Showing posts with label asan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asan. Show all posts

Feb 5, 2018

Kathmandu: Asan Tol

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

This week I'm going to take you on a visit to the most famous bazaar of old Kathmandu: Asan Tol. Six streets converge on this ancient square resulting in perpetual bustle from dusk till dawn. Vendors sell exotic wares while artisans toil in hidden workshops alongside sacred temples. Cat Stevens allegedly wrote his hippie-era song Kathmandu in one of the many teahouses of this historical district. Asan Tol straddles one of the two legendary India-Tibet trade routes that pass diagonally through Kathmandu. Because of this history, Asan has been one of the city's main marketplaces since ancient times.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Apart from being a busy marketplace, there are many temples and shrines located in Asan Tol's many squares and courtyards. Above is pictured the temple of Asan Tol's patron deity, Annapurna Ajima. She is the goddess of abundant grain. If the sun is right, the temple can appear to be made from solid gold. The three pagoda roofs and finial gilded. A richly fashioned doorway beckons while decorative birds, metal frills, and divine faces adorn the ribbed roofs. Instead of an idol in the goddess' image, inside there is a silver purnakalash filled with grain and entwined by a silver serpent. Temple records from 1839AD and show that the building required renovation by the end of the nineteenth century. In the black and white photo at the top of this post, you'll see the Annapurna temple covered in a net of puffed rice for the Taya Ma festival which takes place once every 60 years. You’ll often see devotees of the goddess seeking divine favor by walking around the shrine, touching a coin to their heads, throwing it into the temple and then ringing the bell above them.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Asan Tol is still the place where folks from all over the Kathmandu valley and beyond will come to buy or sell their crops and wares. Above you see bags of green jimbu, brown timur, and chunks of pink and purple Himalayan salt for sale. You'll also see many varieties of locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables here.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Unique and handcrafted kitchenware is one of my favorite things to shop for in Asan. This handmade pot is specially made to fry the ring-shaped Nepali sweet bread called sel roti. You can often find second-hand pots and utensils with gorgeous timeworn patinas very cheaply here also.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

This vendor is selling things you would need for a puja or prayer ceremony. Peacock feather fans, incense, yak tail fly swishers, candles, nuts, and sweetmeats. Those yak tails look so soft and fluffy, don't they? Don't be fooled! Yak hair is like metal wires. I tried to knit with yak yarn once and it was like knitting steel wool- actually left me with bleeding fingers!

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

As you walk the lanes around Asan Tol you will see tiny, narrow passageways branching off like this. Let's see where this one goes. Don't be shy! They're used to tourists wandering about and gawking in Nepal. I've never had anyone ask me to leave or be offended by my meanderings in Nepal.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Et Voila! This is one of the seven Buddhist courtyards of Asan Tol. This particular one is called Haku Baha or Harshabaha. A baha is a is a type of courtyard found amongst Newar communities in Nepal. A baha is generally constructed by a family and their descendants reside in it for generations. Hence, it is not just a unit of residence but also a unit of kinship. As you enter the baha you see a bronze stupa with a different portrayal of Buddha facing four directions. Look at that amazing hand-carved window above! As you can tell by all the motorcycles parked in this beautiful ancient courtyard people really do live here. You didn't used to see so many motorcycles in Nepal until 5-7 years ago. Indian motorcycle manufacturers began offering easy, low interest financing to Nepali buyers about 7 years ago so now the roads are clogged with the darned things.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Looking in back of the bronze stupa we see this rather unusual white stupa. I've never seen much written about it but it has always intrigued me as it looks to be carved out of a solid piece of white stone. The stone has a glow to it like marble but isn't streaked like marble. These are the only two religious structiures in this little courtyard. Haka means twice or double in Nepali but I'm not sure if that's what this courtyard's name means.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Continuing back down the main lane you can peer into the ancient workshops of all sorts of artisans. On each street or tole, specific crafts and business are carried out. These gentlemen are goldsmiths of the Shakya clan which claim direct descent from Buddha himself. Let's go see what other hidden courtyards we can find, eh?


Oh my! Venturing down another narrow pathway we come to the Kathesimbu Stupa. This is one of the most popular Tibetan pilgrimage sites in the old tow. Bult in around 1650AD this a miniature copy of the much larger Swayambhunath complex. With all the sand and construction workers about it looks as if there is some earthquake repair work going on.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,  
Taa Daa! Isn't this amazing? You don't have to pay to see this ancient square, you aren't bothered by touts, this is just someone's neighborhood. All sorts of smaller temples are around the courtyard also. Just as at the Swayambhunath complex, there is a two-story pagoda devoted to Hariti, the goddess of smallpox, in the northwestern corner of the square.

A close up of the prayer wheels that go around the stupa. The prayer wheels are brass cylinders inscribed with or containing written prayers. A revolution of a prayer wheel symbolizes the repetition of a prayer. According to the lineage texts on prayer wheels, each turn of a prayer wheel accumulates wisdom and merit (good karma) and purifies negativities (bad karma). Always use your right hand only to spin the prayer wheels and only turn in a clockwise direction.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

Some school children playing badminton alongside the Kathesimbu Stupa. That red brick building at the back of this photo is the elementary school at which they are pupils. Wish we had a stupa like that in our neighborhood.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

In the northeast corner of the courtyard is the Drubgon Jangchup Choeling Monastery. Tours of this Tibetan Buddhist monastery are available for a fee. All this is just a couple of minutes’ walk south of Thamel and Durbar square. 

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

A close up of one of the brass lions guarding a temple in the courtyard. Such incredibly detailed metalwork is typical of Newari craftsmen. You don't see as many brass and bronze lions guarding shrines and temples anymore- hope those aren't being stolen also.  

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

These are all private homes along the courtyard perimeter. It appears they suffered some earthquake damage and are being buttressed by strategically placed poles. If you look closely at the white building near the top you can see a huge German shepherd dog perilously leaning out the window. He was barking furiously at the pigeons in the square.  Glad that's not my neighbor.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

This building on the square looks to have been so severely damaged by the earthquake it had to be demolished completely and rebuilt. The Nepali government has been trying to encourage residents to choose construction that at least appears to be traditionally Newari in style. Various stipends and grants are available to those whose plans feature the exposed red brick and hand carved wooden ornamentation of old. Behind the traditional facade the buildings can be completely modern with proper earthquake resistant structure. Above you see the detailed brick work and carved window sills being applied to one such modern reconstruction. I think it looks great! I just hope the bricks don't pop off the facade in the next (inevitable) earthquake like I've seen in California.

asan, ason, Kathmandu, Nepal, tol, tole,

A mushroom-seller that followed me around for about twenty minutes around the bazaar. I'm not sure what his fascination with me was. I certainly didn't have much use for mushrooms while staying in a hotel room in Kathmandu. Note the planks butressing the ancient building behind him. Yet more earthquake damage awaiting repairs. What a wild conglomeration of goods for sale too- everything from coathangers to coconuts! Anyway, this was just a sample of what you can see and buy in Asan Tol. For those in search of authentic Nepali spices, fruit, vegetables, dry goods, metalware, fabrics, teas, or household goods, there is no better place to visit. Ancient shrines and temples are just part of the neighborhood in this typically Newari neighborhood. Hope you enjoyed my little tour of old Kathmandu!

That's it for this week! I know I promised a recipe but we've got houseguests which doesn't leave much time for food photography. (Sorry!) next week I'm planning a post for Chinese New year!
Calmly currying on, 
Bibi


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