Bhaktapur, Nepal

Nepal! (The first email since our entry to Nepal!)

Bhaktapur (to be specific!)

November 7th & 8th

Starting from the end and making my way back to the beginning…

Usually a story starts at the beginning and makes its way through to the end with tales as twisted and complicated as a murder mystery or as simple and unassuming as a tender love story… just as the author wishes. So this time around I’m taking the liberty to fast forward to our last couple of days in Nepal before making my way back to the beginning of the story in the proper time frame.

The boys have retired early, both exhausted with accumulated fatigue of the last month. There has not been much time to rest! So tonight finds me alone, sitting in my tiny little room that only has enough room for a double bed, (and even that is a luxury that I have not enjoyed of late…) no furniture but thank goodness an ”en-suite” bathroom: which only means I don’t have to go down the hall or go outside to do my business! Small mercies! My bed, worn out by the many previous occupants, has its shape and groove carved out into the mattress and is slightly leaning away from the wall… No matter I’m compensating with pillows tucked here and there and sipping on the “famous” Apple Brandy from Marpha (the telling of that tale for another email).

So here we are in the medieval town of Bhaktapur. And what a picturesque town it is. Mind you, even before even setting foot inside the town, you must pay a fee of 10.00$ per person. I’m not sure if it’s to limit the amount of people visiting or a way to make money…no matter! It’s well worth it. The town is a mishmash of alleyways interspersed with ponds. Not in the term we think of ponds but rather man-made cement structures, square or rectangular in shape and of different sizes: I think the ponds are a gathering place for people and for the winnowing of grain. Aside from the ponds two main squares are found in Bhaktapur. Actually the most famous square here rivals the Durbar Square in Katmandu for its beauty, intricate details and carvings in stone or in wood. Both have temples and old historical buildings with incredible architecture and one can tell the passage of time has trickled by instead of gushing right on through.

Time has somehow halted here, or so it seems. Old women dressed in the most colorful of saris sit stooped inside their shop, some quite decrepit, and spend their days on menial tasks, crushing grains, preparing food or doing their washing at the communal water well as running water is not the norm. Old men squat, here and there, playing cards, smoking or even taking a snooze and will away the hours. Life is harder here for the womenfolk!

In the minor Square vendors selling antiques, jewelry, carvings, wall hanging, saris, food and all kinds of trinkets keep an attentive eye on the comings and goings of potential buyers. You a chance a quick look when you think no one will hassle you to buy and out of nowhere, here they are, right next to you asking “how much?” “You like”? Shopping in Nepal is not for the browsers or window shoppers unless you have a steely attitude, a decisive manner and are not easily influenced or swayed. You can get pretty wrapped up and tangled into the world of bartering and before you know it you are walking away with a carpet or a wall hanging that you never intended to buy in the first place…but the price was such a steal!!!! LOL.

So back to Bhakatpur and the reason I’m making an exception to the timeline of the story… Tonight, of all nights, is a special time to be in Bhaktapur. The Square is alive with life and celebration as the Nepalese are celebrating and welcoming year 1131…It’s New Years Eve in Nepal! Nepal Sambat is based on a unique lunar calendar that includes the name of the country where it’s celebrated. It was started in 880AD after a local merchant from Kathmandu, Shankhadar Sakhwa, paid off the debt of the common people thus emancipating thousands of people from serfdom. From what I’ve been told, and from what I can see it’s their biggest celebration of the year. Imagine a holiday encompassing Easter, Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Labor Day all rolled into one. Kids of all ages, some as young as 4 if not younger, go from house to house or from business to business singing songs and performing intricate dances that all adults take time to appreciate and encouraged … and only move on when they have received a treat or some money for their effort. It’s a cross between caroling and trick or treating.

The older crowd, teenagers and young adults, are singing, dancing, clinging cymbals, drumming rhythmic songs accompanied with a chorus of voices all the while, in the back ground, the sound of firecrackers are going off at regular interval. A parade of motorcycles (up to 4 per motorcycle…people that is! LOL) and truck loads of people (20 people + per truck) standing in the back, hanging from the sides or sitting on the roof are in full party mode, playing any kind of instrument that makes noise, the louder the better. The drivers are honking non-stop as they are making their way through the square, just a few feet from our Guesthouse. It’s a great big oupla! For the rest of the “oldies” they stand back and enjoy the procession of revelers and probably reminisce on better times.

Tonight is celebration time and most restaurants and businesses have closed early to prepare for the celebration. During the day vendors were selling dye (red, yellow, orange) and flowers and advising everyone (especially us foreigners) ”tonight we close early for we must receive Dashain Tikka from our sisters”. Tikka being the colorful “blessing” that adorns the forehead …a gift and a sign of love bestowed from one member of the family to another. It’s a family celebration! Throughout the town the women folk are scurrying through the small cobbled street dressed in their best saris carrying plates of food to share with their families. It’s very cool being here at this time.

As sleep finally catches up with me to and I turn off the lights I am lulled to sleep by the echoes of voices singing, celebration and the occasional (but very loud) firecrackers. Throughout the night I am aware of the continuing festivities, as sleep, for me, is rarely without many wake full moments. Nevertheless it’s comforting to know that this particular night the Nepalese are celebrating and feasting together!

Namaste (meaning: I greet the divine within you)

-Colette

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