Panauti Community Homestay – A Perfect Break from the City.
As lovely as many of Nepal’s hotels are, many visitors want to get a bit closer to ordinary Nepali people and to learn about how they live. A visit to Panauti Community Homestay is the perfect way to experience Nepali hospitality while visiting a pretty town that isn’t (yet) on the busy tourist trail.
Although it wasn’t our intention, my friend and I soon realised that we were in for a fun girls’ weekend at our Panauti Community Homestay. Warm and hospitable Sushila and her chatty, pretty fifteen-year-old daughter seemed delighted to have two foreign women to entertain for the weekend. Although we arrived late on Friday evening, our hands were soon being painted with intricate Mehndi (henna) designs, with promises of a cooking class, sari draping lesson and hair treatments the following day.
But first, some more ‘serious’ business—the best time to go sightseeing around Panauti is the early morning, while locals are conducting their pujas around the old temples. We started our sightseeing tour at 7am and soon realised that although we would normally just be waking up at this time, Nepalis seem to have started their day long before.
Although Panauti is a medium-sized town with a busy bus stand and many modern buildings and shops, but there is also a very well-preserved old town. It is said that the town is built on one large rock, so is less susceptible to seismic disturbance than other places nearby. Sushila told us that although they had certainly felt the earthquakes of April-May 2015, nothing within the old part of Panauti had been damaged.
The Indreshwar Mahadev Temple, a three-story pagoda, was built between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, and some authorities believe that the structure is the original one, never having been destroyed or rebuilt after any calamities. If this is true, it would be the oldest surviving pagoda in Nepal. Because we were there so early, we were lucky enough to witness the first puja of the morning. A priest inside the temple blew his conch horn and furiously rang a bell to notify the god of our presence. Just behind the main temple is the Triveni Ghat, with a series of smaller temples, including a building decorated on the outside with frescoes depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
One of the attractions of Panauti at this time of year—at the tail end of the monsoon, before the arrival of autumn—is the intense green of the rice paddies. From the window of our bedroom in the homestay lay a panorama of vivid green. There are also a number of hiking trails around Panauti, especially up to Dhulikhel and Namobuddha, which would warrant a longer stay in the town, or a repeat visit once this year’s stubborn monsoon has finally vanished.
One benefit of so much rain was that we stayed indoors and enjoyed some domestic arts. Although my friend and I both live in Kathmandu and have taken Nepali cooking classes before, we found we still had a lot to learn from Sushila. I wouldn’t have known what to do with a snake gourd, for instance, or what it tasted like; I’ve never before successfully made round (or almost-round!) chapattis, and I learned the recipe for a simple but very delicious tomato pickle. The same goes for wearing a sari—the elegant and traditional form of dress has long appealed to me, but successfully draping, tucking and pleating it has remained a mystery. I can’t say that I’ve mastered the art yet, as Sushila’s swift movements quickly had me dressed up to the nines before I’d realised what had happened. But I’m one step closer to understanding the process.
As Sushila said when we first arrived, “This isn’t just my house, this is your house, too. Make yourselves at home.” We really felt welcomed and at ease in her home. I highly recommend a stay at the Panauti Community Homestay to anyone who wants something more from their Nepal accommodation than just a comfortable night’s sleep.
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