A uniquely Nepali institution found in every hill village, the chautaara is a resting place that serves important social and religious functions. The standard design consists of a rectangular flagstoned platform, built at just the right height for porters easily to set down their doko, or basket, while two trees provide shade.

Chautaara are erected and maintained by individuals as an act of public service, often to earn religious merit or in memory of a deceased parent. Commonly they’ll be found on sites associated with pre-Hindu nature deities, often indicated by stones smeared with red abhir and yellow keshori powder. The trees, too, are considered sacred. Invariably, one will be a pipal, whose Latin name (Ficus religiosa) recalls its role as the bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Nepalis regard the pipal, with its heart-shaped leaves, as a female symbol and incarnation of Lakshmi, and women will sometimes fast and pray for children in front of one. It’s said that no one can tell a lie under the shade of a pipal, which makes the trees doubly useful for village assemblies. Its “husband”, representing Shiva Mahadev, is the bar or banyan (Ficus bengalensis), another member of the fig genus, which sends down Tarzan-vine-like aerial roots which, if not pruned, will eventually take root and establish satellite trunks. A chautaara is incomplete without the pair; occasionally you’ll see one with a single tree, but sooner or later someone will get around to planting the other.

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