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.
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.
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.
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.
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.