Sally Benton Post, October 18, 2010

Days of Dashain

We’ve found ourselves in a sort of time warp here. Spent our first two weeks working on water filter placement, making connections with orphanages, principals, Rotary members, and some of the kids that friends of Ten Friends sponsor, then the next two weeks traveling.  We expected to get back to Kathmandu and hit the ground running until we set off east for the Himalayan Education Center in Khandbari to visit our sponsored young women there.

But things have come to a screeching halt.  It’s Dashain, a 10 day festival, that eases in and then runs actually about 15 days.  It celebrates Durga, the Hindu Mother goddess,  and her victory over evil.  Days of pujas (religious rites), offerings, marching flute bands, white robed groups carrying vessels to the temples of the goddess throughout the city are daily fare.  During the evening of Kal Ratri (Black Night) and up through the next day, he-goats, water buffalo, chickens, ducks and sheep are sacrificed at temple sites.  Butcher shops have the meat for sale the next day, spread on metal tables and covered with red cloth.  I even saw three goat heads being offered today.

Families traditionally buy new clothes, so the evening before the biggest two days of Dashain, streets were crowded with last minute shoppers.  It reminded me of Christmas eve. Then, the city shuts down.  Families try to return to their home villages to get blessings and tikas (the red marks on the forehead) from their elders.  They load onto buses and jam the roads.  We saw this on the way back from Pokhara, and I must admit it was a bit scary.  There were up to 20 people on top of buses and inside people were packed together.  Shops and even restaurants close. It’s a time for families to be together, and I’m told there is some drinking and good natured gambling that occurs. Kids are out of school for anywhere from a week to three weeks.  If you visit orphanages, it is expected that you bring lots of gifts of clothing or food.

So, the usual bustling streets are nearly empty of vehicles, and women are out in their finest saris in all shades of the red spectrum, and little girls are all dressed up in their frilliest party gowns.  People line up for blocks to give offerings and receive blessings at all the main temples.

As for us, we are captured within this reality.  We can’t visit schools or orphanages, and our business contacts have shut down for the duration.

We’ve had some other transitions  as well.  Bette flew home yesterday, and Otis did so today. We’ll miss them.  We’ve had lots of good times and good talks during their time in Nepal.  Thea (Mary’s sister) is arriving tomorrow, and Mary went to visit a friend’s family overnight.

I retreated to my  Lonely Planet guidebook, and with a new acquaintance did the “Thamel to Durbar Square” walk yesterday, and today  I soloed the  “South of Durbar Square” route.  As I did so, I chuckled to see other tourists,  with their copies of Lonely Planet in hand, doing the same thing. I learned a lot,  visited tiny hidden courtyards, statures of Ganesh, Shiva, Bhairav, massive temples and quaint domed chortens.  Many parts of Kathmandu date to the 7th century, and I saw many fine examples of finely carved wood decorations on the facades of homes and temples.

So, there have been rewards.  I’ve had a chance to get to know the staff of the Tibet Guest House.  These are the men and women who have been here each of the three visits I’ve had to Nepal.  I’ve been trying to learn their names and a little about them.  They often tell me their families live “a day’s bus ride and a four hour walk” away.  And, when I comment that I’m sorry they didn’t get to go home for Dashain, they say wistfully, “Well,  it’s the high season.  Ke garne’?”  “What can one do?”

I guess they’re right.  Ke garne’.

On the 20th, we’re off to the east, and probably won’t be able to post much news for the next 2 ½ weeks. We also have a little bump in our travel plans, as the airport we were to land at is closed for paving (it was supposed to open September 1st, but that didn’t happen, and though it reportedly is finished, they haven’t given it the needed bureaucratic stamp of approval).  So, we fly to the next nearest airport, Biratnagar, and will travel by whatever means we can find (bus or jeep)  to Hile, overnight there, and then take another bus or jeep as far as we can, hopefully all the way to Khandbari, our final destination.  If the roads are wet and impassable, we may have to walk part of the way, but we will take it as it comes.

Ke garne’!

All the best, Sally

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