Bhaktupur - Day 1

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April 13th 2019
Published: April 14th 2019
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The plan of attack for today was a) find an ATM as I didn’t have many rupees and b) see some of this Biska Jatra festival and c) maybe squeeze in a walking tour if I could. As I walked into Dubar square (the main square) I was offered a taxi and a guide within 30 seconds. Not bad considering it was still early. I turned down the taxi and negotiated a price with the guide. Once we had a agreed a price the first question I asked my newly found guide was where is an ATM. Which of course he was most happy to show me the way.

That being said Roshan was an excellent guide. What I thought would be a one or two hour tour turned into four. We walked all over the city and I got to take in some of the festival I was looking for. We started in Dubar square, which as mentioned is the main square. It is surrounded by temples, museums and the former royal palace. The palace is known as the 55 window palace, which on its own does not sound that impressive. However, when you look at thein windows they all have these ornate wooden carvings. All religious figures. Nepal is a predominantly Hindu country and they have 124,000 gods. I asked Roshan how they kept track of them all but as it turns out they are all variations of 6 gods, which is much more sensible.

The wood carvings on the temples are worthy of closer inspection. Partially because they are very intricate, but mostly because you will find imagery you would never see in a church, not in a million years. Did I mention the Hindus’ wrote the karma sutra? Well they did…all over the temple walls. Roshan explained that this was a form of education. Many, many years ago, arranged marriages and child brides was a common here. This is obviously a dangerous practice for young girls. So, they put these images up on the temples so the people understood the act and could appreciate it was not for young bodies. Plus, I think the young girls saw the images, not just of sex but also child birth, and probably said get bent, you are not doing THAT to ME!

There are temples large and small all over the city. Bhaktupur is considered the cultural city of Nepal. Because of the festival people from all over this district have come to enjoy the festival and offer sacrifices to the gods. And by sacrifices I do mean animal sacrifice. I saw one such sacrifice… it was a chicken, so pretty low key. They do sacrifice bigger animals, such as goats and water buffalo, but I think that is a bit more involved. There was one temple we walked into where a family was preparing to sacrifice a goat. But there was much more prayer and chanting and a much bigger temple than the chickens final resting place. I stood and watched for a while but then we moved on. I felt a little intrusive and I didn’t really want to see the goats throat cut. He looked like a nice goat

We did get to stop by Potters square and see the raising of the tole. Which is just a massive wooden pole with a green bush attached to the end of it. It is supposed to represent the lingam, or in English, a mans genitalia (yep, we are back there again) From what I saw it was a bunch of young fellas pulling on massive ropes to raise this thing while older men maneuverer A frames under it as they slowly raised it. Meanwhile and old man was shouting directions from the side-lines. There was lots of chanting and shouting, they all appeared to be having a great time.

The last part of the tour we went through the market district. Roshan took me to a couple of places where they sell some pretty cool (but a little pricey) souvenirs. There was a artists school where they make the traditional bhudist painting’s. The student’s study for 12 years to become masters of this art. The patterns are all similar, but the colour and details vary on each one. (same same but different) they did have a sand mandala, kept very carefully in a glass case. This is the Bhuddist pattern poured out in coloured sand using a very fine flute. It takes untold hours to create and looks amazing. But clearly cannot be moved. We then moved on to a store front that sells the Ghurkha knives. These are very heavy, slightly bent knives that used to be used by the royal Ghurkhas, who were a very fierce army. Even the poms were scared of the Ghurkhas. The knives were very ornate, and I gotta be honest I was tempted. But seriously, what am I going to do with a fighting knife? Lastly we went to another store selling the Tibetan singing bowls. These bowls made from 7 metals, vibrate when struck and are said to have healing qualities. The shop owner allowed me a demonstration, he asked if there was anywhere I was experiencing pain. My feet were pretty tired at this point so he got me to stand in this huge bowl and close my eyes. He then struck the bowl in four directions and the I could fee the vibrations emanating up my body through my feet. He also struck another bowl and moved it around my head. The sound seemed to fill the room. It was pretty cool. I politely but firmly said no to all these fine wares and went to lunch. Well OK I might have gotten talked into buying a painting, but mostly I said no.

After lunch I had decided on visiting a few museums before trying to catch the next part of the festival. There is the national art museum, the wood carving museum and the pottery museum. I found the national art museum which is really just two floors of religious and political art. Cute and interesting and doesn’t suck up a lot of time. Then I tried to make my way to the wood carving museum. I thought this would be really interesting, but without my guide it proved to be impossible to find. After an hour of meandering around on sore feet I decided it was beer O’clock. I found myself a very nice little café that serves both coffee and beer and had my first taste of Everest lager. It was actually quite a nice beer, but there is just a little too much of it. They sell them in 650ml bottles. There is nothing smaller. So I pretty much had a whole long neck to myself. J

Whilst sitting in my nice café a retired English couple sat next to me and we struck up a conversation. Two retired teachers, Pauline and Rob, touring Nepal, much to the horror of their children. I thought they were awesome. They had spent three weeks travelling
Pottery SquarePottery SquarePottery Square

Raising of the tole
though Nepal, but they had also been to Ghana, Nicaragua and Cuba. When I’m their age I hope I’m doing the same thing. They meandered off to see the chariot pull (part of the festival) and I finished my drink. As I wandered around the corner to see the same chariot pull, I found them standing on a temple platform so they could “get a better view” of the festivities. They had made a new Nepalese friend, Dorje, (spelling probably not correct) who was very chatty. He came down from the temple to get me and we all sat up there together to see the chariot pull.

When it all got going it was very dramatic. They have this huge wooden chariot, three stories high, I don’t know how heavy. The young men are climbing all over it offering up sacrifices to the gods. At some point, a priest (well I think he was a priest) dressed in white, starts climbing all over it and yelling and kicking at them. I’m not sure if that was part of the theatrics or if he was genuinely annoyed that they wouldn’t get off his ride. Then there is more chanting and yelling and more young me on the ropes pulling this chariot. Once it started moving it was swaying all over the place, it was quite scary to watch, as if at any moment the whole thing could fly apart. Eventually they got it out of its resting place and into the street it was to go down. Roshan had shown me this street earlier in the day, and it had big tracks carved into the stone for the chariot wheels. Once it hit those grooves man, did that thing take off. I didn’t hear any screams of some poor bugger being crushed under the wheels so I assume they had cleared the crowd. But there were an awful lot of people there so it must have happened.

After the chariot took off, my English friends made their way back to their hotel. Dorje, accompanied down to the lower part of town, where they were in the process of erecting another tole. I took some happy snaps of the festivities but mostly I was interested in the size of the crowd. There were people everywhere. Crowding through the streets, on every balcony, every stairwell, craning to
Bhairab's chariotBhairab's chariotBhairab's chariot

Seems solid enough
get a look at the festivities. Some folks had even made their way into construction sites and where sitting in half completed buildings. And I’ve seen construction in action here folks, it is safe to say there is no labour union.

After a while I got bored watching the raising of the tole, so I made my way back up the hill to Tumadhi square. I was feeling pretty tired and dusty so I though now might be a good time to have a quiet beer before heading back to my accommodation. There is this really cool café in the square, built in the pagoda style of the temples. It is three stories high and has a cool looking balcony up the top, which I thought would be a good place to people watch. I walked in, walked out on the balcony and remembered I’m afraid of heights. So I quietly slipped back inside, found a seat safely inside. It was a pretty big day. After scaring the crap out of myself in that café I made my way back to Dubar square to look for some dinner, which I almost fell asleep trying waiting for. After that I figured it was time to make my way back to the guest house for a well-earned sleep


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