Election Day

Election day in Nepal was a holiday. More than that, the Election Commission decided it was a vehicle free day. The only vehicles on the road were police, emergency, or army.

good day to walk the cows

The road never looked so large

Badminton on the road

No traffic means clear skies

Election Season

It is election time here in Nepal.

The country is electing an assembly that will draft the country’s constitution. The country was ruled for over 200 years by a monarchy. The monarchy was abolished in 2008 as part of the resolution of a civil war that lasted over 10 years, . Since then, the government has struggle to create a constitution. The first elected assembly failed to complete the task and now a new group is being selected.

And what a choice! There are over 150 parties in Nepal. Thirty-three of the parties, lead by one of the Maoist factions, have formed a coalition to boycott the election. They are doing whatever they can to prevent people from campaigning and promise to make life difficult on voting day. For the ten days leading up to the election, they called for a transportation “bandh” or strike.

We were told to stay away from work on the first bandh day, but since then it has been business as usual, except for a lot less traffic. We were also told to avoid using taxis, so we have been staying at home more. The election is Tuesday and we have been told to stay home.

One bonus of the bandh is less traffic. Less traffic means clear skies. Just at a time when the mountains have lost their cloud cover.

From our rooftop today

Even with the traffic bandh, the other parties are out campaigning. In our neighborhood, that means vehicles with loud speakers passing by, or small groups with flags.

This afternoon I found a sample ballot on our driveway. The ballot has symbols that represent the other 122 parties that are participating in the election. Not only is there the hammer party and the sickle party, but also the hammer and sickle party.

We have not lived in a participatory democracy for 21 years. Interesting times ahead. The election is Tuesday and we have been told to stay home.

Gods, Games, and Alcohol

We entered into the last part of the festival season, Tihar, the festival of lights. A five day festival that starts with the day of the crows in which offerings are made to the birds. That was a work day, at the end of which the local staff put on a wonderful party for the whole staff that featured gambling, a powerful local liquor, raksi, and dancing. After working for twenty-eight years in Islamic countries, it was quite a contrast.

Flashing wads of money…. 10 Nepal Rupees is about 10 cents in the US

I have no idea what caused money to change hands, but it involved a pair of dice. In the previous week in Bhaktapur, we saw a very serious game of Sorry played with stacks of money.

Sorry!

Gambling is not illegal in Nepal, in fact many of the major hotels have a Casino, however it is just not a common sight to see gambling on the street except during the festival season.

Card game in Paten
I was served the local liquor, raksi, in a small cup. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. The same cup holds the small flames that surround the Mandalas during the holiday. Indeed, the liquid in the cup was ignitable, and burned as it went down.
Pouring Raksi
Raksi is the general term for a number of home brew recipes, depending on the location, family, and the available materials. You should be thinking “Moonshine!” I have found recipes online for versions made with millet, rice, and even mulberries. When trekking it is not uncommon to find backyard stills. You never will catch dysentery from drinking raksi in a remote village… you may go blind, but odds are the liquid will warm you up and give you a pleasant glow.

A Raksi still we saw on trek in 2010
The Nepali staff entertained us with song and dance, and then fed us a wonderful meal. A very pleasant way to start the holiday.
During the Tihar festival families welcome the Goddess Lakshmi to their homes. She is the goddess of prosperity. People light up their homes and create elaborate Mandalas in front. This is a time-lapse film from our rooftop on the second day of the festival. 
The homes also have garlands of marigolds strung over the doorways.
A home we passed in Patan
We used the holiday to finally go to Patan, a mere twenty minutes down the road. It is another one of the ancient capitals of the Kathmandu valley. We actually had been to Patan many times, but to the section with all the trendy restaurants, not to the ancient center, or “Durbar” square. 
Durbar Square in Patan
As it was time for lunch, we climbed the six flights of stairs to a restaurant high over the square. It was a great location to catch the sights below.
Looking down on to the Dubar square of Patan
Lots of colors to choose from
Looking down on the fruits and vegetable stand
Close to the square are many tea houses, coffee shops and craft shops. We particularly liked the one below:
Notice the garlands for Lakshmi

Then we walked down a lane with lots of copper and brass. Many tempting pieces but we didn’t buy….yet!

How do they keep them so shiny?
We started the festival season with rain in Bhaktapur, but that quickly ended and we enjoyed beautiful weather, in time for Lakshmi’s arrival.
Did she bring prosperity? She already did for me, over thirty years ago. What other great gifts are coming our way? Let me sip some raksi and think about it…

A rainy visit to Bhaktapur

Palace Square in Bhaktapur
It was the start of the festival season in Nepal, Dashain followed 15 days later by Tihar, and according to local knowledge, it never rains… well almost never. That was before a powerful cyclone slammed into the northeast coast of India and splashed onto the Himalayas. 
We had the week of Dashain off. It is a time for Nepali families to gather together. Cities empty as many of the people go back to their villages. A great time to explore the treasures around the Kathmandu valley, or so we thought. 
We reserved a nice room at the Pagoda Guest House. A nice family run establishment with a good restaurant. The room was on the top floor overlooking the Nyatapola Pagoda. 
from our balcony

We went out in the soggy day to explore the ancient former capital of the Malla kingdom in the Kathmandu valley.

The ancient city is brick and timber. The brick foundries can be seen as you drive into the town. The rice famers become the brick makers during the dry winter months. The wood is finely carved, every corner we turned a new wonder, even in the rain.
close up of a door

Nyatapola Pagoda
We followed a band as we left the guesthouse. We saw many bands marching through the streets, even late at night when the rain was at its most miserable. The march was part of a “puja,” or ritual that is common in Nepali Hindu ceremonies to honor deities, important people, or guests.  Click below to hear a sample.
Dashain is a long festival that lasts over a week, we were in Bhaktapur during the blessing of all forms of transport: Bicycles, cars, motorbikes, tractors, vans, and buses. Goats were sacrificed for the blessing, their blood was used in the markings on modes of transport. It took us a while to realize that it wasn’t a balloon wrapped around the bumpers of some of the vehicles.
The tractor was richly blessed. This reminded me on the time I studied human physiology in university. I remember noting that we are just worms with appendages.  I didn’t fair well in that course.
Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is mainly pedestrian and easy to walk around. The people of the city, like most of the Kathmandu valley are Newari. An ethnic group that has ruled the valley for over a millennia. 
Getting water from the well
Along the narrow roads (more like paved paths) we came across vendors selling fruits, bells, and souvenirs.

In Potter’s Square we came across a number of Newari men sitting together. At first, I didn’t notice the instruments. Then the oldest of them, holding a young sleeping child, began to sing. I took out my digital audio recorder and placed it nearby, stepped back, and enjoyed the song as all of the men played instruments and sang. It was one of those magical moments you wish on all travelers. The young child slept through the whole performance. Click below for the performance:

After watching the performance, I realized the true treasure of Bhaktapur was not the bricks, or the carvings, or the multitude of festivals. It was, like my other experiences in Nepal, the people.