Sunday, 25 May 2014

Nepal Narratives. Day 1. Arrival and Sight-Seeing

     We'd travelled a whole day by flight! A wait at Delhi- an expensive lunch and breakfast- and eventually arrived in Nepal by 5.30 p.m. A Nepali SIM bought at a shop with flirtatious assistants, a meet with an excited and happy friend, and a bumpy car ride on dusty roads toward Thecho, Lalitpur district, Katmandu. Reached the house we were to stay in. A hearty, filling dinner with Binod, Shakuntala, Bimla and Niroj, and then sleep.
     We set off across the fields and houses the next day, at six in the morning, to visit Bajrabarahi- a temple for the goddess situated in the midst of a park. The goddess was set in the ground, people bending to worship her. The temple itself was in the pagoda style- a style seen across the land- dark brown shades enclosing the goddess, bells chiming constantly. In the outer pathway, surrounding the temple, pigeons flocked to eat grains and drink water given by the people there. A feeling of absolute bliss!
    From there, we went to a Buddhist monastery, behind which a new one was being constructed. We got to visit the school in which Shakuntala taught during the daytime and finally reached home once again by 7-ish. After mild black coffee and biscuits, we set out to meet Sarveshwar at a tea-shop down the road (a place that was to become our favourite morning haunt during our stay- Kashi bhaiya's tea-shop). Having tea and 'doughnut', we set off to visit Pashupathinath.
    First to Satdobato and then to the temple itself. Built in the Buddhist style of the pagoda, the central idol is known as the 'chaturnukha', comprising four faces of Shiva. Though we weren't able to figure them out precisely, we could spot the faces of anger, meditation and happiness (in my head the last one was sorrow, but I cannot be too sure!). The temple itself was teaming with animals like cows and pigeons that crowded the outer pathway as much (or at least almost as much) as the people themselves.
     Walking around the temple, we could see a partially aerial view of the river Bagmati. People flocked around the steps to the water.
Something was happening there.
A funeral.
A corpse floating on the water.
Symbolically a movement into the other-world,
Cleansed and purified.
And what of the water?

Later, we see the burning bodies,
Families missing their dead ones,
Now, nothing more than a floating dead-weight on dirty water.

     We crossed the bridge and went to visit Guheswari. The story goes that after Sati commits suicide by jumping into the fire, Shiva is outraged. After setting a Yaksha on Sati's father, he carries his wife, dancing the thandavam, across the land. In the fury of his dance, his spouse's body disintegrates and lies scattered across the land even to this day, and Guheswari is the region where Sati's procreational parts fell to the ground. The sanctum itself is partially open, surrounded by pillared stone-thinnais (or benches). At the centre is a deep, round hole, besides which two priests sit. The water from this is considered holy water.
     Next, we went to Boudhyanath- a massive stupa. The story goes that an old lady, who had nothing in her possession dreamt of building something for Buddha. Eventually, she decided, to approach the king who asked her how much land she wanted. In response, she asked for land the length of a buffalo skin. Laughing at the smallness of the size, the king told her that the land was hers.The old lady, however, cut the buffalo skin into thin strips, thereby increasing its length drastically. The king was impressed and told her that she could take that amount of land. He also provided her with the labour required for the stupa.
     We could view the massive stupa from a small monastery situated opposite it. Climbing to the top, we saw the four-coloured Buddhist prayer flags fluttering all across the white dome.
Standing on top
Lighting a prayer-lamp
Watching them flicker,
Protected from the wind
By a small shed.

The air is cool,
Whipping strands of black hair
Across the skies.
     The outer circumference of the stupa comprised of the first tourist shops we were to spot during our stay there. While most shops comprised of the same beaded necklaces, masks, show-pieces, paintings etc., they always were a sight to see! The vivid colours, the array of images that hit us was for some reason unlike the shopping experience in India (but then, maybe this was just because we were acting all 'tourist-y')!
     Our last stop for the day was the Patan Durbar Square. Here, the prominent visit was to the temple of Krishna, which comprised of two storeys- the top floor had wooden carved panels depicting the story of the Mahabharata, while the first storey included the Ramayana narrative. Beginning with Pandu's death and the birth of the Pandavas, we were able to decipher bits and pieces of the Mahabharata till the deaths of the five warriors after the famous Kurukshetra war, though we worked harder to comprehend the story of Rama. Intricately carved, they hung a little above the eye-level. Craning our necks, trying to figure out which image depicted which story was a lot of fun! Apart from this temple were a few others which contained panellings of images from the Kamasutra as well as images of torture. The other main attractions included the shops which sold a lot of jewels and show-pieces with a lot of Buddhist influence.
    Finally, we got back to Thecho. Our first day's visit happened to be during mother's day. During this day, the customs of the Newaris of Thecho expected the married women to go back to their own house or 'Tha che' ('my house'), giving their mothers a treat, even as they paid their respect to the other elders of the house, by giving them Aila (or Raksi, a local, home-made drink) and fish. We got to spend the evening at Sarveshwar's friend's house, listening to the regaling of his father, and having an absolutely filling meal.

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