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Kicking Kirtipur

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

It would appear that Kirtipur, the small town south-west of Kathmandu, has finally hit the big time. First it was the success of the community-run Newa Lahana that drew youth on motorbikes; then a series of festivals staged in the surrounds of the restaurant; and now it’s the five-day Kirtipur Mahotsav, the 2011 edition of which is said to have been visited by 100,000 people last week.

Min Ratna Bajracharya
Min Ratna Bajracharya

It was evident on arrival that Kirtipur’s 50,000-odd inhabitants had ramped up their welcome like never before. A dusty parking lot at the entrance to the city set us on our feet up the steep hills among scores of Nepalis heading our way and back, and volunteers stood by to collect parking and entry fees. There was no single destination; the entire settlement seemed to have set out stalls selling Newari food and drink along the largely traditional lanes punctuated by temple squares, with straw mats to sit on and partake. There were lakhe dances in progress, and re-enactments of Newari religious rituals such as Mha Puja, as well as processions of musicians. And everywhere there were people, the vast majority Nepalis curious to experience the beating heart of a Newari culture away from the trafficked thoroughfares and anodyne malls of Kathmandu.

We drifted through the lanes, paid a quick visit to the imposing Bagh Bhairab temple (outside, volunteers selling entry tickets and a postcard; inside, medieval shrines finally labelled with dates), and squeezed onto the raised dais of Newa Lahana, the better to get on with our drinking and eating. And if the prices were over double what you might pay in a bhatti, they were still very competitive at Rs 100 for a litre of


chyang! Soon, we were in no state to complain. If, as the organisers claimed, there were transactions of Rs 5.5 million, more power to the locals who worked to make the Kirtipur Mahotsav the first grand success of Nepal Tourism Year 2011.

It was frenetic, and I would recommend an off-season quiet wander around the hilltop town’s lanes of faded grandeur, but it made for a fine day out. Prithvi Narayan Shah, whose hard-fought victory over Kirtipur finally set him on course to conquering the Kathmandu Valley, would have been astonished at the openness of the Kirtipures last week. Then again, perhaps they needed to see the back of the monarchy that cost them so dear to really come into their own.

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