Nepal is a country rich in languages, culture, history, heritage, traditions and festivals.
Maghe Sankranti, this Saturday, is a major festival celebrated by the Tharu, Magar, Newar as well as other communities across the country.
During Maghe Sankranti, delicious Chaku, hardened taffy made from melted jaggery, is served during the ritual food prepared in the Newar and other communities in Nepal.
With the approach of the festival, traditional Chaku makers are busy themselves to meet the huge demand.
Chaku must be added to the list of important things that highlight Nepali identity, because it is something that is really "Made in Nepal". During this time, the smell of Chaku spreads throughout Tokha village on a hill. The aroma is fresh and appetising. As I approached the village to see the 'Tokha Chaku' label, children of the village were running and playing on the road with joy.
The sweet smell led me to the source of Chaku making. Besides being its production centre, Tokha village is also the birthplace of Chaku. Tokha has production factories in every corner and almost every household in the village stocks Chaku for future consumption.
When I first entered the factory, the intense heat touched my body, and the aroma of the hot Chaku entered my nose.
As I looked around, I saw concentrated jaggery boiling in huge vats on stoves. Once the concentrate started taking solid form, it was cooled in earthen pots. A huge chunk of Chaku hung from a wooden board and was stretched with tremendous force.
When the factory owner was asked about the process, he replied, 'It's important to lighten the colour of the Chaku.' The factory people were making Chaku, listening to folk music all the time. This tradition of making Chaku in winter has survived for centuries in the community.
'Our ancestors taught us the art of making Chaku,' says Hemendra Shrestha, the factory owner's father. Among all the Chaku makers, he was the oldest and the most experienced.
He said that the process of making Chaku is very delicate. If the temperature is not right, it will become bitter and hard, and no one will like it. It should be sweet and soft enough to melt in your mouth.
Factory owner Rohit talks about the importance of quality Chaku. People only eat it in winter because it gives warmth to the body.
Chaku is a big part of the Newar culture and Nepali cuisine.
The Chaku portrays the Nepali way of life and creates a kind of deep generational connection between the past and the present. Chaku is not only an example of Nepali food but also a Nepali trademark.
A version of this article appears in the print on January 14, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.