Saturday, October 8, 2011

Trip to Nepal during Dashain and Kumari Puja

Did you know that a goddess lives in the heart of Kathmandu? Yes, in the Kumari Bahal or Kumari Ghar, one of the marvelous palaces that delimit Kathmandu's Durbar Square lives the most powerful of the Kumari, the girls considered living goddesses in Nepal.

We arrived in the early afternoon of the following day at Kathmandu airport. After passing immigration control, having our visa and collecting luggage, we got into a taxi to Bhaktapur, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world. There we had booked a guesthouse on the edge of the old town.

After settling down we went for a walk around the city. Although one have to pay entry fee to tour the old town, being already late there was no one at the checkpoints. So we could take a good walk through a city where the air was getting cooler. Soon night fell and we had to think about dinner. And well we go early to bed well wrapped up.

Day 1 - Bhaktapur

We are awake early enough with a splendid sun. There is a market on the square and then the temple bells at the bottom of our windows jingle often. We hang out in the room and enjoy the view overlooking the place where we observe the inhabitants. After breakfast, we leave by taxi to the city of Bhaktapur, about 45 minutes drive.

Our taxi is not allowed to enter. We walk with our luggage to the guest house located in a nice Newar house. We take the prettiest room with its wooden lattice windows and the corridor that borders them as in the palaces of maharajas. The family that maintains this beautiful house is charming. We have a splendid view of Taumadhi Tole, a magnificent city square.

It is early. The sun is shining, as we start our visit to the temples of the place! We booked a car for the day. We leave first for Bodhnath, a city where many Tibetans have taken refuge for several years. There is a huge stupa and many monasteries in the city. We see few monks in the middle of the morning but the place is gigantic.

We have a glimpse of the religious fervor when we see two pilgrims lie on the ground and then kneel and repeat this movement indefinitely! We go to the Shechen monastery. We return to Bhaktapur for lunch. We leave at around 2 pm for the Changu Narayan temple, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The sculptures of the wooden props that support the roofs of this temple are remarkable. The place is serene before the arrival of an organized tour but calm returns after their departure. We see for the first time a pagoda with walls covered with ceramics.

Later we went to another attractive temple, Gokarna Mahadev. There we saw the first sadhu of our trip. And we will also always remember this place as the temple in which a huge monkey attacked us. Well, what happened was that the sadhu gave me bananas to be put as an offering in the temple. And the monkey decided that they looked so good they should be his.

After getting back to Bhaktapur we have lunch, and taste the momo stuffed with meat. We then went up to the Suryavinayak temple. From there the views of the city are great. When we went down to the old town there was still light and we decided to take a walk through the cobbled streets and surrounded by a newar house.

To our surprise it seemed that all Bhaktapur was there. When asked we were told that Dashain, the most important holiday in Nepal, was being celebrated. And what did all those people expect? Well, nothing less than a buffalo that was going to run through those streets. At the end of the day, a group with masks enliven the durbar square! We stayed to see it while we enjoyed the good atmosphere of the city before it was time to have dinner.

We dine at the cafe, as we did not have much choice for the restaurant, and here at 8 pm everything is closed and the streets are not lit. We get an aperitif, whiskey and orange vodka and then, usual meal with dessert, the delicious yoghurt. We meet a Indian couple on honeymoon and together we return to the hotel.

Day 2 - Nagarkot

We leave for Nagarkot located at 2200 meters altitude. We hope to see the Everest peaks. The winding road passes through villages and a beautiful pine forest but alas, it is very cloudy and we could not see anything. We return back. We go to the Durbar square, visit the possible access to the courtyards of the palace and admire the other buildings of this place.

And finally, we embark on the pedestrian circuit marked in the lonely planet along 4 km through this beautiful city museum. There, we move through the sumptuous pagoda shaped temples for the discovery of the life of the inhabitants by passing in alleys. We move to another beautiful place of Tachupal. It's a beautiful day for me spent strolling in this UNESCO heritage city where time seems to have stopped.

We left Bhaktapur with our rented car and its driver. There were still hours to reach our destination. The sun was already falling when we arrived in Pokhara. We put our things down at the hotel. It was very cozy, beautiful and also very well located. So much that after leaving the suitcases in the room it was enough to take a short walk to get to the lake and an area with a lot of restaurants. We have dinner and return to go to bed.

Day 3 - Pokhara

We wake up very early to go to see the Sarangkot sunrise, a privileged viewpoint over the Annapurna massif. The clouds made an appearance and we could see a beautiful sunrise but not with that image of the entire mountain range before us. The peak that we could best distinguish was the Machhapuchhare, a mountain of 6997 meters high, sacred to Buddhists and which is forbidden to ascend.

With the sun already high, we returned to the hotel for breakfast, stopping earlier in the old town of Pokhara, which was slowly waking up to the new day. We started towards the Shanti Stupa. We had given our driver the day off, so we took a taxi to that place.

From there we descend the mountain on which that pagoda is located towards the Phewa Tal, the lake of Pokhara. We pay a few rupees to a woman to take us to the other side in her boat. We go for paragliding nearby and it is one of those things that I will never forget. Back on land, we had time to pick something up and have a beer before leaving for Tashi Palkhiel.

It is a quiet Tibetan settlement where colored flags flutter in the wind and in whose monastery we can witness a Buddhist ceremony with all the monks singing and playing various instruments. And we spent the rest of the day wandering around the city. We do some shopping and enjoying the tasty food they serve in this city.

Kumari Nepal images

Day 4 - Kathmandu

Our driver was surprised to see us leaving with luggage. We explained what was happening and he told us that the rooms they had for the drivers were also the worst I had seen. So before heading to Kathmandu to find a hotel for that night we went to Manakamana.

We reach an ancient temple in a cable car that takes us over mountains and valleys to reach the temple, one of the most important in the area. There are many sacrifices of animals, something that impresses, especially by the naturalness with which everyone lives.

After the splendid mountain scenery, we come back to the car to start the journey to Kathmandu. Around 3 pm, we reach the hotel. We drop our bags and go for a walk in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. We eat sweet momos, and banana. There are of course the beautiful prayer flags hanging between all buildings that tinge the blue sky in a multitude of colors.

Moreover, it was at this moment, while strolling in the streets, that I realized that it had been a month since I had not been so surrounded by people! Because between trek in the mountains in Pokhara, it is not the population that has invaded me! We went to visit Pashupatinath which is in some ways the Varanasi of Nepal.

There is the most important temple of Shiva, and indeed the only one intact after the earthquake. Just like in Varanasi, cremations take place every day, all the time. That said, cremation here is more private. Only the families concerned have access to the cremation side, which is not the case in India. After that, it's touristy all around.

We leave the enclosure of the old city to discover two large pools. And then, we spend the rest of the day to enjoy this extraordinary place while doing some souvenir shopping. We enter the souvenir shops. We bought cashmere sweater and scarves and a jacket. The fateful moment of the meal arrived so we went to feast in a small very nice restaurant.

For dinner we took the opportunity to eat vegetable curry, dal bhat or white rice with yogurt and some vegetables. We were all seduced! For the late evening, we have beer pints on the quiet rooftop.

Kumari Nepal images

Day 5 - Patan

We wake up wrapped in our big duvets and our thousand layers. We take our breakfast on the terrace of the hotel with the magnificent view of the temples of the place that surrounds us.

We then spend the day in the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the busy streets. We see a set of temples with a lot of charm and grandeur. As in the temples of other cities, there are also many erotic scenes carved on the beams that support the roofs of pagodas or side walls.

The courtyards of the palace are vast and the facades of woodwork in lace are remarkable. The palace guards are gurkhas, famous Nepali soldiers. There are also three small ivory windows of great finesse. We sit on the steps of one of the temples and watch the Nepalese people and more tourists here.

There are also sadhus and a monk, representatives of the two main religions of the country, Hinduism and Buddhism. Next we chose to go to Patan. Patan was once called Lalitpur, the city of beauty, and has an ancient royal city as well as one of the oldest Buddhist sites in the world.

We also took the time to walk in the museum, considered as the most beautiful of Nepal. After a short lunch break, we go stroll in the old streets of the city. We also had some pastry, and we shot a very short video.

We also go to the courtyard of the Kumari Ghar. The Kumari Bahal courtyard in the Kumari Chowk looks like a small oasis of peace. It is not that noise does not arrive here, after all it is right in the square. But the beauty of the wood carvings that decorate its balconies and windows seems to possess the totality of the senses.

Kumaris are little girls from Buddhist families and are chosen from thousands of female candidates by a committee of Buddhist priests by the age of three, and must meet thirty-two criteria. She is selected when she loses her first milk tooth and must leave the day she loses her first drop of blood, most of the time on her first menses, to return to normal life.

Another Kumari between 3 and 5 years old with a perfect body and belonging to the Shakya caste is chosen in her place. The current Kumari is 10 years old. Kumari can ask all she wants, as she is a living goddess. The Kumari are girls considered reincarnations of Taleju, a Nepalese name of the goddess Durga. There are several in Nepal (one per kingdom) but in Kathmandu is the main one. She lives in her palace from childhood to puberty and never comes out except on rare occasions (about fifteen times a year).

She is paraded once a year on a sumptuous float during the festival of Durga Puja or Dashain here. From one of its windows, the kumari sometimes comes to greet the people who come to her court to make offerings. We were very lucky to see her for a few moments at her window. She had her eyes fully lined with kohl and it made her look sad when she greeted. She has a very beautiful face. What a strange destiny!

The goddess cannot be photographed, although the patio and her miniature stupa can be when she is not there. After these few hours we start looking for a trekking agency that took about two hours to find. In the end we do not book. In the evening we went to eat momos and a soup in a really small restaurant in our neighborhood.

We also took a walk along Freak Street, the street that hippies took a few decades ago. And we finished our walk by having our last beer on another terrace in Durbar Square. We stroll a bit in this lively area and then, we reach Thamel where we dine in one of the restaurants of the main street before going to our hotel. Back at the hostel we took a dessert consisting of fried bananas, ice cream, cakes and other sweet wonders.

Kumari Puja images

Day 6 - Bungamati

We decided to visit Bungamati, a beautiful medieval village in the southern part of the Kathmandu valley, where would eventually meet a very goddess in person. We had immense luck during all the days we were in Nepal, coinciding with numerous parties and celebrations, but without a doubt the most special was the one we found in Bungamati.

Although it is quite close to Kathmandu, it is very little frequented and explored by tourists. It makes it a real pleasure to get lost in its alleys of delicious traditional and rural authenticity with its houses decorated with chili peppers and corn cobs hanging.

As we entered the main square crowned by the Rato Machhendranath Temple, we saw that there was a festive atmosphere. We see men, women and children dressed in traditional dresses and their finery. We were no longer surprised, since our trip had coincided with many other celebrations in other parts of Nepal. There was sure to be a celebration soon. So we took our walk through the village very calmly, but with the emotion that confers knowing that there will be a special event.

Suddenly, the music of a traditional band began to sound and beautiful girls began to dance. We joined the rest of the neighbors who came to enjoy the show, and that we were there, made many people come to where we were to talk to us and we felt like guests of honor.

After the dances began to gather in the square more and more bands of musicians who seemed to come from other places and who surrounded the square playing their instruments, adding to the rest of musicians and dancers. The sound of their instruments invaded the environment completely.

Trying to make me understand with some villager, I could discover that they were celebrating a kind of thanksgiving for the rice harvest. All those present brought their offerings of rice to the temple, next to which there was an incredible fervor.

Not in vain the temple is dedicated to Rato Machhendranath (also known as Bungadyo), the local god of the country and patron of the valley, who plays a very important role in the annual rains of Nepal. This god of complicated name has its place of origin in Bungamati, but his image is shared during the middle of the year, with the temple that is also dedicated to him, in Patan.

When the deity moves from one locality to another, one of the biggest festivities of the year is celebrated. But there was something more than fervor for the god. So with great respect, I went to the roofed patio of a building next to the temple, where I suddenly saw it. It was the Kumari of Bungamati.

The Kumari is the living goddess girl, and although the most important and famous is the royal Kumari of Kathmandu, there are other Kumaris in newaris localities such as Patan, Bhaktapur or in this case Bungamati. They only go out in public one or at most twice a year, so that the fortune of coinciding there just that day had been supreme or maybe divine.

It was an honor for me to be allowed to come and see her, to pay my respects and they even encouraged me to photograph her. And without a doubt, it is one of those experiences that I will never forget. As I will never forget her face either.

We again take the taxi to the swayambhunath stupa located north of the city. We access it by a very long staircase. On the platform, near the prayer mills, there is also a small temple. The hariti shows the very frequent interweaving in this country between Hinduism and Buddhism.

We go back to the center of Kathmandu to do some shopping! It's always nice to go shopping in these countries with such varied and accessible crafts. We have lunch in an Indian restaurant before going to visit the Garden of Dreams. The place is quiet and serene but the entry is quite expensive for a rather small place. Obviously, it is a haven of peace.

We visit the interior palatial complex of Hanuman Dhoka. It took us several hours and when we left we decided to visit the square again. We then return to the hotel to pack the bags and prepare ourselves. We take a taxi to the bus stop. When we left the hotel, pale yellow cloth scarves were put around our necks to wish us a safe trip. It made us happy.

We leave Nepal on this last gesture which reflects all the extreme kindness of the locals by that we greatly enjoyed throughout our trip. 17 hours is the duration of the bus trip between Kathmandu and Varanasi all on a road in poor condition. We sometimes felt like sitting on a washing machine in full spin.

2 comments:

kalaiselvisblog said...

Its a wonderful post Kalyan..

In our place 2, we do kumari pooja by placing 7 or 9 girls during Tamil month "Aadi" (last half of July to first half of August). Its called "Aadipuram" to Godess Abirami.

Ash said...

Happy Dussera to you and your loved ones!

author
Kalyan Panja
Kalyan Panja is a photographer and a travel writer sharing stories and experiences through photographs and words