My Patan Homestay definitely made me love staying in one, therefore, I chose to do another Homestay in Panauti. My Royal Mountain Travel guide picked me up yet again. I was sad to go, but unfortunately, it was a must – I needed to make do and adjust with the short amount of time I had remaining in the beautiful country of Nepal.
This time around, I was headed to Bhaktapur for sightseeing for around an hour or two, then to Panauti to spend the night. Interestingly enough, Panauti is where the community homestay culture started! The town has a homestay program where tourists and visitors can get to know and admire the ancient town and its people by interacting, mingling, and even eating with them. They have 17 local homes available for visitors as of now and quite frankly, Panauti is the community I enjoyed best among the three.
Before we get into the homestay, we have to introduce the beautiful town of Panauti. It’s a historical city which goes way back to ancient times. The town we know and love today was once a small state given by the king of Bhaktapur as a dowry for marriage.
Bhaktapur might be more prominently known as the old city, but most of its structures were unfortunately damaged quite heavily during the tragic 2015 earthquake. However, the damage was minimal in the town of Panauti so many of the ancient structures, including Buddhist and Hindu temples, remained untouched and as of present are still available to see! The reason why Panauti wasn’t as damaged during the earthquakes is apparently because . the town was built atop a giant rock, making it less affected by the elements.
Experience with my family!
This time around, my host mom was named Kumari – a word that is now familiar to me! While I was in Patan, I learned all about Kumari, also known as the Living Goddess – I couldn’t help but think it was such a fitting name for a kind woman like her.
Kumari’s house is a little bit “far” from the community center. It was an easy walk since all I had on me was my backpack, but if you have some heavier luggage….then it’s best that you go by car.
Heading back on track, I was greeted with a smile by Kumari. She spoke good English as well, much to my enjoyment! She took me to her home, which was just bustling and lively, filled with hospitable energy. There were 8 people living in the house all in all – Kumari, her husband, her youngest sister Bhumi, her son, her mother, her brother, and her sister in law.
Quickly, Kumari shared to me little details and stories about her family! While Panauti is a Newari village just like Patan, I found out that Kumari’s family originally hails from Tamang. I’d just arrived and I was already very excited, listening fondly to her stories while she cooked lunch for us. This time around, I had more than ample time to digest the food I had eaten in the morning since we’d gone loitering around Bhaktapur – so I hungrily ate my meal up. Similar to the food I had in Patan, Kumari cooked up some spinach, cauliflower, pickles, chicken curry, and dal – so I suppose those are staples to the Nepali diet! It didn’t matter if I’d had the food before, it was just as delicious.
While we ate, Kumari and her son talked all about their hobbies – her son loved Japanese animes in particular. He can even understand the shows without subtitles! The only thing he struggles at with the language, however, is actually speaking it. He shared some details about a potential internship program Japan is opening for Nepal, and how he would really like to go and visit.
Kumari’s sister Bhumi, on the other hand, talked about her plans to study community development alongside her older brother in Australia.
It was all a good insight into their lives! It really allowed me to connect to the family all the more, finding all about these interests and the dreams and plans they wanted to achieve. Immediately, I felt welcomed as a guest. Not to mention, there wasn’t really any language barrier whatsoever since they all spoke very good English!
After lunch, I together with Bhumi and Kumari walked over to the town center to see more of Panauti – we’d have taken the bus but the terminal was quite packed. I found out that the reason why it was so busy is because the town would be celebrating a festival the very next day – Makar Sankranthi, to be exact. It is a festival dedicated to the Hindi sun god Surya which takes place each year in January, marking the end of the winter solstice as well as the beginning of longer days.
Thus, the buses were all full and most of the townspeople were out and about, heading to the market to purchase the food and sweets that they commonly eat during the festival. Bhumi explained that they celebrated this twice a year! To their community, it acts as the Day 1 of their calendar.
We walked over, closer to the bridge where we saw someone being cremated and although it’s a sad occasion, it was also a learning experience because the two host families explained to me their rituals. See, this is why it’s best to tour around with locals – you learn a lot of new things.
When we crossed the bridge and I saw the main square….I fell in love immediately! I enjoyed this area much more than I did the others.
Bhumi, Kumari, and I sat by the bricks and just looked up at the towers where birds flew past – it was so quiet we could hear the chimes! It stood out to me as a perfect spot for meditation. We sat there for a while and just took in the sights. Then, we explored some more until we finally made our way back home. During our walk, we had lots of stories to share with one another. I saw some children playing games and Bhumi explained the mechanics of the local game – I love witnessing these small and simple sights which stick to the memories of the heart.
When we arrived at the house, they dressed me in a traditional saree and taught me how to do a Nepali dance! We danced with most of the family members, took some pictures of the sunset, and had some fun until Kumari told me it was time for us to cook.
We made aloo paratha – a type of bread I’d enjoyed previously in India. I took a bite, expecting that same familiar flavor only to realize it tasted different! Much more delicious, made with so much more love. The bread takes quite a bit of effort to make, and I appreciated the fact that Kumari took all that time to prepare some for me. She taught me how to roll the dough, make it into circles….it was quite tiring I must say! Also, I wasn’t very good. After finishing around seven pieces of bread, Kumari took over while Bhumi heated up the dough one by one. The preparation for this meal took us more than an hour! But even so, time flew by past and it felt like no effort at all since we were bonding and talking all the while. Kumari told me she wanted me to learn how to make aloo paratha since it was such a good dish (which is true enough, given how much I enjoyed it in India!). Now, however, I can make and appreciate the dish with much more love, combined with the memories of the three of us cooking together.
We ate together again for dinner, talking and laughing about our experiences the entire day. I was laughing mostly at myself while I tried to roll the aloo paratha – I sang quite a bit as well, which they enjoyed. The time passed quickly with lively stories, laughs, and smiles while we all bonded until it was, sadly, finally time to say goodnight.
Living with a local family, even for just a short while, really makes your travel experience so much more wholesome and interesting. Just like I did with my previous homestay, I wish I could have stayed longer because Nepali families are just so nice.
What to See in Panauti
Panauti is a very old area, meaning it has lots of ancient sights and sounds to offer. It’s full of stunning temples and structures that make you stop and stare. Here, then, are some of the best places to visit while you’re in the lovely town:
This is the first temple visitors will usually see once they cross the bridge over the river – and it’s a stunning first impression indeed! It was built all the way back in the 1700s, dedicated to the goddess Brahmayani who is the chief goddess of the village. Inside you will find the stone shrine dedicated to her – it is taken out at the end of the monsoon seasons and celebratorily taken around town.
Indreshwar Temple Complex and Museum
Most of the sights in Panauti are free, but this temple complex requires a 300 rupee entrance fee. The payment is more than worth it, however, once you see for yourself how stunning the structures in the area really are – it feels as if you’ve been transported back in time. The area is one of the best preserved in the entirety of Nepal. This is where you can find the Indreshwar Temple itself, which stands out among all the others with it’s three towering pagodas. Aside from its appearance, it’s history also makes it very special: it’s the oldest Newar-style pagoda in Nepal which is still standing to this date. There are many other smaller temples in the area, their names written on brass nameplates for proper identification.
Panauti Old City
Stroll through the old, quiet streets of Panauti and admire the red brick houses and narrow lanes – definitely a beautiful place for a morning walk. Aside from the pretty homes, there are also small temples and shrines littering the area, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse at the hidden yet lovely history of the small town.
How to get there
- Bus – From the Ratna bus park, there are buses going to Panauti every 15 minutes. Fares cost 60 rupees per person.
- Taxi – Another convenient option, but it can be rather expensive. One way trips usually go for about 2000 – 4000 rupees.
- Private vehicle – Given the pollution in the Kathmandu valley, as well as winding roads in the area, a private vehicle might be the most comfortable mode of transportation.
Importance of Panauti
Panauti, as mentioned earlier, is home to many ancient structures. Its historical background runs way back, being mentioned as early as the 13th century! This makes it one of the oldest towns still standing in the entirety of Nepal – not to mention one of the towns whose historical structures are still preserved. While the town and its ancient temples and shrines were for the most part undamaged by the earthquake, the townspeople still suffered greatly – their homes and properties destroyed and still unable to be rebuilt due to lack of funds even though the earthquake occurred all the way back in 2015. This makes donations and tourism to the small town quite vital to the people’s incomes – it helps them earn money to rebuild and sustain their lifestyles – and their beautiful, ancient town.