Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Vo'Ye Newar Feast!

Celebration and partying in Nepal are two very usual habits such as brushing teeth or washing the dishes. Everything is pretext to a feast : the full moon, the many Hindu Gods, the death anniversary of your grandpa… Each week, if not each day, something is happening. It was time for me to write about one of the biggest events I’ve been invited in so far : the Vo’Ye Newari Feast.
Vo’Ye in itself means « feast » in Newari, the Kathmandu valley local language. The celebration is « justified » (do they need justification ?) by the Indra Jatra festival, the festival of the God of Rain. To this occasion, the Kumari, the living Goddess, is getting out of her palace. What ? Who ? Ok ok, let’s start from the beginning.

The Kumari is initially a little girl, selected when she’s around two years old through a long and demanding process, so she can become THE Nepalese living Goddess. For this job, she has to fit in 32 qualities, which are roughly tested during the « recruiting process ». Among others, all the applicant little girls are put aside alone in a dark room filled with skulls for quite a while. The ones not crying can get to the next level. Being a living Goddess is not easy !
Once « elected », the little girl and her family move in a palace located on Durbar Square, Kathmandu. She will get out of this palace only nine times per year, among others during the Indra Jatra festival. Therefore this is so important !

The rest of the time, the little Kumari is getting various teachings and can play with two or three children that have been carefully selected. But the playing in itself is very restricted. In fact, if the Kumari gets hurt and shows some of her blood, she would instantly lose her divine quality. Therefore she lives in a very protected cozy world and must not take ANY risk.
Logically, the Kumari remains a Goddess until she gets her menstruations. At that moment, she and her family are sent back home, with a nice retirement pension.
Some stories tell that marrying an ex-Kumari brings bad luck… This can be understandable knowing that taking care of an ex-goddess can be challenging ! Some Nepalese, shyly, explain that marrying a girl you have been worshipping before is too weird : does she go to the bathroom like everybody ? How can you kiss her normally ?

Now that you know who the Kumari is, we can come back to the story of the Indra Jatra festival and to the Vo’Ye feast. During the afternoon, my colleagues and I dressed up as true Newari people and went for a tour through the streets of Thamel, to reach Durbar Square. There, we waited under the rain for quite a while. « The Kumari will come in 30 minutes ! » someone said. Two hours after we were still waiting. This is a typical example of Nepali time line, where minute = hour and hour = day. Anyway, goddesses do what they want, right ?

In the meanwhile, the square got packed. People in colorful saris, waiting, laughing, chanting. A lot of music, and some « protector spirits » dancing around or running away… That was almost a show. Then we felt a huge excitation : the three chariots of the Kumari were living the palace ! The first one was carrying a little girl representing Ganesh, the second one a girl representing Bairav, and finally the Kumari HERSELF… The three girls are surrounded by men throwing sacred flowers to the crowd. The woman behind me grabbed me to keep her balance and to get a flower. I got one, so I offered it to her. She was so happy that she wanted to fix my hair. Nepalese are real fun, you know.
Apparently not the three girls on the chariots tough. They actually didn’t smile at all : « if the Kumari smiles, it’s a terrible sign for us. It means it could be earthquake, or huge storm ». I must confess it was a bit special to see these girls, all between 5 and 7 years old, being so richly dressed up and being so incredibly serious, almost severe. But it was a very strong moment, we could really feel the uniqueness of the instant, as we were carried by the enthusiasm of the crowd !

After that, we drove to an old palace to start enjoying some Newari food… 18 flavors in total. Good, we were all hungry enough ! We sat on the floor, got served in leaf plates, and ate with the right hand, Nepali style ! Alcohol (rice beer and 60% strong life water) was abundantly served in clay cups (apparently it absorbs the water part so only the alcohol is left…). Then the serving process started : many women dressed up Newari style began to go around with dishes : boiled egg, smoked fish, bars (deep fried lentil patties), hakku chhoila (smoked buffalo meat) and yoghurt… The list was long! No need to precise that we had a lot of fun J
After the dinner, some dances were performed, while we sat and started digesting (long process, that will last the all night………). Very typical Newari evening, the kind that brings you into a culture, the kind that no other tourist can get… Unique !

Sakuntala, elected BEST COOK of the country by the socialtours team!

Sakuntala has the sun stuck onto her face. It seems like she can’t stop smiling ! Born in the south east of Nepal, in the village of Biratnagar, Sakuntala is one of 6 daugthers. What a gang ! They all meet when it is any kind of celebration. Sakuntala is the only one not being married. Among the six, they are two, including her, having a professional life. Active and hard-working, Sakun’ has grown up in a family where making good food is essential. It’s in the family kitchen that she became such a great cook !

It was a chance to be taken there. So, eight years ago, Sakun’ came to Kathmandu in order to find a job. And that’s how she began at Socialtours : she was at first in charge of maintaining the offices and of making the lunch for the team.

But today, Sakuntala is much more than that : she is the ambassador of the Nepali cooking style towards foreigners. How come ? In 2011, Socialtours decided to try organizing a cooking class for curious tourists. The « Cook like a local » experience started being quite known, and since then, almost each day, foreigners are knocking at the door to give it a try.

Sakuntala welcomes them all with her usual big smile, and takes them to the market for sourcing the necessary ingredients. Then back to socialtours kitchen, she offers technical information and show her pupils how to deal with a momos, a dal bhat, or an aloo paratha. « My favourite is actually the dal bhat, but well, I like pretty much everything ! ». And then she adds, laughing : « You know, I was slim when I started, but now, with everything I cook, I gained a bit ! ». The part she prefers in her job ? « Hard to say. I like being with the people, and of course, I like to cook ».
When she has some free time, Sakuntala likes to travel, to shop, to watch movies… and to experiment some new tastes in her food !

Friday, September 6, 2013

Vo'ye | the NEWAR feast

During the festival of the God of Rain, Indra, the Kumari Living Goddess makes one of her rare appearances in public, going through special routes in old Kathmandu. It is thought that these routes she takes were the boundary of the city of Kathmandu in the ancient days. We follow this route on a guided tour and end it with a sumptous traditional NEWAR grand feast, blessed by Lord Indra.

The Newar Feast
There is a close association between the Newar culture and food, and feasts are very common in Newari families. The traditional Vo'ye boasts a wide array of dishes starting with sagun (holy offering), typically consisting of a boiled egg, smoked fish, bars (deep fried lentil patties), hakku chhoila (smoked buffalo meat) and aila (liquor), and ending with dhau (yogurt).

With the rise of catering services and the busy lives of the people, parties are catered to and the tradition of the Vo'ye is diminishing. These traditions of feasting bring families closer and remind us of our rich roots, which people need to be aware of and not let diminish.

This feast is an attempt to modernise this rich tradition and bring it back into vogue, showcasing what can be achieved by building in ambience, music and a little bit of style.

A Location with History
The third edition of this yearly feast organised by socialtours and powerful hands will be held at Bhojan Griha, a renovated palace about 150 years old, full of history.


We will add Newar dance performances & classes along with the feast, to make it an evening to remember.

1500 hrs: Gather at Kathmandu Durbar Square for the guided tour.
1700 hrs: Gather at Bhojan Griha for the grand feast.


Guided Tour and Feast: Rs. 1999.-
Grand Feast only: Rs. 999.-
Children below 10 years: Half price
Children below 4 years: Free

Some pictures from the previous years!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Off Season Trekking | Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal

June 2013 - Isi came to intern at socialtours from Germany in February. She finally made it to a trek with Parbati, one of our female guides - to the Annapurna Base Camp. In her own words, she talks about her trek, and the fact that it was an off season trek.

by Isabel Braeuer

Well, how to start?  I really expected the worst for my off season trekking – I expected really bad weather with rain, lots of rain and clouds. Thus, I didn’t even get my hopes up for seeing the mountains at all. I though like this “Expect the worst, then you don’t get disappointed”. Surprisingly, we started our trek on a wonderful sunny and hot summer day in June and I thought, maybe it’s actually not going to be that bad. But we had 6 more days ahead of us before we would reach Annapurna Base Camp … “Don’t get too excited Isi”, I tried to remind myself. The heat and my heavy backpack made me realize that it’s going to be a hard long way. A long way with billion and trillions of stairs – they were really killing me! I was so exhausted…. Oh dear, on this first day of trekking, I seriously thought I would never ever reach Base Camp…

View from Dhampus

Over the next couple of days it got more cloudy, cooler and a bit rainy and the sun only showed up a couple of times. I have to admit, I actually liked the cooler weather – it was so much nicer to walk. And the landscape is just absolutely incredible! I walked through beautiful villages, little jungles, dense forests, rice fields, meadows with lots of flowers, pass buffalos and goats standing on the way, cross rivers over wooded bridges and trek along waterfalls, little quells and the mountains. And you should have seen how the clouds slowly soaked in through the valley and made the mountains, villages and forests disappear in seconds. That was so fascinating! Especially in the quiet forests - it all looked so mystical. I will definitely not forget that. 


Besides, you meet so many nice trekkers on the way. Everyone is so friendly and the atmosphere in the guesthouses is super relaxed since it’s not very crowded at this time of the year. That made it even possible to talk to the local village people and I could practice a little bit of my Nepali.  Another day, it was heavily raining – it was so heavy that the stairs turned into waterfalls. Imagine that, you basically have to climb up waterfalls!! That was so much fun! But I definitely had the greatest moment up Base Camp. After finally succeeding to reach there, we weren’t able to see anything at first. It was all cloudy – but it felt like being in heaven – it was kind of magical. However, the next morning we were so lucky – it all cleared up. My chin dropped when I saw these snow covered giants right in front of me.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt so tiny. It was just breath-taking!!! 

To sum up, I totally enjoyed this incredible trip! Without Parbati, my friend and guide, it wouldn’t have been the same! She’s just amazing and together we had such a good time. And this always changing  weather ended up being a real adventure for us! Oh yes baby, I’ve been REAL trekking. What else to say, it was the best adventure I ever had.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Socialtours wins "Certificate of Excellence 2013"

Yay!! Last week TripAdvisor -  the world's largest travel site announced the certificate of excellence to socialtours' Private Day Tours. The accolade which honors travel excellence, is given only to establishments that consistenly achieve outstanding traveler's review on TripAdvisor, and is extended to qualifying business worldwide.

It took a while but we are slowly getting there... now recognised as one of the top 10% of tourism businesses worldwide with this Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.

We are proud that we won the excellence award in 2013, which place us in the top 10% of all the business on the TripAdvisor. We thank all our travelers who took their time to review our services and encouraging us for excellence.

Kathmandu Kora Cycling Challenge 2013

Every year, on the third Saturday in July, riders from Nepal and all over the world (ok, that sounds glamorous, but riders from different nationalities do participate) gather in Kathmandu (last year we were close to 300 riders) to ride a personal challenge rider of 50 kilometers around Kathmandu Valley. This is now popular as the KATHMANDU KORA, this year on its third edition.

Started in 2011, a modest 35 riders challenged themselves and got pledged of around half a million Nepali Rupees for a school and an orphanage in Kathmandu. In its second edition, almost 300 riders turned up and raised close to a million Rs. for upgrading birthing facilities in RUKUM.

THIS YEAR, its going to be BIG. As part of the EVERYONE CAMPAIGN, we plan to build a birthing facility in Sharmali VDC, Baitadi. This will be a Eco-Designed building, providing the best facilities to the women and children in this remote VDC. The principle is simple - no more minimum standards for our women and children. They deserve the best standards. They deserve a birthing facility that is beautiful, secure, earthquake proof, welcoming, warm and everything that we expect facilities to be like in the city. And this is what we aim to do.


How do we achieve this?
Easy. We register. We share. We talk to people about what we are doing, and get pledges from them for each kilometer we are riding.

The registration form for the Kathmandu Kora Cycling Challenge 2013 is here. Please fill in all fields and read the small print before you press submit. We shall contact you via email (so please make sure that the email is accurate) to confirm your registration.


You just need to register thats it! IDEALLY, we will ask you to please raise Rs. 100 for each km you ride by asking friends, family, companies to pledge the amount for the BIRTHING FACILITIES we are raising this money for. This is voluntary, and you are not bound to raise this money.

We respect your privacy and do not tolerate spam and will never sell, rent, lease or give away your information (name, address, email, etc.) to any third party, nor will we send you unsolicited email.

Friday, January 18, 2013

socialtours @ ITB Berlin 2013

06 - 10 March 2013 | Hall 4.1b Adventure and Ecotourism Hall | Booth # 208

For the past five years, socialtours has been actively participating at ITB Berlin, and bringing new products and services to the table every time we come. This year we bring a whole selection of exciting stuff for you to choose from. More reason to meet us at ITB Berlin. Booth # 208 Hall 4.1b Read on.

1. Nepal beyond trekking | not just treks

For over two years now, socialtours has been actively developing extensions to demonstrate that travel into Nepal is NOT JUST TREKS! In these two years, we have successfully launched popular products such as COOK like a LOCAL, THROW your own SOUVENIR, Newar Village Tour, WALKING with MONKS, CROP to CUP Coffee tour and many such products. More recently, we have developed newer products such as PAINT like a LAMA, the WORKING Nepali walk etc, building an exciting range of products we have brought together into our GO LOCAL | Discover Hidden Secrets Series of products. This is what we are coming with this year at ITB, and actively searching companies interested in these products and who are willing to talk to us about developing more products such as these.

2. School Partnerships | Tourism affecting real change

For over seven years now, the award winning project Namaste Nepal S-GmbH, has been fostering school partnerships between schools in Germany, Netherlands and Nepal. We plan to give more information about this amazing project and its achievements at a presentation during ITB at Hall 4.1b. The patrons of this project will come over from Freiberg in Germany to also participate during this presentation.

3. Destination Far West Nepal | Nepal's newest attractions

For over two years now, the director of socialtours, Raj Gyawali, has been working with entrepreneurs in the Far Western Region of Nepal to develop the tourism there into a vision that was commonly identified by locals of the Far West - "An Internationally Recognised Responsible Tourism Destination". This is probably one of the most exciting exercises we are involved in, and we will bring a team from the Far West and present the exciting potential of this region during a presentation at Hall 4.1b.

4. The Green Circuit | cross border tourism

Since 2009, the Green Circuit has grown from just an idea to five responsible travel companies in the Indian Sub-continent actively working together, sharing information, jointly marketing and offering clients interesting options to reduce carbon footprints like cross border tourism products such as the GREEN TRIANGLES of Nepal and India. This initiative works with award winning companies such as The Blue Yonder, Grass Routes Journeys, Help Tourism and Spiti Ecosphere

Come learn more about this at our stall.

5. Mountain Biking | Nepal's new tourism frontier

Several years ago, the government declared a "Make your own Village" scheme and disbursed small amounts of money to each village in Nepal. Identifying roads to be the top priority, the villages promptly started building roads. However, the money was not enough to backstop these roads. This means Nepal has the best range of dirt tracks in the world, covering the whole country and becoming a paradise for mountain bikers. Add road access reaching high altitude areas and we have the most amazing rides, from jeep track, to cross country to single track to extreme down-hilling. We offer Nepal's best selection this year at ITB. This is definitely the new Tourism Frontier in Nepal and you do not want to miss the wagon.

6. Gay and Lesbian Tourism | opening doors

Nepal is fast becoming a good destination for Gay and Lesbian Tourism, what with Nepal being one of the few countries in the world to recognise the third gender. In partnership with Pink Mountain Travel, we offer gay and lesbian mountain weddings, and custom tailored packages to the community. (www.gaylesbiantravelnepal.com)

7. Our Regulars | soft Adventure, cultural immersion and philanthropic tourism

Beyond what we get really excited to do, are our regular products, in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India, all flavoured by that brand of tourism that we really like, Responsible Tourism. Our Director will be on stand by to explain more about what this means in action.

We cannot wait to meet you!


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