Kathmandu is the enchanting capital city of Nepal, an equally enchanting country that opened its door to international tourism only in the 1950s. Once you set foot in Kathmandu for the first time, you might just pinch yourself to check if you are really awake. This exotic city is one of those places where you feel as though you magically entered a postcard.
The sights in many of Kathmandu’s traditional villages are surreal for a Western observer, and one of these villages is Bungamati, a classic Newari village that was first established in the 16th century. It is located about 10 kilometers from the center of Kathmandu, on a piece of land overlooking the Bagmati River, under the shade of large trees and bamboo. The village is practically empty of tourist facilities, which is a good thing; streets are small and hazardous for cars, which is why until today the village has not been tread upon by motorized vehicles or polluted by smoke and other car-related pollutants. A visit to this village untouched by urban development is a journey back in time. Bungamati has a few woodcarving shops and carpet looms. Local carvers can create customized pieces of art for visiting tourists.
The village is not very far from the city, but not many people want to come because of very poor road conditions. Most Nepali roads are unpaved and with many potholes. Many tourists are turned off by the lack of paved roads but to the really adventurous, the backwardness of the area is part of the attraction. Because the roads leading to the village are difficult, Bungamati was able to preserve its old ways and features.
At the center of this idyllic village is a lively village square with a huge shikhara-style temple called the Rato Machhendranath Temple. Its white and golden linings stand out from the surrounding rustic homes and dusty roads. The temple and the entire village come alive in April for the month-long Rath Jatra festival and from October to November for the Bhairab Jatra and Ganesh Jatra festivals. There are two temples in the village; the other one is called Karya Binayak Temple.
Historians and experts, as well as locals, believe that the village was established as early as the 7th century. It was then known as Bugayumi. However, due to the lack of supporting accounts and documents, Bungamati’s beginnings are historically marked sometime in the 16th century, and not much has changed in the village since that time. The people are called Bungamati Newars, a rural-living people who are known to be very hospitable, creative and traditional. They follow the steps of their fathers and forefathers, following a rich and authentic culture that owns its unique forms of language, writing, art, and architecture. They practice the same skills and methods of craftsmanship that existed and handed down for generations. The men are hardworking wood carvers, while the women are experts in knitting, weaving and hand-sewing. They love to smile and greet foreign tourists.
To reach Bungamati, travelers usually take the bus, but the more adventurous ride a bike or hike all the way. The bus regularly leaves from the Lagankhel bus station in Patan. The trip takes about 30 minutes.