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Published: September 17th 2011
Kathmandu has left an impression on us that few cities have done before. Our first glimpse of Nepal was at 10,000 meters out the window of the plane of the snow-covered Himalayan peaks rising high above the clouds. It just got better after that. We arrived at our guesthouse in the Thamel district and went for a walk to get our bearings. We wondered in awe of the narrow, cobbled streets and nearly got run over many times by the chaos of motorbikes, taxis, rickshaws, and bicycles zooming through. We've never seen anything quite like it, and it's awesome.
As luck would have it, we just also happened to arrive in the middle of one of Nepal's most important festivals - Indra Jatra. The festival lasts for 8 days and it celebrates the end of the monsoon season among other things. It's also the only time of year that the Kumari, Nepal's 7 year-old living goddess emerges from her house and leads a procession through Durbar Square on a golden chariot.
We managed to time our visit so that we could witness the final day of the festival and it was absolutely incredible. We made sure we got to
the square early so we could stake out a good vantage point to see the action. As the time got closer to Kumari's appearance the crowds swelled and we were squeezed from all angles (literally). Eventually the Kumari emerged to the crowd's delight. She was carried to her chariot and the show was on. Everyone went crazy cheering and trying to catch a glimpse of the Kumari. There was a huge police and military presence to control the crowds, but generally everyone behaved themselves and respected each other, which is really amazing considering the thousands of people jostling for a view. Photos can only do so much to capture the atmosphere so for the first time ever we've posted a couple of short video clips.
As the Kumari rode around in her chariot, the rest of the evening was filled with masked dancers, marching bands, typical festival stuff. The next big event was the giant mask of Bhairab which is only revealed during this festival (the rest of the year it is behind closed gates). On cue from the arrival of the chariots, a milky looking alcoholic liquid began pouring from the mouth of Bhairab and crowds of men
fought their way to the spout to drink this booze that is guaranteed to bring good fortune.
Then came what will not be remembered as one of our brightest moments. After being trapped on the steps of a temple for over an hour, we decided to work our way down to stretch our legs for a bit and go for a walk. We just followed the flow of the crowd and by the time we realized what was happening it was too late to turn back. We got caught in a bottleneck just as the Kumari's chariot arrived in front of Bhairab. The crowd was going nuts and we thought for sure we'd be caught in a stampede, trampled, never to blog again... We survived the squeeze and when Kumari moved on, we were able to slip out and find some breathing room. At that point we decided to call it a night, got a quick bite of some momos and headed back to the relative calm of Thamel. It was one of the most intense and amazing experiences ever.
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