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An intoxicating sweet smell fills the air in the road leading to a courtyard nestled within Mangal Bajar. The chilly wind of January suddenly becomes warmer as you enter the courtyard, with fire roaring in the corner.
Above the fire is a large saucepan with a thick brown liquid boiling. A man pushes wood in to keep the flames alive. It is the busiest time of the year for him; the festival of Maghe Sankranti is around the corner and in the pot is the key ingredient- molasses.
Molasses or chaku in Nepali is unrefined sugar made from the juice drained out of sugarcane, milk, ghee and nuts. The mixture is boiled to produce a think dark brown syrup with is eventually transformed into firm dark chunks. Business rises for chaku producers, like the ones pictured, as the Nepali month of Poush ends.
The festival of Maghe Sankranti celebrates the end of the month of Poush, when religious ceremonies are forbidden. On the first day of the Nepali month of Magh, or Maghe Sankranti, Magar, Newar, Chhetri, Tharu and Chhantyal communities celebrate by calling family get togethers and eating special delicacies including yam, sel, sweet potato and sesame laddoos.
Newari community offer a combination of chaku with butter (ghee), yam and beaten rice to each other. It is believed that consuming chaku promotes good health and warmth in the cold months.
Preparing chaku can be a rigorous and the whole process can take a couple of hours. Once the syrup turns into a thick paste, they are weighed, dried and divided into packets, ready to be sent into the market. A shopkeeper sells 250 grams of chaku at Rs 40 to 50, depending on the ingredients used.