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Follow your nose to…Kirtipur

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
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A lazy Saturday afternoon eased past in Bishalnagar and my hopes of hauling friends laden with wives and chiles upto a bhatti in hilltop Kirtipur in the southwest of the valley began to founder in glass after glass of lager. Chyaang! Chwoela! Chiura! I yelled, to little avail. Naah, mumbled one, look there, it’s pouring in Kirtipur. Whuddyu wanna do there anyways? Have a Beer! Barbecued meat! Bread roll!

I persisted. And the skies parted down Kirtipur way just as a van rolled into the gates, at our service. Hurriedly I gathered the more adventurous amongst us and a quick dash across the city and through the lush expanses of Tribhuvan University brought us out onto a road leading straight towards the ridge-top town of Kirtipur. Not the Kirtipur of my unfounded, obsolete imaginings, but a wall of brick and concrete cubes facing onto all comers.

But this ancient town has retained more than just symbolic continuity with its past. As we swung right up onto the incline leading to Newa Lahana, our destination, older houses were to be seen interleaved amongst the new. We soon came out onto a square, parked, and trundled down through an alley strung across with soft yellow pearls of bulbs and sided with old, well-kept residences on the walls of which could be seen affixed a range of cultural artifacts, much in the manner of (the inside of) an English pub. To be honest, Thambahal reminded me of a medieval European town centre, complete with tourists (us!), albeit a little dustier, rustier and mustier.

This is it! announced our second-timer. We hesitated to climb the wooden stairs leading up to a raised platform next to a big red and black banner reading ‘Newa Lahana’ (in Newari). A few drinkers lounged about on a few pretty cushions and straw sukuls. This is it?

newa_lahana

Far from it. In a plain modern building to the left, there were customers and floor space aplenty, and it was buzzing. Nawa Lahana is essentially a rambling, open-air bhatti complete with lovely dusky views of the valley before and behind, but this is not what the youngsters throng this place for. It’s a community-run restaurant, and local women chip in with their specialities – be it tongue or marrow or a drink to singe the tongue and chill the marrow – and they’re special indeed. The baras had a fluffy, bready fullness about them that Honacha can’t match; the sukuti was luscious, almost sweet despite the fire in them; and the marrow is a little more delicate than what I gingerly tried in Lazimpat’s Bhumi Resto-bar. The chyaang, served either in big earthen jars or heavy brass vases, is more than adequate, though as latecomers we had to beg for a fair portion of what was left in the evening crush.

The bill, as always, was ludicrous. Why do I continue to frequent the overpriced, undercooked tourist haunts of the city when I can eat and drink my fill at any one of the exemplars of our proud tradition of bhattis?

sunita_kirtipur

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