Located just south of Thahiti Chowk, Ason Tol (Chowk) is an exceptional place to pass through if you're on a heritage walk through Kathmandu Durbar square as it later links to Indra Chowk through six roads. The center of the chowk is mainly a hustling bustling local marketplace. While it is old, the marketplace is very active and there are temples and shrines surrounding the area. The 3 storey Annapurna temple is the most famous temple here. By three in the morning, Ason streets come alive as tea sellers get to work.
Fresh vegetables brought from Kathmandu valley can also be found earlier in the morning. Ason gets unimaginably crowded during late afternoons and late mornings, so if you're planning to do a heritage walk, you should start as soon as possible. Ason also has a gilded mouse attendant that is opposite to the Maru Ganesh temple. Along the walls of Kathmandu, you'll see it as an elongated mouse statue.
According to tradition, the rice sold in Ason Chowk must first be offered to Goddess Annapurna. While Saturdays are good for heritage walks, most vendors take a day off during it. So Ason will not have the same vibe it carries during the rest of the week.
History of Ason
While nobody knows for sure the history of Ason chowk, it was a small market square at the start of the 20th century. After the construction of the Annapurna temple during the Malla era, Ason's popularity shot skywards. Nobody can exactly pinpoint where the name Ason came from, but some people believe that a trader said: "Ana San" which translates to nearby when asked where he came from while he was resting. Another local lore suggests that the name was adapted from an old Ashok tree which used to stand in the square.
It is most likely that its name came from a combination of things including a building named Ashwok mandap that is there. Ason Chowk market is the most bustling market you'll find in Kathmandu city. An ancient market surviving headstrong in modern times, Ason Chowk is filled to the brim with a miscellany of items from fresh vegetables to spices and curios. There are also many temples and shrines surrounding the main square of Ason chowk.
In the olden days, Ason once was a major rice market from where you could get a variety of rice, near the Annapurna temple along with beans, lentils, and beaten rice. Sacks filled with foodstuff would be overflowing here in the olden days. Traditions demanded that Goddess Annapurna had to be offered a certain amount of rice as an offering by sellers before it could be sold as a way of ensuring good trade for the day.
In the old days, Ason really was the center of Kathmandu city and people all the way from Nuwakot, Sankhu and Thankot used to come here to buy and sell goods as there was no other significant market at that time.
A major role in the lives of locals has been played by platforms (Dabalis) since ancient times. They were the heart and soul of entertainment and rituals during festivals. Chariots of gods rode through, and religious dances were performed in the Dabali in front of the Annapurna temple. In the olden days, if someone had to exchange money then they used to visit the Dabali. But the days have changed and now the platform is used by incense selling merchants during the day. The big Satal is now used by policemen to provide security while previously it was used for people to gather and sing religious hymns.
Places to Visit Inside Ason Bazaar
The Annapurna Temple
This three-storey Newari style temple is the most popular temple in Ason chowk and has a rich history. Elaborated torans, mirrors, lamps, plates and statues decorate the spaces of this temple. The surprising thing is that there is no deity inside, instead, there is a Kalas (tantric silver vessel) which is a symbol of bounty.
One of the oldest shops in Ason, Annapurna Seed Centre is named because of its closeness to the Annapurna temple in Ason. The deity is said to be a form of Laxmi as she is worshipped for prosperity. The name Annapurna translates to grains filled as 'Anna' means 'grains' and 'Purna' means 'filled'. A pot overflowing with grains is found inside the temple which signifies affluence. The deity is also called Goddess Ajima or Ajima dyo.
Taya Ma in Newari is one of the most eminent festivals observed in this temple. It is held once in every eight years. On this occasion, a net made with puffed up rice grains covers the whole temple.
With an ornate brass roof, this small two-storey temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesh. You can visit the inner shrine during most mornings but it is often locked up by afternoon. A gilded arch surrounds the stone statue of Lord Ganesh.
This single roofed, central stone temple is made to worship Lord Narayan. There is a small police hut next to the temple. The temple is often locked.
Kumari Bhairav Shrine
A small sunken shrine located behind Narayan temple is Kumari Bhairav shrine. It is to the left side and worships both the Kumari and Bhairab. While it is dedicated to Kumari and Bhairab, people often misidentify it. According to myths, if the deities are not kept happy then blood and water will flow from the shrine.
A rectangular enclosure is located on the other side of the main Ganesh temple. The fish represent the age-old story about how the young man learned from the old and the old man learned from the young.
Things to Shop in Ason Bazaar (Market)
In Ason Chowk, you'll find a variety of fresh vegetable produce, dried goods, spices, and metalware as Ason Chowk is a local market, not a tourist market.
For those who are looking for genuine spices from Nepal, there is no better place to visit than Ason Chowk. From small local street shops to large shops such as Annapurna Seed Centre, there is no better place to buy spices. You can find cardamom, masala, turmeric, cumin, Timur and other variety of spices that are either sold in pre-packaged forms or by weight.
Directions to Ason
You should take the southeast street from Thahiti Chowk which will lead you south to many markets in the area. You can ask the locals where Ason chowk is and they'll show you the way with ease as there are six streets that lead to Ason chowk.