work on traditional looms or use more modern sewing machines. They usually work in the streets or in small workshops that open on to the street. The city is home to many cloth shops as well among others.
Turning at a street corner, I stumbled into a camera shop. The front window was an absolute mess with a few five- or six-year-old DSLRs, backed by a clutch of point and shoot boxes. Fortunately, the owners had kept one of the front windows with the Konica advert. I imagine some of you remember the Konica Hexar, The Konica RF (the poor man’s Leica) and their postive and slide films back in the last century. That was a pleasant unexpected encounter,
Of course, the day would not be complete without a look at the local farmers selling their produce. It felt different from traditional markets as people were selling their products directly on the streets and squares in the centre of the city.
As an aside, it took us a couple of hours to cover the eight miles bewteen Bhaktapur and Kathmandu in the evening because a government minister was going on his way home. The police had blocked all the trafic. One of Orwell’s quotes in Animal Farm then came to my mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.