Kathmandu's field of gravity weakens somewhere east of the airport; beyond, you fall into the rich atmosphere of BHAKTAPUR (also known as BHADGAUN). Rising in a tight mass of warm brick out of the fertile fields of the valley, the city looks something like Kathmandu must have been before the arrival of the modern world. In among Bhaktapur's herringbone-paved streets and narrow alleys, the atmosphere is no less medieval: women wash at public taps, men in traditional dress lounge in the many sattal, or covered loggias, peasants squat by the road selling meagre baskets of vegetables and worshippers assiduously attend neighbourhood shrines. And everywhere the burnt-peach hue of bricks is offset by the deep brown of intensely carved wood -- the essential media of the Newari architects.
Even today, well over half of Bhaktapur's population is from the agricultural Jyapu caste of the Newars, and it may well be the city's tightly-knit, inward-looking nature that has saved it from the free-for-all expansion that overwhelms Kathmandu. Thanks to a long-term German-funded restoration and sanitation programme, and to the policies of its independent-minded municipal council, much of the city is pedestrianized. Temples and public shelters have been restored with the money raised from the entrance fee, and new buildings are now required to follow traditional architectural styles. This is one Nepali city that has got its act together, and it wears its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site proudly.
It's hardly surprising therefore that some relatively upmarket travellers head to Bhaktapur straight from Kathmandu airport. During the day, tour groups and persistent "student" guides mill about enthusiastically in the beguiling main squares, but after hours, or in among the maze of backstreets, it would be hard not to feel the pulse of this quintessential Newari city.