A Tour of Asan, the Oldest Streets in Kathmandu
Asan, conveniently located at the heart of Kathmandu, is more than just a place where locals do their shopping. A few blocks south of Thamel is this maze of little streets with one main street cutting through them all. This is Asan Tole, along which travellers and traders used to cross Kathmandu on the legendary Silk Road. Asan Tole has been Kathmandu’s main marketplace for centuries. The streets here are full of hidden treasures. When there are no motorcycles filling the streets, it’s easy to imagine that it must have looked this way for centuries.
I love Asan, and can get lost there for hours. Finding old shrines, entering hidden courtyards or drinking hot tea in a ‘hole in the wall’ tea shop. I can buy scarfs and t-shirts for half what I’d pay in Thamel, smell unknown spices and admire beautiful brass statues. When I walk the streets here I feel like I am in the heart of Asia, with all its chaos and beauty.
Start a self-guided tour of Asan by walking along Siddhidas Marg, from Kantipath. You enter the street and it’s easy to get lost among the people and only notice the shops. But don’t forget to look at the beautiful carved wooden windows with maybe an old lady peeking through. Keep an eye out for those little entrances that lead to courtyards. Walk inside and the sounds of the main street miraculously disappear, and only a pigeon or meditation bell is to be heard. You might discover a beautiful old shrine that has been hidden there for centuries, along with some laundry hanging out.
At Asan main square you will find a temple, spice shops and a stone figure of a fish. What? Yes a stone fish, placed on a pedestal at the center of the square. It marks the spot where a fish fell from the sky, and is related to the legendary founding of the Asan neighbourhood.
Continue your tour of Asan way past the brass kitchenware shops, sari shops, shoe shops and more. Keep an eye out for the temple on the right, the Seto Machhendranath Temple, named after a deity that is worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to have been established around the 10th century. Give the prayer wheels a spin and step through the doorway behind the temple. Suddenly you enter pottery square, where piles of different types of pots and statues wait to be sold. After looking around here, head back to the main street and continue towards the Durbar Square.
When I am in this area I always go to the best lassi shop in town, a small booth that has a big line of people waiting and drinking from paper cups. It’s hard to miss this place. I quench my thirst and finally join the tourist crowds at Durbar Square. I make my way up to a rooftop terrace and finish the afternoon with a beer, looking at the mountains in the distance.
If you walk the same route through Asan as I did, I am sure you will discover many different things to me. That is the beauty of Asan.
Article by Linda Ris and Fedor Ikelaar.
Top image: Juan Antonio Segal/Flickr