Nepal has been treating me very well indeed. I’ve just got back from the Himalayas after having had almost three glorious weeks trekking. But before I left for the mountains, I was thrown into Nepalese life with a trip to a temple site and then to a historic town for a festival.
Pashupatinath is within Kathmandu (now a sprawling city that goes beyond its original confines to house a population of 3 million). It’s a site which houses a main temple where, if you die within its confines, it is said you’ll be reborn as human, no matter what sins you committed whilst alive.
The Sadhus (Holy Men) are colourful characters, who are happy to pose for the tourists in exchange for a small donation to support their existence.
In common with other parts of South Asia, great credence is given to horoscopes. It was interesting to see that the digital revolution has caught up with this aspect of life here, with laptops being used to obtain ‘the most detailed and accurate predictions’.
The complex is on the banks of the river Bagmati, and cremations are carried out here, sometimes several at a time.
Having wandered around the site, the next stop was Bhaktapur, an ancient city and now a UNESCO heritage site. Whilst a lot was damaged during the 2015 earthquake, much is now rebuilt and work continues. I was lucky enough to visit during New Year’s celebrations (Nepal doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar). I’ve now travelled to the future, as it’s 2075 here!
The celebration on that day appeared to be a huge tug of war, with young and old straining to pull a giant wooden chariot to either ends of the historic town square.
As I got there, the square was slowly filling with people who appeared in a distinct holiday mood, complete with food vendors, toy sellers, and friendly flag-waver!
The prime positions appeared to be on the chariot itself; these kids were happily ensconced long before the action started.
Once the contest started, the square became a crazy place of good natured chaos. Everyone tried to get their hands on one of the ropes at either end, and each side did their best to ensure the chariot shifted in their direction. It was pure madness, but great fun to be in the middle of it all.
Those who didn’t want to participate, stood well out of harm’s way, watching the craziness.
The structure on top of the chariot was distinctly wobbly, and at times the objective appeared to be to get it to detach completely from the base. Apparently this has happened in the past – I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near when it did, but some of those sitting on top appeared to actively revel in the feeling it was going to topple over!
The whole event was glorious unadulterated fun, and a perfect introduction to what is clearly going to be a fascinating country.