Patan

Untold story of Patan Community Homestay

Although I live in Kathmandu, I never explored Patan, just on the other side of the Bagmati River. So I thought I should. A weekend stay at the Community Homestay Patan was just what I needed.

Patan’s ancient Durbar Square has a beautifully-preserved collection of temples and buildings from the 14th-18th centuries, and in between them are little lanes with traditional wooden low door frames and shops selling sweets, socks, and electrics.  Patan is also where artisans have lived and crafted for generations- the wood carvers, metal carvers, and artists. The stories here start centuries ago.

I met up with Bishwas, the organizer of the 12 Patan homestays that are currently running. I washed the grime off my face from my scooter ride across the city, drank a bunch of water, and ate lunch with him. I started to feel revived with the spicy versions of the buff and pickle dishes. It turned out to be a pretty peppy lunch!

Then we started to explore for the afternoon. But first, we stopped off at the home where I’d be spending the night.

The entire family sat with us in the Second floor living room and we traded introductions. Ujwala, the mom, is also involved in an entrepreneurial bag making enterprise, in addition to running the home and taking care of the guests.  She showed me what she’s been making

These community homestays encourage women’s involvement, and that makes sense because groups of women are what make the neighborhoods tick. You see them at 5 AM gathering water in their copper pots, and before meal times shopping together and solving the world’s problems at the side of the wall.

Ujwala’s husband has an electric shop on the ground level of their home. They have two children: Sulav, who is 17 and on his way to becoming a master chef (although he is still not allowed to help cook in his mother’s kitchen), and Tisa, a sparkling 13 year old. Both children speak very good English. They all said that they enjoyed having guests, talking to them, learning about their countries, similarities, and differences; in short, the cultural exchange. We spent a while talking together over glasses of Lemon Fanta. Then Bishwas, Sulav and I went to hit the town.

It’s possible to have a bespoke itinerary created for you while you stay at the community homestay. If you’re interested in Buddhism, architecture, craftsmanship, food… whatever you’d like to learn about or experience, they can make it happen. I decided to leave it to Bishwas this afternoon.

First, we went to see Kumari, the living goddess.

kumari-patan-homestay

There are several Kumaris around Nepal, and they are all young girls who stay indoors, receiving visitors and giving blessings. Their tenure is up when they have their first period, and after that, they somehow assimilate back into the teenage world. (There’s a lot more to the story, but that’s for another time). It was very educational to actually see the young girl, her family, her tutors, and to hear more about this practice from locals.

Even from this experience, I started to get a feel of the community. Bishwas had phoned up the Kumari’s father to make sure it was okay if we stopped by. On the way to her home, Bishwas paused several times to greet friends in the streets. Sulav was a little uncomfortable at first, but he started opening up and chatting. One day he’ll help with the guests and take them around Patan, too.  It’s all about making relationships over here.

Our next stop was a pink-walled apartment, where young artists were sitting on flat cushions lounging around easels and paints. One was practicing applying mehndi, or henna tattoos, on another girl’s hand. They turned down the heavy metal music when we arrived. They were all friends and students of the master, Saziv Shakya. Saziv arrived a little later, and we had a long, unhurried conversation with him. He’s pretty famous around these parts for his paubha paintings of religious figures.

painting-patan-homestay

Saziv’s family were originally metal carvers. In his teens, he began to paint. In time it made sense to combine the two genres. So his special touch is that he adds metal work and precious gems on top of the canvas for a brilliant, almost 3D effect. He’s become successful at home and abroad.

The best part for me about this experience was the inviting atmosphere of the small studio. It turns out that Saziv and Bishwas had actually gone to school together as little kids, then hadn’t seen each other in a decade. They met again once they were adults with careers. Now they are working together, each helping the other with their businesses, and simply being friends.

We spent a few hours there, just talking. We covered Saziv’s art, his gallery, his new marriage, family life, meditation, illness, healing.

I felt very comfortable and welcome. It was an easy environment, with open people, and this conversing was what it was all about.

We said goodbye to Saziv and scooted off for a pre-dinner snack.

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We ended up at a dark, low-ceilinged Newari joint. There were newspapers on the walls coated with smoke film and time. The five tables were full of people, plates of beaten rice and egg, buff tartare, and cups of change (or rice wine). We scooped up a spot and tucked into to a plate of spicy fried beaten rice and a little fizzy sweet-and-sour change. They’d run out of the mystery meats I always like to try at places like this. (Which was probably for the best, as it usually doesn’t turn out so well a few hours later). We had a little chat with the owners who have had the same spot, the same gas burner, and much of the same clientele, for decades.

After this, we scooted back to the guesthouse. I had a little rest and recharged my phone while dinner was being prepared. My basic room overlooked a courtyard with a communal water tap, jungle gym, several stupas, a large statue of Buddha, and patches of grass. At 7:00 PM, everybody was out and about playing, helping to buy last minute veggies, catching up on the day. I took a little stroll past the butchers, the small mom-and-pop shops, and the sweets stalls. I wandered back for dinner at dusk and went up to the top floor for dinner in the kitchen.

patan-homestay

We had a basic meal of rice with chicken and veg curries and dal. I ate with the family and made a little small talk with Sulav. We sat on the floor, ate quickly. That was just fine for me. I was starting to fade, and I knew I had an early start the next day.

My bedroom was basic but large. There were 3 beds, a lot of floor space, and an old fan. The wooden windows opened onto the courtyard. I plugged in a mosquito repellent liquid, shut half the windows, and tucked into my Nepali bed.

The next morning I was brought a cup of tea, and I didn’t really see anybody. It was Saturday so the kids didn’t have school and were sleeping in. The father was opening up his shop on the ground floor.

Bishwas and his brother Bipen came to collect me. We went through empty lanes to the Golden Temple. A lot of people were already lighting incense and candles, making rounds and turning prayer wheels. After this, we went over to Bishwas’ house for breakfast.

Over pancakes, hard boiled eggs, and milk tea, I spoke to his mom, wife, and father. Their house has three rooms, which are offered to homestayers. I met an Australian lady who had been there all week. She was loving it. She said she helped cook and chatted with the family every day. She was in town for work, so she didn’t have a lot of time to see the sights or wander the streets to soak up the culture. That’s why her stay with the family was so important to her. It was the best way of experiencing Nepali life in the short time she was there.

As for me, a Kathmandu resident, I was very pleased with my southern adventure. There’s so much going on down there! I’d like to get back to explore the wood carvers and metal workers and learn more about the ancient architecture. It’s nice to know that I can have a retreat from the busy world up north and come stay with and learn about this entirely different community. I know I can call up Bishwas or Saziv and they’d help me explore more of the Patan community anytime.

Author: Erin Green

CommunityHomestay.Com - Team

CommunityHomestay.Com is an initiative of Royal Mountain Travel. It is a community-based homestay network that connects global travelers with real Nepalese, for a genuine, local travel experience in Nepal.

CommunityHomestay.Com - Team

CommunityHomestay.Com is an initiative of Royal Mountain Travel. It is a community-based homestay network that connects global travelers with real Nepalese, for a genuine, local travel experience in Nepal.

One Comment

  • Bishwas Bajracharya

    August 16, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Erin, it was my great pleasure to show you my home town. Please do come back as there are lot more things you missed beacuse of short time.