• Accomodation
  • 12 December, 2022

Finding a home away from home at the Patan Community Homestay

Finding a home away from home at the Patan Community Homestay

During my first two months into my visit to Nepal, I was met with the opportunity to live with a local family in the heart of historic Patan through the Community Homestay Network. While I had been in Nepal for a while, I got to truly experience the country’s rich culture when I lived in a Patan Community Homestay for a week. 

Prior to my stay, I was not fully aware of Nepal’s numerous ethnic groups and distinct cultures. But as I stayed at the homestay with my host family, I learned a lot from the family about the Newari culture they represent, traditional ethnic food, Paubha art, and festivals — especially the Newari New Year — which I had the privilege of celebrating with them. 

Coming home to a new place

While I had long dreamt of my trip to Nepal, the idea of staying at a homestay kept me a tad bit nervous. Although I have traveled quite a lot, this would be my first experience staying with a local family.

Pimbahal Pukhu, a pond in Patan. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

It’s pretty easy to tell when you arrive in Patan. The old brown brick houses adorned with beautifully carved wooden windows, small Buddhist stupas every now and then, faux cobblestone paths makes Patan feel as if it was never touched by time. The fascinating bustle of the street made my eyes move restlessly from side to side with the desire to see everything simultaneously. Crowds of people, street vendors with fruit carts, and motorbikes everywhere made sure the taxi I was in could only move inches at a time, but I did not mind it since it made it easier for me to observe the beautiful unfiltered chaos that was Patan.

When the taxi finally did stop and I found myself in a peaceful neighborhood with a giant Buddha statue rising inbetween a few colorful houses. As I admired the fascinating sculpture, I noticed my host mom at the doorway of one of the apartments beckoning me closer with her hand. With her palms pressed together, she greeted me by saying “Namaste” and introduced herself as Ujjswala. She led me up the stairs to what would be my room for the next few days. 

My cozy bedroom. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

The home was a huge, three-story terraced apartment building with a rooftop. From the beginning, I enjoyed its traditional interior, full of vibrant details. The colorful walls were decorated with numerous fascinating traditional paintings, which increased the feeling of authenticity. My room was very spacious and had a beautiful neighborhood view from the window. I was happy about the private bathroom that gave me more privacy. The warm showers were also one of the comforts of the homestay.

A beautiful view of the neighborhood from my window. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

Once at the home, I was able to make acquaintance with the rest of the family. I first met Ujjswala’s son Sulav, with whom we quickly found common ground. In addition to our same age, we were both currently doing an internship in the tourism industry in Kathmandu. Later in the afternoon, I met the father of the family, Suman, and the lively 17-year-old daughter, Tisa.

Ancient Patan and momos with Sulav 

On most mornings, breakfast usually consisted of beaten rice, chopped fruit, egg, toast and tea, and sometimes sausages and lakhamari (a Newari sweet). Since I was not yet familiar with Pathao (the local taxi app), Ujjswala kindly arranged a scooter ride to the office I was interning at, and back home for four hundred rupees ($3) a day, lending her helmet to me as well. It felt comforting that I had family was taking care of me, despite it being my first time in a new country. 

On one of my first evenings in the city, Sulav offered to be my local guide to Patan. Before we left, he asked if I had tasted momos before. Since I had never heard of them, he seemed excited, “You must try momos; they are the most popular food here in Nepal.” Without thinking any longer, we started looking for a restaurant that serves momos. Crossing the streets and dodging between loud motorbikes was stressful, so I happily let Sulav take care of that part, focusing on just keeping close behind him. 

After a short walk, we settled in a rooftop restaurant with a beautiful view of Patan Durbar Square, the area’s most famous attraction. The square is one of the three historical Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley, each of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sulav was right that it would be even more charming in the evening with the lights. The hot momo’s we were having only made it better.

Hanging out in Patan Durbar Square with Sulav. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

Cooking Dal Bhat together 

One evening, Ujjswala asked if I wanted to cook dinner together. In Nepal, food is often cooked at home and is, therefore, an inseparable part of the culture. The kitchen, i snot only where body and soul are nourished, but also where the family gather together and is the heart of the home. Although cooking is not my favorite hobby, I wanted to experience this side of their culture and show my gratitude for their unparalleled hospitality.

Preparing traditional Dal Bhat. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

Nepal is home to many different ethnic groups with their own cuisines and cooking traditions. Together with Ujjswala and Tisa, we cooked Dal Bhat, a staple dish eaten all over Nepal. As the name suggests, the main components of the simple dish are lentils (dal) and rice (bhat), which are often combined with tarkari (vegetable curry), sag (curried spinach), achaar (pickled vegetables), meat, and crunchy papad. 

In Nepal, food is usually cooked on the floor. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

Like most Nepali food in general, Dal Bhat also contains many different herbs and spices. The recipe varies between regions, seasons, and families. For example, my host family also added a sort of salsa, into which I was tasked with chopping tomatoes and garlic.

The family sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor on small rugs and waited for the mom to portion the food on the plates. I tried to follow, but unfortunately, my pants didn’t stretch for the position, so I had to settle for a more accessible posture. Ujjwala purposefully scooped food from the pots onto the plates, each dish separately. 

When receiving one of the plates, I asked how to say thank you in their language. She guessed that I was confused about the differences between Nepali and Nepal Bhasa, so she started by telling me that in Nepali, thank you is “dhanyabaad,” and then added that in their language, Nepal Bhasa, it is “subhay,” to make me understand that Newari people also have their own language.

Eating with hands in Nepalese style. (Photo credit: Mona Eväluoto)

I’ve always liked the saying, “do what the locals do,” so even though I was offered cutlery, I wanted to try the local way, eating with my hands. Tisa advised me to grab the food with my fingers instead of the whole hand so it would be easier to aim it in my mouth. 

Sitting on the floor with my back hunched, trying to find a comfortable position for my legs, and putting the food in my mouth without half of it  falling back on the plate while watching how naturally the family managed this all made me feel clumsy. However, I was proud of my effort and confident that I was not the only foreigner in Nepal who had felt this way. The different dishes of the Dal Bhat complemented each other brilliantly, making it a delicious whole. I have to admit that I was relieved that the food wasn’t too spicy. Ujjswala, having witnessed several travelers struggling with fiery food, must have deliberately added fewer spices for me.

Homestays over hotels

A homestay is so much more than a place to stay for a trip. Often travelers look for experiences outside the accommodation, but when staying in a homestay, the experience is already there. Living with a local family is an exciting dive into a new culture and an opportunity to experience it authentically. It is a valuable chance to create new relationships and to have a second family abroad who keeps you coming back again and again.

The host of Patan Community Homestay, Ujjswala, and her lovely family welcomed me to their country, Nepal, but most of all to their home and life. So much happened during my time there that a week felt like a month. In such a short time, I got to experience both everyday life and celebration with them, which taught me a lot about the local Newari culture. 

From day one, they made me feel like I was part of their family by inviting me to family gatherings and daily chores like cooking. My time in Patan opened my eyes to the benefits of staying at a homestay. I got  to dive into the local culture and interact with the locals on a whole new level, resulting in new friends and memories I will never forget.

My host family  became my support network, creating security and helped me adjust to a foreign country. My stay at the Patan Community Homestay made the cliché “a home away from home” very real for me.

Want to try out the same experience? Book a stay at the Patan Community Homestay!

  • Leave a reply

  • Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *