From a sleepy town to a business hub

  • Month-long fair in Salinadi is a good source of income for local residents
- Anup Ojha, SANKHU

Jan 28, 2019-

It’s three in the morning. Overnight, the temperature has dropped to five degrees. But the biting cold does not deter Tulsi Narayani Shrestha from heading out to an open market on the banks of Salinadi where she has set up a small shop. By 4am, she is well settled in her shop, busy catering to devotees. Shrestha, 50, sells an array of puja items.

Every year, in the Magh month of lunar calendar, Salinadi in Sankhu attracts tens of thousands of devotees for a month, as part of the Swasthani Brata Katha (recital of the religious story), a longstanding ritual of the Nepali Hindus specially the Newar community. During this ritual, people from all over the country come to Sankhu to take a holy dip in the river and worship Goddess Swasthani.

While devotees, specially women, take this month-long fast to perform puja and ablutions—and to wash away their sins—residents of Sankhu, like Shrestha, find in it a good business opportunity.

“This has now become a good source of income. We earn enough during this month-long fair for our family,” said Shrestha, a local from Sankhu. Shrestha, along with her son Lochan, runs two shops along the one-kilometre Sankhu-Salinadi road. “We earn around 10,000 rupees a day,” said Shrestha, who otherwise works in her neighbour’s field.

According to Salinadi Shree Swasthani Mela Samiti, a committee formed to manage the puja and oversee the activities related to the ritual, including the temporary shops that crop up during the month, millions of devotees visit the place every year. This year, they expect the numbers to be around two million. Last year, the committee’s report shows, 1.5 million people visited the holy site.

Owing to this influx of visitors, business for locals booms. Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, chairman of Shankharapur Municipality-7, said every year over 5,000 people get a chance to make a good income directly or indirectly during the month-long fair.  Of them, around 1,000 are from Sankhu. The committee says around 400 shops have been set up along the road, which sell a wide variety of items from puja materials to food to clothes to kitchen utensils to even medicinal herbs.

“Business starts early in the morning and continues the whole day,” said Bikram Shrestha, 28, who has leased a small area to set up a grocery shop.

“During the fair, I take a break from my regular profession of masonry and run a shop here. It helps me earn good—to tide me over for a good period.”

Salinadi in Sankhu is 15 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu. And with its improved roads, the place is now seeing devotees in huge numbers. For many locals, business is so good that they say the amount they make in a month is enough to sustain them for a year.

Narayani, who has paid Rs7,000 to rent a small space for the month, sells

vermilion powder, incense sticks, betel nuts and other items required for the puja, along with fruits. “My younger son works in Saudi Arabia. But I think I will call him back soon. We can earn enough in our own country; why should he toil in foreign soil,” Narayani told the Post, encouraged by the spike in her and her elder son Lochan’s business in the area.

Lochan, who has a job in a private firm in Kathmandu, says he earns up to Rs200,000 during the month-long fair. “This is really good money,” he said.

According to Bishnu, the ward chairman, during last year’s fair,business transactions touched a staggering Rs50 million.

Sukra Laxmi Shrestha, deputy mayor of Shankharapur Municipality, says Sankhu becomes a business hub for locals during the religious month, but that is

not enough. “But we are working to develop Sankhu as a tourist hub so that locals can get more business opportunities around the year,” she said.

For this very reason, the municipality is working in coordination with the Salinadi Shree Swasthani Mela Samiti to build a Salinadi park. “The park, which will spread over three ropanis of land, will be built at an estimated cost of Rs30 million,” said Sukra Laxmi. The municipality a month ago blacktopped the one-kilometre road from Sankhu to Salinadi along which these temporary shops have been installed. “We are aiming to attract devotees as well as other tourists to this area so that there will be business opportunities for the locals around the year.”

Published: 28-01-2019 07:21

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