Located just 32 kilometers from the noisy and chaos of Nepal’s capital, time seems to have stood still in Panauti. This small town in the Kathmandu Valley retains much of its charm and is reflects a much more relaxed pace of life that is typical across Nepal.
Originally a small state, it was given as a dowry by King Bhupatindra Malla to his sister. By the end of the 13th century, Panauti was integrated into the unified kingdom of Nepal with Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, which had all been former capital cities of the Kathmandu valley. In Panauti, it is still possible to see a variety of Buddhist and Hindu religious monuments.
One of the oldest towns in Nepal, there are temples that go back to the 15th century and even earlier. It is suggested that Panauti might have been founded by Ananda Malla (1274-1310BC) though others believe that a golden scripture dated 1385 that is in the Indreswor temple states that King Harisingh Dev founded the town.
Indreswor temple is one of the biggest and tallest pagoda style temples in Nepal and was built over a lingam in 1294, making it the oldest surviving temple in Nepal. The 1998 earthquake caused considerable damage and the building is awaiting restoration.
Artifacts and remnants including taps made of stones, statues and coins have been found in some of the excavated parts of the royal palace. There is a good little museum where some of these treasures can be seen.
Panauti holds a number of festivals reflecting the ancient tradition and ancient mythology. One of the most important is the three days long Panauti Jatra. This is the chariot festival that occurs annually just before the monsoon (May–June). During the festival, images of the gods are brought from the town’s temples and displayed around the city on chariots that start from the town’s
Durbar Square. A team comprising of a priest, a woman, and a porter cross the Punyamati River to worship the gods. On the main day of the festival (Mu-Jatra), goats or ducks are sacrificed and offerings made to the gods. On the sixth day (the full moon day known as Panauti Punhi) is when everyone visits the river to cleanse themselves.
A charming and historic town, you can still see the women winnowing rice and drying their chillies on the pavements, washing in the river and going about their daily shopping. I fist visited the place twenty years ago and of all the places in the Valley, in the old part of the town, little has changed.
Working with Royal Mountain Travel, the women in Panauti have come to together to offer fifteen homes where guests can stay with the family, sharing with them their meals and gaining an insight into everyday, typical Nepali life.
Each home offers one or two bedrooms where guests are made to feel at home. If the parents don’t speak so much English, their children certainly do, as English is taught in all the schools and colleges.
The homes are similar in what they can offer their guests. Most have hot water, heated by solar panels on the roof. A few that don’t, can offer hot bucket showers and they all have clean, rooms and bathrooms. After a warm welcome, the family shows their guests around the town, taking them down the little back streets to see some of the hidden treasures of the town: the family old houses that are hidden from view, the little stupas and beautifully arranged museum by the banks of the river. The funeral pyres of Newar, Brahmin and Chhetri groups line the river. The old part of the town is predominantly Newar and there are many examples of the fine wood carved windows and traditional architecture that this group is so famous for in the Kathmandu Valley.
In the evening, everyone gathers in the family kitchen where guests can watch or if they like, help with preparing the evening meal. Newar cuisine is delicious, using a wide range of the vegetables that are in season, bought from the local market. Potatoes in Nepal are especially good, but in particular, Panauti potatoes are famous over all Nepal as being the best.