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.


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.
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…

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