Thimi: An Artistic Odyssey

Features Issue 25 Aug, 2010
Text by Baishali Bomjan / Photo: Pradeep Shakya

From urbanites’ viewpoint, art is a secluded activity, its fruits displayed at the Gallery de art. But for indigenous people like the Newars of Thimi, making and using art is inseparable from the daily milieu.

Situated ten kilometers east from Kathmandu and three kilometers west from Bhaktapur, Thimi is a typical ancient Newar town. It derives its name from ‘thee’, which in Nepali means ‘gem’. Today Thimi is also popularly known as ‘Madhyapur’, which in Sanskrit means ‘midtown’ since it lies amidst the three major cities of the valley: Kantipur, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur.

Situated at an altitude of 1325 meters and spread over an area of 11.47 sq. km, the Thimi municipality includes the sub-villages of Chapaacho, Balkumari, Nagadesh, Bode and Lokanthali. Thimi has around 40,000 inhabitants, mostly Newars.    

The history of Thimi dates back to the golden age of the Katmandu Valley: the Malla period when the medieval Newar culture flourished. The splendid arts and crafts of the Malla period are part of the living culture of Thimi today. Inscriptions show that the practices of erecting temples and statues in the town started in the 7th century.

From the most discerning and seasoned traveler to the first-timer, Thimi has something for everybody. From its terracotta earthenware and sculptures, paper mache and clay masks, puppets, traditional hand woven clothes to its exceptionally complex religious buildings and temples, Thimi is a must for anyone who wants an insight into the finest traditional crafts and the rich cultural heritage of the Nepali people.

The Populace
There are over 64 different Newar tribes in Thimi. Some of the more prominent and well-known are the Prajapatis (Kumhas), potters by caste who make clay  pots of various shapes and sizes. Small pots are made on wheels while the larger ones are first shaped on wheels and then made larger by beating with wooden hammer. The Chitrakars, the traditional artists, make puppets, dolls, and masks. Dancers wear these masks during festivals to represent gods and demons. The process of making paper mache and clay masks as well as puppets can be observed in Bahakha Bajar. Farming in Thimi is mostly done by the hardworking Newar farmer caste called Jyapus who go to the farms at dawn and return at dusk.

It is said that in every potter’s or farmer’s house there used to be a traditional loom where women wove their families’ clothing. Varieties of similar handspun cotton cloth, called halego, puntika, and mathema, are still available today. Although traces of the old ways can still be found in a few antique houses, the comforts of modern life have slowly crept into this place, which is evident from the numerous boutiques and shops selling the best fabrics in the industry.

Apart from all this Thimi is also famous for its sweet beaten rice (tikin baji) Furthermore, its tradition of farming the surrounding fields has made Thimi the vegetable garden of the Valley as it grows the bulk of the vegetables for Kathmandu.

Getting there

If time is a factor, then hiring a taxi may be the best option for you. A taxi takes about thirty minutes to reach Thimi and normally charges about NRS 400-500 (to and fro) on a regular day, though fares shoot up during festivals and celebrations. But there’s nothing like traveling by bus. The sights and sounds of the people dressed in traditional costumes prepare you for a whole new experience coming your way. Buses depart from the old bus park and take approximately 45 minutes to reach Thimi. They charge around six rupees per person. As you get off at the Thimi bus stop, a statue of the local hero, Shankhadhar Sakhwa greets you from where your start you journey uphill.

As you enter Thimi, glimpses of exquisitely carved traditional buildings appear amidst the contemporary ones. It is like stepping back into a bygone era. This is a town of craftsmen and farmers, where people still find time to muse, where age honored traditions are still a part of daily life. And the most enchanting aspect is the people- their simplicity and warmth.

Thimi is a perfect getaway from the chaos and confusion of city life. The relaxed ambience and the cultural wealth of the place are mesmerizing. Seated on the mud-spattered floor in front of the houses are groups of charming aged Newari men all dressed in dahura suruval and bhadgaunle or dhaka topi, the traditional Nepali costume. Most of these men seem actively involved in a round of a game, while some are spectators enjoying every puff of the churat, a hand rolled local cigarette. Whilst the men enjoy themselves the old Newari women too have their share of fun. After a hard days’ work they sit in groups and enjoy smoking a hookah, the traditional tobacco water-pipe.

The temples and the bahals (traditional Buddhist courtyards) are the epicenter for the people of Thimi. Here youth and elders meet, play a game of dice, chat and share their traditions whilst some just seem to be lost in deep reflection. Celebrated for its unique crafts and culture, festivals and typical folk music and dances, Thimi still has its own identity despite the advent of modern civilization. The awesome view of the terraced farms at a distance, the heaps of wheat left on grounds for winnowing during autumn and the tranquility of the place leaves you with a sense of longing for more.

Before one returns from Thimi, small clay pots, clay sculptures, varieties of masks, jewelries, various types of dresses, bags, wallets, and caps can be bought as remembrances of the rich culture of Thimi.