Tag Archives: kathmandu

My Pau Story

pau

Many of my childhood memories are packed into boxes, but then there are some that are wrapped in little packets and sold in Kathmandu’s shops.

It comes in flavorful assortments — sweet, savory, sour, spicy, mix of sweet and savory, or a fusion of all those and even more — just like the blend of emotions that’s sometimes a mix of everything. In Newari — my mother tongue that I struggle to speak — it’s called pau, which literally means sour. In Nepali — the language I speak on a daily basis — it’s referred as titaura.

If I were to translate pau and its meaning to English — the language I mostly write in — it might be as perplexing as its taste that created a riot of confusion on my American friend’s tongue, and then his face, so much so he spat it out with disgust.

Mostly made from lapsi, pau is as distinctive as the marble-sized hog plum it’s made of, native to Nepal and a few other Asian countries. I cannot recall the exact age I first tasted pau but I can guesstimate the place — it must have been one of the Newari bhwayes where the liquified pau, known as pau kwa or lukewarm pau, is served toward the end of the feast so one can wash away the heaviness of the meal with a tangy aftertaste on the tongue.

My dadi maa especially made the maada for the bhwayes. I watched her smush the lapsi and separate it from the seeds that we later turned into a spinning top. I squatted in front of my grandmother as she sprinkled the gooey texture with salt, chili powder, and hing, among other spices, before pasting on a wooden board and then leaving it in the sun for days until it dried and peeled off. She also made the special ones, sprinkled with sugar, for her grandchildren — that was the only kind of pau that was allowed, and that, too, was rationed.  

As for the other kind, the sweet, savory, dry, or drenched-in-red-saucy-gravy-kind of titaura sold in shops and restricted at home, I might have savored it when I was old enough to have a 1 rupee pocket money from my grandfather. “Just don’t buy pau,” baa said tirelessly. “I’ll buy postcards,” my automated response awaited.

Holding the blue-colored note in a badly-shaped origami, I often sneaked out of the house to the shops along the street that led to Pashupati. I had already tasted pau and my tongue longed for those flavorful explosions, making the child’s brain go on a little adventure — the thrill of buying the forbidden fruit in plain sight was as venturous as going on a secret treasure hunt.

Most of the times I stopped by the nanglo pasal owned by an old couple beside the Bhimsen Temple — they had the best deal in their small shop spread over a circular bamboo tray. About eight square-sized pieces of the savory and sour pau for a rupee.

Then there was Dambar Man’s shop where I bought bechi pau, dusted with black salt. The shopkeeper, Dambar Man’s young son, took out the tiny, rectangular pau pieces from the glass jar, counted each of them meticulously, as I impatiently waited hoping no one would see that. One rupee got me about 20 small pieces that lasted almost the entire day — and I made sure it lasted.

Few houses down, at Chandra Man’s shop, the elderly man’s daughters sat listlessly listening to the radio as I asked for the spicy and saucy imli pau made of tamarind. Sometimes they ignored the little customer until they finished their conversation. And a visit to my cousins’ at Bagbazaar meant the mandatory stop at the shops in Ratna Park with my aunts who also loved the pau there — the shops specialized only in pau and were famous for their jhol titauras, which I smuggled home as prized souvenirs from a foreign trip to relish later.

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There is no right or wrong way to savor titatura. Some throw it in their mouth, then chew and swallow like one would gulp a good glass of wine without stirring, smelling and slowly sipping. But I was the other kind, the lobhi or the greedy kind, who preferred the longer-lasting pau experience.

I first licked off the salty dusting from the bechi pau or the gooey sauce of that chili titatura in slow motion as the tongue touched the mouth’s hard palate before the saliva flooded the taste. Everything that remained then went into the mouth, again playing in between the mouth’s palate and the tongue, as the jaws moved in a mark of approval before the experience ended.

But the slow and lobhi approach wasn’t always possible, especially not in the presence of my parents who were the enemy No. 1 of pau. I wasn’t always successful in hiding my pau-eating habit either. The paus, especially the ones dusted and drenched in chili sauce that stained my deep pockets that hid it from the disapproving eyes of my elders, gave away my secret.

There was anger when they found my chili-stained pockets, and each one of them never hesitated to blame titatura for any tummy troubles. “It’s all because of pau — they’re unhealthy and unhygienic,” they said every time mostly in Newari, which made me believe they weren’t really communicating that to me.

I couldn’t tell if that was the truth —parents even told children that paus sold in shops were made of paper to deter them from eating — but I never tried to find out because I wanted that affair to continue. And it still does.

Today, pau is packaged and labelled with ingredients that goes into the making following proper procedures. Gone are the days when I could ask for the beji pau from the glass jar and Dambar Man’s son would count individual pieces before wrapping into a small sheet of the previous day’s Gorkhapatra. It’s now available at supermarkets and brands market them as “export quality,” packets of which I still stash in my suitcase before leaving Kathmandu. In a foreign land, I save them for as long as I can, just like the lobhi child who took the longest time to savor it, and each bite reminds me of home and more so the frivolous stories associated with my pau-eating habit.

Pau’s status as a gastronomical delight is arguable, and I don’t even know how to categorize it — Is it a snack? Is it a treat? Is it really being called candy these days? — but it unquestionably does the trick of tickling the taste buds and is a treat for the tongue. And after all these years, however unhealthy it may be, that little piece of pau still sparks so much joy.

Photos: Alok Thapa

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Meeting the Living Goddess

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Kathmandu is supposedly where the gods and goddesses once frequently visited. Locals say their presence is still strong in this city crowded with temples and shrines — the deities that once toured the valley now dwell in these temples. And to be precise, this modern metropolis that once was a fabled bed of civilization, is still home to the Living Goddess, Kumari.

A few months ago, my friend from London called me to know more about this tradition. She was interested in knowing about the relationship between goddesses and girls, and if worshipping these divine female forces empowered them.

Through another friend I managed to get the number of one of the former living goddesses, Chanira Bajracharya. I called her up. I wasn’t expecting a prompt or a positive response, but she agreed to meet.

A few days later, I walked through the busy inner street of Patan leading to the Durbar Square, trying to find Chanira’s house, which also used to be her temple. I called her four times maybe – I was a bit worried that I was already annoying her. But she was helpful in providing me with the directions. I later find out from Chanira that it’s difficult for her to give directions considering she didn’t step out of the house as a goddess until the age of 15.

Her younger brother greeted me at the door and led me through the dark staircase to the living room. It was dimly lit but the collage of photographs from Chanira’s Kumari days were strikingly visible on the wall.

As I was scanning the room, Chanira entered the room and smiled. She sat, kneeling on the floor. I explained her about my visit and soon we started talking. My friend from London was on the phone – she asked a series of questions and I added my own set of curiosities.

We talked about her days as a Kumari: how she felt as a goddess, did she feel some sort of power, if she had a connection with the goddess Taleju, who she is considered to be a manifestation of.

Sometimes she was quick in answering. At times she paused. She spoke softly and mostly fidgeted with the tip of her shawl or her fingers as she answered.

We then talked about her life after she retired as a living goddess: the transformation, the challenges, and most importantly how it was to be a mortal, like almost every one of us.

As we continued to talk, she eased herself. Then we chatted about school, her classes, friends, and her future. Currently, she is pursuing her undergraduate in business studies. She wants to become a banker.

Chanira told me that she was preparing for her exam the next day. I just thought it was the right time to wrap up the interview. I wished her luck with her studies and asked what would be the best way to contact her.

“You can call me or email,” she said giving her her email address.

And then she said: “You can also find me on Facebook.”

 

Here’s a short profile on Chanira I wrote for the South China Morning Post. 

Also, Isbabella Tree’s new book, The Living Goddess, is an insightful read. It not only details the history and culture of the Living Goddess in Nepal but also provides a good context to the subject starting right from the formation of the Kathmandu Valley to the future of Kumaris in the modern Nepal and everything in between. 

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Kathmandu

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Namuna Ghar or Model House in Bhakpapur won UNESCO’s Heritage Award for exemplifying the traditional architecture.

Kathmandu is a clash between cultures — amid an emerging metropolis, it’s a city that still retains its heritage.

Thousands of stone sculptures that are revered as religious idols scatter along the city’s narrow streets and congested lanes.

Century-old houses, though in dilapidated form, still line up old neighborhoods as a tribute to the city’s past; they’re still a photographer’s delight.

The grandeur of the palace courtyards and the temples that are dotted along the city are still incomparable to its modern concrete counterparts — they rise like the towering Himalayas often obscured by the clouds, an absolute delight when one makes a visual contact.

A de tour from the tangible constructs of the yesterdays, Kathmandu also retains some of the after taste of the flower power days: In the hippie haven of Freak Street, limited sights of wannabe hippies and bare feet backpackers wandering the stone paved alleys and the faint smell of marijuana in the air is a slight reminder of what Kathmandu was once remembered for.

But as rapid modernization is sweeping this city, it’s face is swiftly changing. However, there are also ongoing efforts to restore its past in bits and pieces — In this 21st Century Kathmandu clouded with a majority of borrowed decor, if we dig in a little, it isn’t really difficult to find something that we call our own.

Here are two stories I did lately that incorporates this theme.

Nepali museum to honour stolen art of nation (South China Morning Post)

Quest to revive Kathmandu’s architectural history (The National)

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Instagramming Kathmandu

I’ve been on some sort of a writing break – haven’t really wrote anything or even have had the thought of writing anything.

I spend my days soaking up the warm winter sun in Kathmandu, mostly. Once bored, I usually go for walks – sometimes planned and at times just random.

As I walk, I usually complain about most of the stuff I see – no proper sidewalks, ill road manners, the stinking mountain of garbage, the dust, the smoke, this weird spitting habits of people …

But at the same time, I do appreciate the beauty of this city. And here are some shots taken from my cellphone, and of course Instagrammed.

 

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When the lights go out

Every morning, I wake up and check the schedule.

Today, it’s 7 am to 3 pm and then 7 pm to 1 am: That’s 14 hours.

If you’re thinking that’s my work schedule, you’re probably wrong. That’s the routine for today’s load shedding – the routine power cut off in Kathmandu, which effective January 19 has increased to 14 hours a day, 98 hours a week.

It’s been five days that I’ve been in Kathmandu. In three years time, it’s the second time that I’ve actually packed my first world comforts and moved to this developing country, which in all fairness is home.

As much as I am used to the luxuries of the first world, I should say that I am also accustomed to the third world lifestyle – living without power is certainly one of them. And I must say that during all the years I have lived in Kathmandu, a city that has been infested with power cuts throughout my adult life, I, along with most of the city dwellers, have tend to develop a coping mechanism to life without power.

From candles and kerosene-lit lamps to solar-powered lanterns, we now have advanced to inverters, which sucks up the power when there is electricity, charges itself and generates backup power. At least, the room is lit up and I can charge my phone and computer. But it doesn’t support the electric heater or the water kettle. So yes, the room is cold – at least five degrees colder than the outside temperature – and I have to walk into the freezing kitchen in layers of clothes to fetch me some tea.

But regardless of having no power for 14 hours a day, which is an utter inconvenience, I do think that it has some little perks.

When there is no power, as much as my eyes are fixed to my portable gadgets, by which I mean my phone and computer (I don’t own any other gadgets), they usually give up after a while, and unless there is electricity, I cannot recharge them. So I take this time to reflect on ideas, read and indulge into things that I would have never done had there been power. During the past few days, during those dark, powerless evenings, I have been catching up on my readings. And I definitely plan to read a little bit more.

During the routine power cuts, I have also made a point to call friends in and around the city. And no, I’m not texting or Skyping with them, but actually calling them and making a point to meet one of these days when the lights go out.

Yes, so when the lights are out, it’s a good opportunity to rekindle with your friends and family. Sitting in the living room, talking about mindless and meaningful stuff, it just seems like the 90s when I was growing up, living in the pre-Internet age.

Also, not having lights until 1 am or so is a good reason to go to bed. So gone are those days when I’m online, doing some unnecessary research until 3 am. It’s also an end to waking up late in the mornings. I’ve actually started to wake up at 7 am, which is quite unusual for me. I take it as a good change.

I’m sure that in the coming hours and days I’m going to come up with more ideas and a list of things-to-do when there is no power.

I’m going to be in this city for a while now. And for a fact, the hours without power is going to stay. So rather than groaning and moaning about something I cannot change or control, I just plan to develop some coping mechanisms to combat life without power. And as much as I think it’s going to be difficult, I plan to dictate those dark hours for my own good.

Read my post from February 2011 when there was a 14-hour power crunch. 

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Greetings from Kathmandu

ktmSo I have moved to Kathmandu, once again- back to my roots. This Nepalese nomad is on a temporary break from all the travelling, at least for a while.

Now, since I’m in this amazing city, this space will be home to my life and times in Kathmandu – this will include the good, bad and the ugly side of my hometown, and more.

Meanwhile, I will be continuing my reporting endeavours from Nepal. And of course, I will be on a lookout for another adventure in some part of the world.

For my past posts on Nepal, you refer to Notes from Nepal

If you’re on Instagram, you can follow me there: bibek_bhandari 

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Notes from Nepal: Follow the rules

It is one of my favorite sight in Kathmandu these days.

No, it is not the high hills that surround the city, the sight of temples or the glimpse of the delicious-looking momos (dumplings) at every other block of the metropolis.

It is the people kept in detention in the middle of the street for jaywalking.

As I walk my way to work, every day I see one or two people who are in the middle of a triangular trap set up by the Metropolitan Traffic Division in Sundhara. It is for people who do not follow the road rules, who jaywalk.

A couple of days ago, I stopped for about five minutes just to observe. It was amusing as the traffic police officers tried getting two young men inside the triangular zone. The men, in the other hand, seemed angry and were arguing with two officers at a junction in central Kathmandu.

But the officers managed to get them inside the triangular trap. One of the officers then tried explaining the men about road rules, but they were not willing to listen but still arguing and angry.

Metropolitan Traffic Division introduced this new rule early this year. Jaywalkers not using the overhead street bridges in major areas in central Kathmandu will be fined Rs 50. Those who cannot or do not want to pay are kept in two-hour detention.

It is good to see that the traffic police are trying their best to enforce rules and regulations. They are teaching people about road safety and road rules.

But as grown ups and civilized citizens, I think it becomes the responsibility of us to follow the rules without having someone tell us to do that or making us feel humiliated for breaking the rule of law.

I bet standing amid the triangular trap is a shame. I think it is embarrassing to stand there for five to ten minutes as passers-by  turn their heads and smile, or even laugh.

Pedestrians often overlook the dangers of crossing the roads and walking in the middle of the streets when the overhead bridges are right above them. It is also obviously annoying for drivers who already have to deal with cows and dogs on the streets, forget about people.

The traffic police’s role is commendable here. But it is sad that people still have to be taught how to cross roads when there are so many other things to think about. In a way, though the traffic is trying to enforce the rules, it is a waste of their time and energy to educate the already educated on how to cross roads and follow the rules.

It is high time that we all follow the rules. Sometimes you do feel to take a short cut and not use the overhead bridge. But if everyone feels the same way sometime or the other, then the rules will always go overlooked.

So lets start from the roads and take it to another level.

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