Friday, 29 August 2014

Teej in Besisahar

Last year the festival of Teej was just after I arrived in Nepal.  Then, myself and other newly arrived volunteers were taken to see the crowds at Pashnupatinath, the traditional temple in Kathmandu for worship at this festival. This year I joined the celebrations in my home town, Besisahar.
To start the day Srijana, a colleague from Global Action Nepal, invited me and some friends and colleagues for a meal at her flat. She cooked us a delicious daal bhat (rice and lentils) meal with fresh fish, tarkaari (vegetables) saag (greens) and home made achaar (spicy pickle). Dherai mito chhaa! (very tasty!)
Later in the day we walked to the open ground in front of the police station in the centre of town. Here a huge stage had been erected at one end, with small stalls around the perimeter of the ground selling take away food and Teej decorations. There must have been thousands of people standing there in the hot sun, waiting for the singing and dancing to begin. There was a sea of umbrellas providing shade.

Many women of all ages were dressed in beautiful red and gold saris with green necklaces and gold jewellery. Their black hair was carefully arranged and decorated with traditional red, green and gold ornaments. How lovely they looked.

On this day, married women pray for the health and well-being of their husbands, whilst the unmarried fast and pray for a good husband!  Not quite a celebration of womanhood I had originally thought, but the women do enjoy themselves with dancing and singing later in the day. Even young girls put on their prettiest dresses to celebrate the day.

On the way back to my flat I came across an interesting procession. Accompanied by a band, a line of children and young people danced along the lane in a line. They all held rice grass in both hands, and imitated planting the rice to each side as they danced. The boys were all dressed as girls, and many girls were dressed in traditional clothes or their best party dresses.  
Several pairs of boys had their faces covered with masks or painted and were harnessed together to imitate the buffalo ploughing the rice terraces. Some wore motorbike helmets too, but removed these later as they were too hot to wear for dancing. The farmer was also part of the procession.
The band had a couple of players with the traditional long horns. These seemed really hard to blow, as the men playing them were red in the face from the effort.  At the lane junction beside my flat they all danced in a circle for several minutes.

Many men enjoy dancing and dance well. This man tried to persuade me to dance too, but as it was mostly children dancing I declined to make a spectacle of myself! Instead I made friends with some of the women who are my neighbours.

I sat on the steps outside my flat talking to these women, or trying to anyway!  My Nepali language is improving with practice, I understand quite a bit of what is said to me, but I still find difficulty replying, except in simple phrases. However most people are delighted to find a 'biddeshi' who can speak even a few words of Nepali!  "Dherai Raamro Chhaa!"(It's very good) is a very useful phrase I have found.

I had dressed up for the day too, in my best kurta surwaal, and this seemed to meet the approval of the women I met, many smiled and some spoke to me.

It was good to be part of this day of celebration. Thank you to my Nepali friends and colleagues for including me.
Pheri bheTaulaa.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Gai Jatra festival

I was passing through Kathmandu in August at the time of the Newari festival of Gai Jatra. The Newars, a large ethnic group in Nepal, believe that after death, a cow will guide you to Yama, the God of the underworld.  The festival of Gai Jatra "Festival of the Cow" is partly in remembrance of those who have died during the previous year. In the three Durbar Squares of the Kathmandu Valley this festival is celebrated with colourful parades. In some places cows are led through the streets and some young boys dress up as cows.

I went to Kathmandu Durbar Square to experience the celebrations.  The Square was crowded, with hundreds of people sitting on the tiered steps of the temples, higher up to get a better view of the procession. The cacophony of noise was all around; bands, drums, vehicles and people all mingled in the close confines of the square. 

Being the centre of Kathmandu, cows were not much in evidence.  However I did see one calf being led through the square in the parade, its forehead covered in tikka and a marigold garland around its neck.  Several family groups carried photos of cows too.

It was moving to see the family groups in the procession, honouring their loved ones who had died during the past year.  In many groups a photo of the deceased, often surrounded with a flower garland, was held aloft beneath a very large colourful umbrella.  I imagine this was to shade everyone from the hot sun, but there may be another significance I don’t know of.  Beneath this, the young people from the family were dressed up in brightly coloured clothes and had headdresses and masks. 

Many had their faces made up with moustaches drawn with eye pencil.  The family group was, in most cases, led by a small band, with drums, cymbals, bells and wooden Nepali flutes.

Saddus, holy men of the Hindu faith, were out in force, carefully dressed and with faces painted for this special festival. I loved the flamboyant headdresses of the two featured in this photo.

This culture with the celebration and parade creating a public display of commemoration and mourning is so different from that of our western cultures that I found it hard to watch without feeling voyeuristic. However the square was filled with spectators both Nepali and Western, photographers and even television crews, obviously a very public occasion for Nepalis.

Refreshments in a rooftop café gave a different perspective. The view of the Taleju Temple opposite is very interesting and one not generally seen. It was built in 1564, stands on a twelve-stage plinth and reaches to a height of 35 metres. Roof supports on each stage are beautifully carved with gods and figures. On the eighth stage a wall and 16 miniature temples surround it. This splendid temple is generally closed to the public, only open to a few Hindus during the festival of Dashain.

It was interesting to look down on the procession with the colourful costumes and large multi-coloured umbrellas.  It made me appreciate the large number of people in the square, both taking part and spectating. This was obviously an important event in the Nepali calendar.
Pheri bheTaulaa


Water!  Pouring off the hills, dripping from the leaves, splashing in the puddles, tumbling over rocks in the streams and roaring down the rivers.  The constant sound of raindrops pervades. Everything is sodden. It is monsoon time in Nepal!

The road to Besisahar has become a mess; boulders and small landslips, which have fallen down the hillside, restricting the road width in many places, huge potholes filled with water and knee deep fords where the side streams cross the main road.  Two smooth rock faces beside the road have turned into torrential waterfalls, one spectacularly high with white water streaming down it. It is not surprising that there are so many difficulties with the condition of roads in Nepal, when you see the power of running water at this time.

Lying awake at night I listen to a cacophony of noise; from the stream that runs beside my house (but has never had water in it until now), the frogs croaking and cicadas scraping; one variety actually whine like a drilling machine struggling to keep going.  

How green all the vegetation is too!  Everything is growing so fast. The young rice in the paddies has coated the hillsides in emerald and the forests are lush. 

However work weeding the rice paddies is a very wet activity, so the Nepalis have invented a special umbrella-hat, leaving hands free. Simple but effective!

It is hot and uncomfortable because of the humidity, especially for a ‘bideshi’ from a cool European climate.  At around 24C.degrees at 8pm as I write this, it will be too hot to sleep comfortably.  My walks to school, even when cooler early in the morning, leave me wringing wet with sweat, and I need to carry a change of clothes to freshen up before I start work.  No wonder the schools shut for 5 weeks during July and August because of the monsoon!

The river in March
Yesterday, on the way to one of the nearest school, much of the path had turned into a rushing stream.  

The river in August after heavy rain.

From the bridge over the main Marsyngi Khola, the river was unrecognisable from the one I had seen a few months before.  A roaring torrent of water, double the size of the dry season river, was charging down the valley.  

The water was brown/grey with the silt it carried, and I’m sure there were lots of boulders being rolled down the valley within this torrent.  No wonder there are so many large boulders visible when the water level is low, 10 Kilometres down the valley. 

Even the small stream up a side valley near the school, had become a fair sized river.  I stopped and stared in wonder at the ford; here back in February I had managed to cross without getting wet feet.  Now the force of the water would have carried me away if I had attempted that! Fortunately there is also a suspension bridge further upstream so we were able to reach the school.

In places long streams of water fall, bubbling and white, down from the hills above.

A tree covered in large white flowers caught my attention – beautifully scented and with an interesting shape, this was a flower I hadn’t seen before.  This tree looks very dull and ordinary during the rest of the year, but comes into its own with the rain of the monsoon.
Pheri bheTaulaa