Bungamati, An Overlooked Hub of Newari Culture
Bungamati is an historical village in the south of the Kathmandu Valley. It is easily accessible from Patan by bus (from Lagankel bus station), taxi, or even by walking or bicycle. You cross the Ring Road and follow the main road through Nakkhu and Baisepati. For those with more time on their hands, there are surely more interesting back routes to be taken to reach Bungamati, too. You could incorporate a trip to Bungamati as part of a trail running route towards Pharping, for example.
Bungamati was badly damaged during the earthquake in 2015, and its main square is currently under some reconstruction. This in itself is of interest, as fascinating attempts are being made to complete reconstruction using traditional methods. Many of the main temples are in decent shape, including the temple of Rato Machhindranath. This houses the red-painted statute of the god of the same name for six months of the year, when not at the Machhindranath Temple in Patan.
Being a little further out, Bungamati has retained quite a distinct feeling. Large wells are still in use and the smell of woodsmoke from cooking fires adds to a medieval atmosphere. The locals are friendly and proud, eager to welcome guests to the village. The village has not been affected by tourism in the same way that better-known places such as Bhaktapur have been. Most places to eat lie on the streets close to the bus station, and there you can sample some simple but delicious Newari fare.
Wander through the narrow and twisted streets, pleasantly free from vehicles and mopeds. Pause to examine intricately carved wooden doors and windows, set into traditional brick buildings. Step into one of the many almost-hidden courtyards to admire a concealed temple or stupa. Smile and wave at enthusiastic children, who are eager to practice their English with a ‘hello, how are you?’ You will be amazed that such a tranquil living museum lies just a few kilometers from the Ring Road.
Bungamati warrants a visit at any time of year, but a particularly fascinating time to visit is during the Mattya festival. The exact date varies from year to year, but is usually around the end of August/start of September. The main attraction of this festival starts from the main square in Bungamati. Women don their colourful and unique clothing and lead a procession around Bungamati, leaving offerings at each temple. The procession usually starts in the afternoon, around 4pm. It’s a colourful display of costumes and butterlamps, and mercifully less crowded than other festivals around the valley.
Article by Hannah Straw.