Jhamsikhel as I knew

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Having moved out of Kathmandu core, over 63 years ago, I often wondered why the place was named Jhamsikhel. I learnt much later that Jhamsi, in Newari, stood for possibly Jyaamir - a citrus fruit. If so, there had to be lots of those trees here, as I used to think then. Based on general geography Jhamsikhel has Dhobighat to its south, Jawlakhel to the south-east, Pulchowk to the east, Sanepa to the west and Kupundole to the north. But as per ward delineation, the above spread is seen to fall within wards # 2 and 3 of Lalitpur. 

The heart of Jhamsikhel was the usual dobato or Jhamsikhel chowk as it is known currently. To the north of the chowk lies the Hasapota Ganesthan as does the Bhairabthan as an island to the east. The nonchalant road-level Bhairab was fenced off recently with the intention of forewarning speeding motorists. Even then we see the evidence of fence being occasionally hit by vehicles unable to slow down and steer clear.

To the south of the junction we have new Saraswati mandir precinct and the Shashi Bhawan, that housed the Indian Army’s Mission then, lies barely 50 meters to its west. The same place currently happens to be the official residence of chief of the Nepal Army. We often wondered why the Indian Army was here. If one continued further west there used to be the famous Shanta Bhawan Hospital right at the turning heading toward Sanepa.

Hari-ko-pasal, right at the said junction used to be the place to buy any household item ranging from food grains and other household items. There was nothing that he did not have. Most often he loved keeping his customers waiting, more so if they were younger. He kept his client engaged with jokes and tole gossip. So much so even postal letters got sent with reference to his shop. His son continues his father’s business that has since expanded but still retains the original name. Most take him to be Hari-dai, and do not know he is Thulo bhai.   

Jhamsikhel also happened to be the shortest path linking Kathmandu with the hinterland like Saibhu/Bungmati/Khokana and beyond. Similarly, the electric transmission line from the historic Pharping Power House also passed through here. The water from the Sikha-Narayan springs is channelled into Saibhu reservoir and its main supply pipeline also runs again through Jhamsikhel. People from Kathmandu mostly walked to Dakshinkali then with Jhamsikhel, Bungmati and Pharping falling along the path. My father (96) remembers how, in one such trip, he noticed a nice looking bungalow by the road side, and wished that it was his. Miraculously his wish came to be fulfilled couple of decades later.

There were two traditional gaule house owned by Magar families by the road side. Made of mud bricks they had red and yellow facade and thatched roofing. Adjacent to those was a very tasteful looking house with tipkari facade and tile roofing with windows painted in faded green. There was a much bigger version of the same on the south-west of the chowk. Unfortunately, some portion of the wall supporting the roofing was damaged by the recent quake and the owner has since pulled down the top floor replacing it with tin roofing undoing its grandeurs. It has since very long been associated with white robed disciples known as Kabir-panthis.

Most of such buildings, in Jhamsikhel and its vicinity, are said to have been built by leftovers materials after Shanta Bhawan was built. Naturally those persons happen to be associated with Shanta Bhawan in some way with house size clearly reflecting their status in the said household. But the most typical of which was one in Kupondole with all windows circular. Likewise, the building that houses New Orleans Cafe near Damkal also shares the common history. Most of the houses built then had some sense of aesthetics and proportion unlike many tasteless ones cropping up all around these days.  

There used to be a public library with the active involvement of six youths possibly one of them was Ratna Shumsher Thapa. Named “Gram-bikas pustakalaya” it had a small collection of books and magazines. More interestingly, it also maintained a thick writing book on which poems penned by locals were meticulously copied into. It was a big thing for those who had their submission published especially if they were school kids. I am sure it must have had some contributions from Ratna Shumsher too, given the famous lyricist and poet he eventually turned out to be. He was often seen in the Jhamsikhel dobato with his mates as he is said to have his mama-ghar adjacent to the Bhairabthan.

Jhamsikhel has changes a lot like any other roadside locality. With widening of the road and massive increase in overall vehicle ownership, the main street of Jhamsikhel happens to have bumper to bumper traffic all day long especially after the road upgrade. With ever increasing number of eateries lined in adjacent streets it has earned a new, but demeaning, alternate identity. With loud music emanating from different sources at night it is no longer the Jhamsikhel that we had known.     

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