The old Asan bazaar is still the hub of shopping for all kinds of stuff like jimmu, rock salt, herbs, varieties of imported nuts, conch shells, copper vessels, Chinese goods and what have you. Many people still go to Asan for shopping although more and more of those goods are now available in department stores. Yet some things like rock salt and copper vessels are more easily found here than elsewhere, and moreover, walking through the streets of Asan is a different story; the crowded bazaar has a vibrancy not seen anywhere else. It’s a typical Asian market with bikers and pedestrians vying for space and some shopkeepers trying to attract customers by yelling out their best deals in your face.
The hustle and bustle of this old quarter is quite unique as there’s a constant flow of people passing through. Asan is not just a market place; the main street is also the shortest route to Durbar Square, Teku, Kalimati and Tahachal from Jamal, the heart of Kathmandu. On any given day, Asan is busy but when an important festival comes along, the streets become clogged with shoppers looking for various puja items and getting through the crowds becomes a challenge. All that you need for a festival is found here in this bazaar: cooking spices, coconut, walnut, colors for tika, clothing, conch shell, sweets etc. Moreover, reasonable prices can be had in Asan if your bargaining skills are honed well.
Most of the shops in Asan are centuries old and have been handed down from generation to generation, keeping their traditional occupation alive. However, change is coming, as many from the new generation are not following in their fathers’ footsteps and taking up other more lucrative professions. Some families have been shopping here for generations and their relationship with the shopkeepers goes beyond client and merchant bonding; they have family ties that bind them together.
Being the heart of the city and also the oldest market place, it attracts thousands of people including tourists and locals alike. From the early morning when there are no crowds, the number of shoppers keeps growing through the day until it becomes difficult to even walk through. But when there’s a festival on, the crowds come early, partly to get better bargains, but also to avoid the mad rush and to ensure that the shops don’t run out of goods as can happen when supply doesn’t meet the demand. The biggest festivals are Dashain and Tihar when Asan gets impossibly crowded with people buying anything from clothes, shoes, bags, ritual items and splurging on anything worth buying as there’s the Dashain bonus to spend. Affordable prices here also attract shoppers as who doesn’t like a good bargain!
So if you want to take a stroll around Asan during the festive season, be prepared to push your way through the hordes of shoppers which can be quite exhausting and trying. Everyone is looking for something and much can be bought on the street itself as street vendors are hard to keep in check. Asan Bazaar has been for millennia an integral part of our festivals and will remain so in the future as long as traditions are not forgotten. Asan retains a certain charm thanks largely to the old shops that have seen little change over the centuries and the crowds that bring life to this ancient crossroads that once lay along the old trade routes to Tibet and India. Asan has a rich history and is steeped in tradition and is perhaps the only quarter of Kathmandu that has not seen drastic changes towards modernity.