For the past two months, I’ve been living in a village about 15-20 minutes outside of Panauti, a small town located 32 km (20 miles) southeast of Kathmandu. Panauti has become our base for the duration of our Pre-Service Training (PST), with Peace Corps setting up a temporary field office and hosting many of our safety, security, medical and cultural trainings in town. Set against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the town is small, but offers a good variety of shopping and several restaurants and cafes. With its rich history, narrow paths and 5 pm rush hour duck traffic (yes, ducks), I’ve come to love Panauti over the past few weeks and decided to dedicate a blog post to this beautiful town.
Located at the confluence of the Roshi and Punyamati Rivers, Panauti is one of the oldest towns in Nepal. It is said the town was built on a single large rock, which is why most of Panauti has retained its original, historic character, despite devastating earthquakes that have rattled the country. There are dozens of Hindu temples scattered throughout the small town as well as several Buddhist stupas and beautiful stone sculptures dating back hundreds of years.
Panauti is also well known for its many festivals. In addition to several widely celebrated festivals, such as Holi and New Years (celebrated on April 14th), Panauti also hosts several unique festivals that reflect the rich local Newari culture. One of the most important local festivals is Panauti Jatra, a three-day celebration held before the monsoon in May-June. During this festival, images of gods from the local temples are taken around the city in chariots, starting at the main squar. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to celebrate Panauti Jatra, but I did have the opportunity to celebrate my first Holi!
Panauti is considered a bazaar town, meaning you can buy just about anything here and access many services that are often unavailable in the surrounding villages. There are many fabric shops where you can pick a beautiful fabric you love and take it to a tailor to make it into a custom-made kurta. There are lots of small shops, where you can buy everything from toothpaste to biscuits (my favorite). There are fruit stands set up on the side of the street and barber shops where you can get a haircut or a shave. There are electronics stores, pharmacies, stationary shops. There’s also a community health post that provides health care services, a post office and many transportation services offered to major cities such as Bhaktapur (1 hour away) and Kathmandu (2 hours away).
While the temples are beautiful and the shopping and services are great, my favorite thing about Panauti is definitely the food! There are a few places that Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) go to frequently that are not only delicious, but also serve pretty safe food (a very important factor to consider here). A recent favorite is “the bamboo place”, which lies just outside of town and consists of several bamboo huts. We love it because a group of us gets our own little bamboo hut and they have a huge menu with everything from fries, to noodles, to fried ice cream! Another popular spot is Cafe Aagha. This is the go-to place in the evenings to enjoy a Nepali Ice (a popular local beer) and some delicious fried vegetable momos (dumplings)! There’s also Café Lampati, which is my personal favorite. I’m a big fan of Café Lampati because I love sipping on a café latte (a very watered-down latte, but I have low standards now), snacking on some biscuits and watching the people, puppies and ducks go by.
In addition to the restaurants and cafes, there’s also some great street food in Panauti. My personal favorite is the samosa stand. I’m a regular and they always have a samosa waiting for me when I show up. My samosa stand also sells a variety of sweets, including jeri, a fried dough that looks like a little funnel cake soaked in a sweet syrup. When they make them fresh it’s hard to resist one! Other popular street foods include doughnuts (similar to the American kind, just without any frosting), fresh fruit and pakora (balls of vegetables dipped in batter and fried).
Overall, Panauti has been the perfect training location and it’s sad to think I only have a few days left in this beautiful town. It’s been so much fun getting to know not only the winding alleys and brick lined streets, but also the locals, who have been so kind and welcoming and are always willing to help me with my Nepali. I’ve discovered my favorite spots, and the shortcuts to get to them, and have settled into a routine here. Although I’m super excited to move to my permanent site in the Doti district soon, I’m already looking forward to coming back to Panauti in the future to visit my host family and get a samosa (or five).