A city alivePokhara Street festival is a major occassion for New year celebrations
Pokhara Street Festival, which starts on December 28, has reached its 21st edition. Like last year, there will be food stalls on roadsides, along with dance, music and revelry of all kinds. The street fair will play as an antidote to the biting winter that has the lake city by its clutch.
The influx of tourists—both domestic and international—in the city for the festival has started. The three-day festival has a slogan that goes: “Sadak mai khaoun, sadak mai nachau ra sadak mai ramaoun”—let’s eat on the streets, dance on the streets and be merry on the streets. The festival will play out in the three-kilometre area around Lake Side, which has already been decorated for the festival. There will be no traffic on the streets from Sahid Chowk to Dihi ko Patan, but there will be plenty of food stalls, cultural shows and concerts. Indigenous attire, rare art and artefacts, and handicrafts will be up for display and sale.
Cultural teams from Gurung, Magar, Bhujel, Tharu, Kirant and Newar communities will be performing on the streets. The festival sees most numbers of visitors on the eve of the Gregorian New Year. The Restaurant and Bar Association Nepal (ReBAN, Pokhara)—the organiser of the festival—estimates that there will be around four million visitors this year.
Pokhara’s tourism industry depends on trekking. But during the winter, the city’s tourism takes a backseat as the hilly regions around Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu, the major tourist destinations, get colder. The festival was started two decades ago to tap into the possibility of attracting tourists coming downhill from their treks. Previously, foreign tourists would visit India, Thailand or their own native country to celebrate the New Year, but the festival has given them an option to stay in Pokhara.
Budharaj Bhujel, chair of ReBAN, Pokhara, said the objective of the festival is to promote Nepali art and culture among foreign tourists, and eventually establish Pokhara as a major destination for New Year celebrations. “There was this trend among tourists to trek around Pokhara and then travel abroad for New Year celebrations, which we have successfully broken now,” he said.
Until 1997, Pokhara in December used to be a quiet city, recalls Ganesh Bahadur Bhattarai, coordinator of the festival. There were no programmes to target tourists back then and no culture to respect domestic tourists, Bhattarai said. It was then that the organisers put together the festival, which started as Lakeside Street Festival.
“Before the festival was initiated, the city did not get any tourists in December. The season meant a dry spell for the city’s entrepreneurs, an offseason,” he said. The organisers say the number of tourists has increased over the years, primarily those from India, China, Europe and the Americas.
The festival was inspired from the New Year Festival in Goa after entrepreneurs from Pokhara travelled to the Indian city to celebrate the occasion. The entrepreneurs then decided to set up the festival in Pokhara with a goal to attract the tourists flocking to Goa. With each successive edition, the fest has been inching closer to that goal, said Bhattarai.
Lakshman Baral, deputy chair of ReBAN, said the association has also contributed to the social aspect of Pokhara. He cited works such as conservation of the Phewa Lake, solar power installation, and CCTV installation in various parts of the city. The association also organises the Holi Festival and Mini Street Festival. Baral informed that the association would run night bus services around the city and it also plans to hold pyrotechnic shows this year. The festival helps not only hotel entrepreneurs but also the farmers, Baral said, citing the rise in hotel room bookings and sale of produces put up by farmers. “The festival mobilises all sectors and contributes to strengthening the city’s economy,” he said.
Chiranjivi Pokharel, chair of Pokhara Tourism Council, argues the government should contribute to upgrading the festival to an international affair. “The festival should be promoted in various countries around the world,” he said. “There should be world-class facilities. The festival can play a significant role in the country’s tourism.” The upcoming Visit Nepal 2020 year is set to be announced in Pokhara.
With the festival just around the corner, here we present its five best features:
A festival of cultures
The street festival is also the biggest cultural show in the country. The festival will showcase the arts, culture and traditions of various communities from across seven provinces. But the festival is not limited to Nepali culture; there will be performances by artists from India, Pakistan, South Korea, China and Japan, among others. On the inauguration ceremony, there will be a show with a unique rustic touch, with artists performing with traditional agricultural equipment such as ploughs, yokes and baskets. Moreover, musicians will perform cult folk songs from all around the country.
Mothers’ Groups from around Pokhara will put up stalls serving traditional Nepali cuisine. Operators of homestays will flock to the streets with unique delicacies such as dhindo, kodo ko roti and dumplings, among others. This, many believe, acts as a bridge between tradition and modernity.
Diverse musical traditions
Live music is burgeoning in Pokhara, but it is during the street fest that it becomes alive. Listening to music while having unique delicacies and drinks serves for additional fun. There will be lok dohori performances by the day and pop music concerts by night. Who is who of Nepali music of all genres will flock to the city. This year, the roster of performers includes Karma band, Raju Lama, Pashupati Sharma, Badri Pangeni, Raju Pariyar, Sabin Rai, Lahure, Mt 8848, Prajapati Parajuli and Abhaya and the Steam Injuns, among others. There will be stand-up comedy acts by Manoj Gajurel, Pokhareli Magne Buda, and Purkhe Ba.
The festival inspires people to be industrious. For many youths preparing to fly overseas, the festival shows how one can earn enough in the country from the smallest of entrepreneurial endeavours. Handicrafts made with limited resources and using locally available goods sell the most during the fest.
Schemes and offers
Pokhara is also a hotspot for adventure sports, such as paragliding, bungee jumping, zipline and ultralight flight, among others. Entrepreneurs are providing discounts to those seeking adventure during the festival. The adventure sports offer one more reason for tourists to extend their stay.