KATHMANDU (AFP) - The air is thick with the pungent scent of raksi, a rice liquor containing more than 50 per cent alcohol, as housewives brew the drink that is a festive staple among Nepal's Newar community.
Indigenous to the Kathmandu valley, raksi (or aila as it is also called) is offered to Hindu and Buddhist gods during religious ceremonies but revellers need little excuse to sample the potent brew.
Although it is illegal in Nepal to make alcohol at home for sale, the preparation and consumption of raksi is so key to Newari culture that authorities turn a blind eye to the hundreds of housewives who brew and sell the liquor to local restaurants.
The rigorous month-long process of making raksi is traditionally left to the daughters-in-law of Newar families, who first remove the husk, before winnowing, washing and boiling the rice in large black pots.
The cooked rice is then transferred into large clay vessels and left to ferment for a couple of weeks, when the women once again haul the big black pots into service.
Once the fire gets going, the distillation process begins, leaving a clear rice liquor that is sharp, yet smooth.
Raksi is traditionally served from a brass vessel with a long snout, and then poured into a small clay bowl. More the bubbles in the bowl, the better the quality.