Kathmandu is not Nepal. You may have heard this sentence so many times, but you can’t agree more when you reach Panauti, one of the oldest cities in the country. With fresh air and greenery everywhere, Panauti offers a totally different experience of Nepal after merely a one-hour-drive from Kathmandu.
The view on both sides of an uneven road starts to change when the car climbs up to the central part of Panauti. What is shown in front you is no more dust and chaotic traffic, but paddy fields and a clear sky. We may say that Panauti is a worthwhile city to travel in every season. In the rainy season, Panauti looks like a scene portrayed in Andersen's Fairy Tales, you can watch as the fog seeps through the grassy hills and hides the bungalows with a white and hazy veil. At cooking time, wisps of smoke from kitchens rise into the grey sky and converge with clouds from the remote hills. On the other side of the coin, Panauti is a haven of azure sky in the dry season, from where you can enjoy the stunning sunrises and sunsets.
But, the magic of Panauti does not stop here. As a city that dates back to 13th century, or earlier, Panauti is regarded as an important religious site. More than forty temples have been built in the central part of the city since the 15th century, and most of them are situated along the Rosi and Punyamati Rivers. A few minutes’ walk around the place and you will realize that you are in one of the most ancient Newari towns in the country and you get to see these venerable monuments up close.
It seems like the town preserves the way the ancestors had originally built it, even the rest stations (sattals) constructed centuries years ago for traders are still used today. When you walk further toward the center, you will realize that hundreds of thousands of red bricks constituted this Newari town, whether for making the houses, the roads, or the temples, giving these archaic structures a sense of majesty. The Newari people living in this town keep their lifestyles and traditions very much alive. If you visit in the early morning, you can see the Newari people come and worship in the temples.
Due to the dominant population of Newars, Panauti is rich in Newari culture and has twenty-eight festivals in one year. One of the most famous and unique ones is Yomari Punhi. In ancient times, a married couple experimented with a fresh yield of rice to make a new delicacy and named it yomari. This delicious dessert is made from a mixture of treacle and sesame seed wrapped in a stupa-shaped rice dough. Because everyone in the village loved it so much, it was named yomari, or tasty bread. When the festival approaches, children will go around the village, like “treat or trick” in Halloween, knocking on doors and asking for yomari from the housewives.
Panauti is also known as the birthplace of Prince Mahasatwo, and there is a story that you will definitely be told when you reach Namo Buddha, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Nepal. It is said that the prince sacrificed himself to a starving tigress. Touched by the kindness of the prince, Lord Buddha bowed before him and offered his namaste to respect him. Though the story happened centuries ago, the Namo Buddha Monastery was only built 25 years ago.
Climbing up on a muddy road for one hour from the central part of Panauti, Namo Budha Monastery finally appears half way up on the mountain. Maybe pilgrimages are always difficult—the road heading to the monastery was in bad condition, and one who wants to visit it will have to walk for quite a while. But, soon, you will realize that all this walking and pain are meaningful and worthwhile, and it can be seen as the intention of Buddha, enabling you to see the gorgeous view of nature. The landscape below glistens verdant like a crystal, and the ridges of mountains resembles a crawling dragon.
Staying in Panauti is like passing through to another space and time; the lovely natural scenery takes you far away from the busy and stressful world. A sense of peace and serenity comes deeply inside your heart and slow your steps when wondering around the valley. The best thing you can do in Panauti is to take a deep breath and feel the wind blowing gently on your face. If you are longing to find a place to relax, then Panauti will be your best choice.