Nepal holds first international literary festival

Nepal's first international literary festival drew authors from around the world and hundreds of booklovers to the historic city of Patan over the weekend.

The three-day Kathmandu Literary Jatra featured best-selling British historian William Dalrymple, Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif and Tarun J. Tejpal, editor of the investigative Indian news weekly Tehelka.

"The excitement for Jatra was phenomenal. Many students and those who love literature flocked to the historic venue," festival director Suvani Singh told AFP.

The highlights of the multilingual event, which took place in Patan's medieval Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the capital Kathmandu, included poetry recitals and conversations with big-name authors.

The Kathmandu Literary Jatra was inspired by India's Jaipur Literary Festival, Asia's largest writers' event, held each January in the "pink city" of Jaipur in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

Hanif said the festival was remarkable for its emphasis on local languages rather than English.

"In a festival like this, it's usually English that takes over. But a lot of attention here has been paid to Nepali writers," he told AFP.

The young republic, sandwiched between Asian giants China and India, has a rich literary tradition, but few outsiders are familiar with its writings because most works are published only in Nepali.

In a session entitled "Uncovering the Truth", Tejpal said of his debut work "Alchemy of Desire": "Many years rolled by before I came to my first novel. I wanted to write a book that broke new ground."

Nepalese novelist Narayan Dhakal said that after the restoration of democracy in the country in 1990, "spaces (for literature) have opened up".

"Now several books have been written and the suffocating censorship we faced decades ago has been replaced by an open discourse where all sorts of voices can be heard," Dhakal said.

Umesh Raj Giri, a 21-year-old student said the event provided an interesting window to the literary world.

"This is the first time an event like this has been organised and I made sure not to miss it," he told AFP.