Panauti Community Homestay: how these inspiring women are breaking barriers in rural Nepal
The best way to understand a culture is to immerse yourself within it - and that’s exactly what Nepal’s Panauti Community Homestay project allows travellers to do. Discover how this group of inspiring Panauti women are tearing down barriers to equality, building businesses, and connecting with global travellers like never before.
I’m sitting on a plush red carpet in the living room of a home in Panauti, a rural village in Nepal, squeezing sweetened dough into the shape of a funnel. Rather unsuccessfully.
We’re making Yomari, a steamed dessert made during festival times. The dough is a sweetened rice flour carefully kneaded by hand (and a touch of oiled water) into a funnel. Once I’ve managed this, it will have thick condensed milk spooned in before being pinched shut for cooking.
It sounds easy, but the whole process is an exercise in concentration. Not enough oiled water and the dough will crack and split (as mine is doing now). Too much oil, and the whole thing deteriorates into a globby mess.
Our host mother, Sarina, has an eagle eye hidden under one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever seen, and I’ve already had one attempt knocked back without mercy.
“Push. roll. push. roll. No, no squeeze,” she comes over and taps my fingers when I push too hard on the fiddly dough. Slowly, slowly, we work together to knead the dough into something resembling a cone and she nods with approval.
Thankfully, despite my own shortcomings, I have a fall guy sitting right next to me: Mark is yet to have any of his approved. By now, Sarina and the rest of my yomari-making mates (including Mark!) are doubled over with laughter, tears streaking down their faces at his feeble attempts.
Between the 8 of us in the room, we speak French, Hindi, Nepali, and English - an unlikely combination for a rural town in Nepal.
Yet Panauti is no ordinary Nepalese town.
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Just 32km and two hours drive from Kathmandu, it’s an ancient Newari town rich in culture and said to have been built upon a single rock foundation. This slab has protected its structures from many of Nepal’s largest earthquakes (we wrote about our time in Nepal post earthquake, which you can read about here!), including the one that devastated much of the country in 2015.
It’s pretty and quaint; red-brick buildings with intricate wood trimmings surrounded by rice terraces carved into the foothills of the Himalayas.
More importantly though, it’s also home to the Panauti Community Homestay project, where a group of strong, independent Nepali women are stepping outside their comfort zones, building profitable businesses, and transforming the idea of what a woman in rural Nepal is capable of today.
Pre-2013, travellers used to pass through pretty Panauti on day treks, but never slept the night in the town.
Recognising the potential of his historic Newari town and the need to create more opportunity for women in his community, one G Adventures local guide approached the town elders and the Planeterra Foundation.
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The project was launched in 2013 with just 2 women, a number that’s swelled to 20 women and families today.
The premise was simple: connect global travellers on homestays with local women and their families.
Participants have learnt English, houses have been remodelled and bathrooms westernised for a global visitor. Travellers stay overnight. They learn to cook traditional food, much like I am (unsuccessfully!) right now.
But more than that, the women involved have been empowered to move beyond the home and their family duties, and take a more active role in society.
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Many of Nepal’s husbands and fathers - including those in Panauti - work long stretches away from the home. Employed overseas in places like Saudi Arabia or Qatar, or taking work as trekking guides, drivers, labourers, or security guards, they’re often gone more than they’re home.
The strain on families can be immense and overwhelming, but by opening their homes to travellers, this group of Newari women are stepping outside their comfort zones and taking back control of their financial independence.
A family involved in the Panauti project can earn up to USD $400 per month - a very comfortable amount in Nepal. 80% of the income made from homestays like these goes straight to the women in charge.
20% is deposited into a community fund that supports scholarships, sanitation training, and built the community hall a few minutes walk away from where we’re sitting right now.
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Over dinner, Sarina shares that through the project, she’s been able to add another floor to her home - the very one we’re sitting upon now.
She, and the other women, are not just contributing to household expenses — something that used to be quite rare in Nepal — but they’re stepping up as powerful leaders within their community, and commanding respect and equality from their communities.
As we chat through mouthfuls of food, Sarina’s son arrives home. He’s studying architecture in Kathmandu, and seems totally unperturbed by the fact that 6 strangers are eating dinner in his living room.
He speaks in proud, heartwarming tones about the impact of the homestay project on his mother, "She’s empowered, she’s confident. That’s the power of tourism for Nepal, it’s the best way forward for my country”.
In a country where travel is dominated by epic adventures and landscape photography goals, projects like Panauti provide something from travellers that cannot be photographed, only experienced or felt. It’s a chance to enjoy a fun, unique and authentic travel experience, all while empowering a community from within.
When the time comes for us to leave, Sarina gives us a hug and says, “I miss you!”. When Mark says he misses her cooking already, she chuckles, “I miss your Yamori!”
As our bus pulls away, we wave ‘bye mum, bye dad!’
It may sound facetious given we only spent an afternoon together, but parting really does come with a tinge of sadness. In the space of a few short hours, we’ve felt a true bond with this beautiful family.
It’s moments like these, that transcend language and culture that I travel for, and I can already sense that despite 8+ weeks of travel in Nepal across multiple trips, these few hours spent with Sarina will forever be indelibly printed amongst my favourite travel memories here.
READ THESE ESSENTIAL NEPAL POSTS!
We have a heap of essential reading before tackling the Annapurna Circuit:
NEPAL TRAVEL TIPS | Everything to know before visiting Nepal
NEPAL TRAVEL GUIDE l Our complete Nepal travel guide
KATHMANDU TRAVEL GUIDE | Our in-depth guide to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu
POKHARA GUIDE | Our essential guide to the best of Pokhara
TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t leave home without travel insurance (seriously, don’t!). Click here to get the best deals with World Nomads, our trusted travel insurance provider
PHOTOGRAPHY | Love our photography? Wondering what gear we use to get all of our photos around the world? Click here to view our detailed photography gear guide, as well as our top travel photography tips!
ECO FRIENDLY PACKING ESSENTIALS | Don’t leave home without our favourite eco-friendly travel essentials
Have you experienced a homestay in Nepal? Let us know your experiences in the comments below!
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MEDIA + AFFILIATE DISCLAIMER
Our time with the Panauti Community Homestay project was made possible by the awesome team at G Adventures and their G for Good tour, a media trip that highlighted the incredible social enterprises that G and their foundation, Planeterra, support. Whilst we were participants on this tour, you can rest assured that all our opinions and musings above are very much our own.
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