Bungamati: An ancient Newar settlement frozen in time

A place that celebrates ancient culture and lifestyle

  •  31 Oct 2017  |  nepaltraveller.com

The charm of Bungamati lies in the quaint lifestyle of the Newars that has not changed since a hundred years.

As I reach the hill of Bhaisepati, the view below opens to an intriguing settlement of Bungamati; its houses are brown against a backdrop of the open blue autumn sky. Some of the steel roofs of the houses glimmer unpleasantly to my eyes and almost instantly the jarring noise of the city dies down to a quiet murmur. The only sounds audible to the ears are occasional thumping of steel instruments on huge pieces of wood, the engine of a bike roaring past and the quiet conversations of people as they sit on the front porch of their houses.

The charm of Bungamati lies in the quaint living style of the Newars. Despite being so close to the city, its reaches have not found the core of Bungamati. If you witness the ancient structured houses and the people who spend their day spinning yarns or crafting wood one realizes, not much has changed despite the passing of years. The lifestyle of the Newars is still as same would be a hundred years ago. Even now if you ask around, a person in every household still performs the ancient art of woodcarving; this skill either passed down from the older generation or learned from acquaintances.

While you walk the quiet gallis of Bungamati, many sights and sounds will catch your senses. Sometimes the inquisitive glances of people from their daily chores, paddy basking in the sun and people just going on with their daily activities. I could not help but be fascinated by the motion of Bungamati that seemed so intriguing to someone like me who’s spent all their life in the clamor of the city. Time stood still here, people enacted a play about a livelihood from a hundred years ago.

Maybe due to its ancient wisdom, the local priest of Rato Machhendranath Temple states that ‘Bungamati is the town of Amrapuri meaning old, we have many gods here that highlight the glory of this place’. One of the most important and artistically highlighted is the temple of Rato Machhendranath which has blurred the lines between Hinduism and Buddhism. Home to the ‘God of Rain-Rato Machhendranath’, the bringer of rain, Hindus regard it as an incarnation of Shiva while Buddhists believe it to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Here the faiths of both the religion come together in a colorful harmony. They still respect and regarded as the patron god, the festival of Rato Machhendranath (the tradition of bringing the chariot from Bungamati to Patan and vice versa in six months) is still celebrated with grandeur.

However, the devastating earthquake of 2015 caused unprecedented damage to the temple, so much so that only amount of dust and debris was left of the centuries-old temple.  People had to retrieve the much-revered idol of Machhendranath from the debris and place it in a temporary temple aside. The local priests jointly say, ‘Our faith and devotion has been greatly affected by this act. It is naturally forbidden to keep the idol of Machhendranath on the ground but due to the devastation we have been forced to do so.’

Finally, after a wait of nearly two years, the works of its renovation is in motion with aid from the Government of Sri Lanka. In the slow rising of bricks from the debris people’s hopes have been risen from despair. However, not much has changed here. Early in the morning, the hum of people’s devotion can be heard in synchronization. People crowd around the square, some engrossed in crafting in a piece of wood while others in deep conversation.

The temple of Karyabinayak, that houses the idol of Ganesh, survived the earthquake with only some minor damages. The temple is a home to people’s devotion as local people flock here every Saturday for a bhoj (feast) and some bhajan (devotional music). With the clanging of bells and chants of Mantras, the temple gives a breathtaking view of the village. If you get lost in the gallis of Bungamati, locals are friendly and will happily show you the direction you wish to head towards. Its streets are lined with tiny woodcrafts stores and you could just about buy yourself a little souvenir, as a support to the local craft that has been declining through the recent years.

A visit to Bungamati is incomplete without gorging the delicious local Newari delicacies. The Village Cafe situated at the main bus stop of Khokana is hygienic, cost friendly as well as inviting. The food ranges from authentic Newari snacks to all-time favorite Momo. You won’t regret your time or money here.

If you want to see the simplicity and grandeur of a traditional lifestyle of the Newars than Bungamati will not let you down. Its quiet charm will linger in your mind long after you’ve left it.


Shuvekshya Limbu is a writer at nepaltraveller.com. An an avid reader and traveller, she spends her time discussing literature and metaphors of life.