How many times have you crossed Ranipokhari (Queen’s Pond) in central Kathmandu without giving much of a thought to the historical landmarks abounding all over the area? If you are a tourist, chances are that you have set residence in or around Thamel, the tourist hub of the capital, and so you must have passed by Ranipokhari many times on your way to Thamel.
In fact, if you are a savvy tourist, you should enquire about the short cut through Ason Bazaar, a stone’s throw away from Ranipokhari. The ancient bazaar has a myriad of alleyways leading to the tourist center, and I promise you, strolling through these alleys is bound to give you a keener insight to the local lifestyle, besides making you aware of the boundless number of products, a good part of them being foodstuff, that are sold in the numerous shops of the bazaar. It is also a fact that, although the capital has become such an expansive city, there are still quite a few things that are to be found only in the shops here, especially ritual items used in many religious and celebratory occasions.
Ason is where six different streets (Bhotahiti, Kamalachi, Nhai: katwa, Teuda, Balkumari, and Makhan: Galli) converge on a spacious square full of little shops selling everything imaginable. Take it from me, Ason Bazaar is heady stuff, what with the swarms of pedestrians, the pleasant smell of all kinds of vegetables, fruits, meat, and other food, as well as the constant chatter of bargaining throughout the day, and the pealing sound of bells ringing in temples, big and small, all over the place. Fittingly, the major shrine of the bazaar is the Annapurna Temple (Asonmaru Ajima), dedicated to the goddess of plenty.
‘Ason’ is a derivative of the word ansaa, which literally means ‘just there’ in Newari. There’s a funny story about how the name was given to the bazaar. Myth has it that a fish fell out of the sky during a heavy rainfall, and soon, all over the city, people were talking about “fish falling out of the sky”. People began asking each other, “Where did it fall, where did it fall?” The usual reply was a succinct, “Ansaa”. In other words, “Just there.” There’s said to be a stone shrine in the bazaar built to mark the place where the fish landed.
At most times of the day and evening, Ason Bazaar and its many streets are full of people, some who have come here to buy necessities, some using the convenience of its inter-connecting streets and alleys, and avoiding the traffic-heavy main streets, to get somewhere sooner, and some just walking to their homes in and around this great bazaar. If you go in the early morning, the scenario is quite different, however. You’ll find vegetable sellers who’ve already set up their shops around the square, their produce fresh from the fields, The cauliflowers large, white, and wholesome; the beans, red and green, looking lusciously nutritious; the potatoes, newly dug out from the ground; and the large bunches of dark green spinach of many varieties beckoning one and all with promises of well-being and good health. The meat shops also open early, and are well attended by many eager beavers looking for freshly butchered meat. By morning, Ason is a vegetable and meat market, but as the day goes on, the little shops all around begin to open their doors, and shopkeepers start displaying their wares outside, near their doors. Soon, the entire area is a vibrant and crowded Nepali bazaar.
A bazaar where you’ll find everything from spices, condiments, Khokana-ko-tel (renowned mustard oil of Khokana village), and ghyao- chaku (clarified butter and molasses), to vegetables, fruits, and flowers; buff, mutton, pork, and chicken, to fish and eggs; milkshake and ice cream, to thwon (local beer) and ai:la (homemade liquor); traditional sweetmeats, egg pancakes, and samosas to piping hot tea, chilled cold lassi, and delicious juju dhau (famous Bhaktapur curd); freshly baked puffs and pastries, to chocolate, cup, and fruit cakes; kurta salwars, sarees, and readymade garments, to rolled swathes of many kinds of fabric; gaudy rubber slippers and shiny leather shoes, to imitations of branded sportswear; sparkling glass bangles, colorful pote ( glass beads) necklaces, and dangling earrings, to glittering gold and silver jewelry; solid-looking aluminum, copper, and brass ware, to colorful plastic utensils; etc. etc.
In other words, you’ll get whatever it is you’re looking for, that’s for sure. This might make you assume that Ason Bazaar is simply a bazaar teeming with goods, but actually, it’s more than that. It is the historical, cultural, and commercial center of Kathmandu Valley. This is where you get to experience the real Kathmandu. So, make a beeline for the bazaar that’s ‘just there’!