Apr 18, 2008

A Maoist new year

Back in Kathmandu, back to pollution and hectic activity in the streets. After nearly a month in Nepal, I can definitely say my favorite parts of the country are in the mountains - the quaint villages with welcoming souls and without pollution.

We spent about 3 weeks in the Pokhara area - the town itself and mountain surrounds. Every traveler I've met who has been there says the same thing - Pokhara sucks you in and it's really hard to leave. I kept saying, "tomorrow I'll leave," and then the next day i'd say the same thing. I'm still not sure what it is about the place, perhaps the laid back atmosphere, lake, mountain views, nearby treks (Anapurna region and others), and of course the local people, some of whom we'd hang out with everyday. We stayed longer to wait out the election as well, then had to stay to celebrate New Year's. Happy 2065! (different calendar in Nepal...) No space age stuff here in Nepal yet though.

After Panchassee (see last blog entry), my 2nd favorite place in Nepal is a town/village called Bandipur. It's in between Kathmandu and Pokhara, perched up on a ridge with 360 views of rice-terraced valleys below. The town was on the old trade route between India & Tibet and they have recently been restoring the main drag which has Newari-style architecture. Think Nepali row houses with doors you have to duck under (well, if you' above avg Nepali height that is). I've hit my head a number of times in this country. There are no vehicles in the town and by 8pm nearly everything is closed, especially if the power is out. I'd say there were no more than 30 tourists there at a time during my 5 days, and for some reason most people only pass through staying one nite - they seemed to be on packaged trekking tours.

While I tried for early morning mountain views the first 2 mornings, instead I was treated to a "white lake" view - complete cloud coverage over the valley below, with some nearby hills peaking out to say good morning. It was like being in a plane above the clouds, but outside - not looking over the wing through a tiny window. stunning. There's not a lot to do in Bandipur but wander the paths, chat with people, watch folks bathe & fill water containers at the natural spring water spouts, and take in the scenery. Somehow I kept getting pulled into random experiences as I kept trying to venture out of the main part of town. One day I head guitar playing & singing and asked a little girl about it. She took me upstairs in the home to a Christian prayer meeting. I was quite surprised when I realized they were singing Hallelujah and had bibles in hand, given the majority of the country are Hindu or Buddhist, or a combination of the two. They even had an English/Nepali bible for me to follow along. The singing was lovely and the loud praying (everyone speaking at the same time) interesting to observe. As with most visits in Nepal, the meeting ended with tea.

The next day I was drawn to singing outside a temple, and a woman who was walking outside invited me in. It was a small prayer session for a Krishna temple. This group was mostly women over 60, with a couple kids and one man who read the prayers. Mostly they sang and one person would dance in the middle of the circle. Of course they quickly motioned for me to dance, so I had to oblige. I had no clue of the dance style, so I did some twirling & hand motions similar to those that the women were doing while sitting. My new favorite phrase is "what to do?" You just gotta go with the flow.

Later that day I started chatting with a 12 year old girl named Pragya (well, she started chatting with me with the usual "where are you from" "what is your name" "how long in nepal"). She invited me inside to see her currency collection, so I said sure. First we talked as she finished her daily work of wiping down the dirt floor with water. Then we went upstairs to her "international bedroom". She clearly engages with a lot of travelers, as she had little mementos from all over the world. Mom brought tea and Pragya took over my camera to photograph her home and us. She insisted I come back later that evening bc she wanted to "make me pretty". Sure enough when I returned she spent an hour & half doing up my hair in a variety of styles and painting my face with make up. The orange lipstick stung my lips (likely very old), and the homemade heavy black eyeliner was a bit smudgy. but what fun!

The next day, the owner of my guesthouse took me along with him to the equivalent of the rehearsal dinner for his niece's wedding. I felt honored to be there, but I think the bride was a bit skeptical of my presence. Her family was taking pictures of me as the oddball guest. As the tradition, upon entry to the tent I washed my hands, gave her tikka (the red pigment placed on the forehead), placed a flower petal on her head, said my wishes for a happy marriage and long life, and gave her a gift of 100 rupees. (luckily i had been instructed beforehand...)

I didn't really want to leave Bandipur, but alas, I came back to Kathmandu to check out some sites I missed the first time around. Over the next week I'll work my way down to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, to meet up with Ariella and Susan before heading to India.

If you haven't been following the post-elections in Nepal, the Maoists have a decent lead in the coalition assembly and will be the ruling party. Due to delayed voting in some places bc of unrest on election day and recounts, the final results are not in, but the Maoists have given the king 28 days to vacate his palace (which they plan to turn into a museum). Overall the elections went very smoothly and peacefully. My bus from Pokhara to Bandipur was stopped for a while as I watched a Maoists parade process down the highway, with a local winning candidate perched atop a car as the highlight of the celebration. Everyone was covered in red pigment - all over their faces - to mark the celebration. Fascinating.

So as the country brought in the new year 2065, the Maoists indeed have a lot to celebrate.

As luck would have it, my friend Campbell from Wharton (who also just quit his job and is traveling for a year) arrived in Kathmandu yesterday. So great to see a familiar face, in Kathmandu!

p.s. did I mention how exhilarating riding atop buses/jeeps is? yes, i held on tight. much better than being squished inside in very uncomfortable positions...

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to drop you a friendly smile from Seattle! I check into your blog a couple times a week to see what you're up to and continually think "how great is that!" for your year of traveling... What great life experiences and takeaways. That pin hole photograph is too cool.