Restoring rest houses to revive culture

Kirtipur rebuilds traditional rest stops to restore its ancient way of life, and boost the local economy


Ratna Man Shrestha has spent his entire life in Kirtipur, the ancient hilltop town overlooking Kathmandu Valley. Year after year, the 78-year-old has seen his neighbourhood change.

Traditional narrow houses with exposed brick, carved wooden windows and tile roofs have given way to high rise concrete boxes, rented by recently arrived residents. On the streets, the friendly Newa “jwajalapa” greeting is now interspersed with “lhasso” and “fyafulla” of the new arrivals.

Even the humble falcha rest stop in front of his house, where he grew up playing as a child, hanging out with friends as he got older, and even took refuge after the 2015 earthquake, has changed.

"It was all wood when we were young, then they tore it down and rebuilt it using concrete,” says Ratna Man.

Falcha are not just a part of Kathmandu Valley’s architectural heritage, but buildings around which much of the life of a neighbourhood took place. They used to be where pilgrims and traders could spend the night free of cost, or where the community came together during festivals and jatra.

Recently, Ratna Man noticed that his neighbourhood falcha was being renovated again, but this time being restored to its quaint original design with carved wooden columns, beams, tile roof and traditional brick masonry and even a stone Ganesh figure in an alcove.

Many of the rest stops here were damaged or demolished over time. Others lost their traditional design, and were replaced with soulless concrete structures housing various community clubs.

But Kirtipur is now leading the way in reviving the humble falcha so that it will also bring back not just their traditional architecture, but stimulate the culture and community spirit associated with them.

“This is what it used to look like in the old days,” Ratna Man tells us. ‘I hope it stays this way.”

Walking down the lanes of Kirtipur, or indeed any of the other old towns of Kathmandu Valley, it is easy to visualise what the old Newa settlements looked like: narrow stone-paved alleys lined with houses leading to open courtyards and the ubiquitous falcha meant for travelers and locals alike.

The open rest stops were located near wells or temples, along busy thoroughfares or tucked in the alleys, often built by the nobility as a part of their community responsibility. But with haphazard urbanisation, road expansion and changing lifestyles, the Valley’s architecture and street life has been transformed.

Many of the rest stops here were damaged or demolished over time. Others lost their traditional design, and were replaced with soulless concrete structures housing various community clubs.

Since taking office, Kirtipur Mayor Ramesh Maharjan and his team have renovated and rebuilt more than 20 falcha in the Municipality, which has a population of 70,000.

“A tangible heritage like falcha is an integral part of our identity,” says Maharjan. “It was important to restore them to their original style, but they are also a part of our intangible heritage, providing a place for the community to gather, especially for older residents to relax.”

Architects and engineers from the municipality were involved in the study and design of the rest stops, with a particular focus on maintaining the traditional look and ambience of the falcha.

“In the past, many of the falcha were turned into concrete structures and the essence was lost, we wanted to make sure that was not the case this time,” adds Maharjan.

As Kirtipur’s falcha are restored, the rest stops are once more filled with people, mostly senior citizens from the neighbourhood, to chat, or watch passersby and children play nearby.

Come evening, the historic town resonates with the sound of Dafa Bhajan as old and young gather in neighbourhood falcha to perform devotional songs accompanied by traditional instruments.

“Without falcha, it would not be possible to continue this tradition,” says Badri Lal Shrestha, who on a recent Saturday evening was busy playing madal on the ground floor of a renovated falcha for an impromptu performance.

“This gives us not only a space to come together but a place to store our musical instruments. It would be inconvenient to sing and play out in the open,” he adds. This falcha is built in the sattal style, with the ground floor is used for bhajan, and the first floor as storage.

There are now 17 dafa groups active in Kirtipur, up from 11 from a few years back, and Mayor Maharjan says it was because restoring the falcha has also brought back the traditional activities that used to happen in them.

Buddhi Kumari Shrestha is happy that the rest stop in his Bahiri Gaun neighbourhood is finally being renovated. “This is the route for the Gaijatra procession takes place, so now we will have a space to watch it from. After all what is a jatra without viewers,” she says.

To make the rest stops pay for their own maintenance, the municipality plans to generate income from them. “We can display and sell traditional arts and crafts, as well as traditional Newa food during festivals,” says the mayor. “The idea is to make the falcha pay for itself.”

Sahina Shrestha


Sahina Shrestha is a journalist interested in digital storytelling, product management, and audience development and engagement. She covers culture, heritage, and social justice. She has a Masters in Journalism from New York University.