After two uneventful plane flights to Katmandu I am met at the Airport by Ganga, the owner Nepal Hiking Team where I booked the Mount Kailash trip. It’s a short in distance, long in time, drive from the airport to Thamel, the tourist ghetto where I am staying. As the taxi driver dodges motorbikes, rickshaws cows and pedestrians, Ganga tried to sell me a trekking trip in the Annapurnas before we head to Kailash the following week, and to schedule a tour of Katmandu. Spending the money on Kailash was pure extravagance for me and needed to watch my rupees so I pass on both.
Katmandu is my old stomping ground so I hoped to hook up with several old friends. The first person on my list is Raju my taxi driver from 2005, who I adored. During the fall/winter 2004/05 I lived in Katmandu for 4 months, while volunteering at the Tibetan Reception Center, the first place of landing for most Tibetans as they escape China on their way to Dharamsala, India. During the week I worked for a program that provided a kind of an art therapy lite for the young children in the camp, many of whom had harrowing experiences escaping the country and had often left their parents and siblings, back in Tibet. On weekends, Raju, my dear taxi driver would take me to sites around the Katmandu valley as well as regular visits to a see a local “kumari. Even though I have come back to Nepal many times since, I lost track of Raju. This time I am determined to connect with him; I wanted to thank him for how much his kindness meant to me. Now, driving from the airport I realized what a far-fetched goal it is to find him. Katmandu is giant and the roads are packed with taxis.
I am happy to finally be in Nepal I have been worried about the Kailash trek and I think I will feel better once I meet some of the other people on the trek.
“Ganga, how many people are going on the Kailash trip? I ased
“Oh, (pause) 10-12”(pause) mostly European” (double pause) from Austria, aaaaaannnnnd (pause again and then very quickly he says) maybe from Spain and Italy too and I believe there are also some Briton people.
“Are they in Katmandu now?”
“Some are, and some are not. Are you sure you don’t want a tour of Katmandu? Tomorrow is the Teej festival at Pashputanaht,” he said skirting the question
I believe Ganga is lying about the other travelers, but I decided to let it go for now.
We arrived at the AnnaPurna Guest House. Its cheap, ($6 a night,) the room is pleasant enough clean with a window (no pane), a bathroom down the hall, slow wifi, and a generator for the frequent power outages. Its perfect enough. I fall asleep early and wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if I’m right about Ganga lying to me.
In the morning I have an Indian breakfast and masala chai in the lobby. I talk to a man from Nottingham who is headed for Everest Base camp. As he is describes the details of the trek, I try to figure out whether or not he has a baby face. (See Bangkok Mordoo entry)
After Breakfast I walk down to the main street and hire a taxi to take me to Pashupatinath, Nepal’s most important Shiva temple to see the Teej, a Hindu festival where women pray for marital bliss, well being of their spouse and children and purification of their own body and soul. I had no idea what to expect.
The roads are blocked about a mile out from the temple so I walk the rest of the way. The weather is sticky hot and the pollution is far worse than I remembered. But once at the temple, I lost all thoughts of discomfort. Thousands of woman (Over 100 thousand woman according to the next days newspaper) in beautiful red saris came to participate in the festivities. Everywhere I looked, a sea of red, packs of beautiful Nepali women, walking with friends with daughters with mothers and grandmothers. Beautiful!
I ended up spending hours roaming the grounds outside the temple, taking it all in, and for the first 2 hours I was the only non-nepali in sight. At one point I came across one of the many platforms of a 100 woman dancing and singing along with tinny amplified Nepali songs to Shiva. One of the women spotted me and my camera and dragged me closer to the dancers so I could get better photographs Then the dancers pulled me in to dance with them which I did reluctantly and only long enough to be gracious. I would of loved to have been all red sari-ed up and dancing with my women friends and family, and not the foreigner with the camera.
Closer to the temple, pandits (priests) wait to give tikas, Sadus roam about, and women shop in the many stalls selling bangles, bras and religious objects of Shiva and Parvati. At one point, truckloads Nepali soldiers in blue uniforms, some in riot gear march through the crowd. No doubt preventing riots of the low blood sugared fasting women. Later I go to Durber Square where there are more Teej festivities at the Shiva temple. I am so happy.
This is an article from the Himalayan News Service on this years Teej:
KATHMANDU: Pashupatinath Temple premises appeared flooded in red with around 100,000 women participating in the Teej festival. Many women even fell unconscious while standing in the queue waiting for their turn to enter the temple. Dressed in red, with tika on their forehead and wearing beaded garlands and bangles, women fasted today, some without even drinking water, wishing their husbands longevity and prosperity, while the unmarried ones observed the fast to be blessed with a good husband.
By the time I leave Durbar Square its very hot and I’m very tired, I hire a bicycle rickshaw to take me back to the guesthouse. Mostly we drive through the small streets but at one point we turn on a main road, and within a minute a huge rally of Congress Party motorbikes all with large flags surround us. Once the leading party in Nepal, The Congress Party is now a far 2nd to the Maoist. So much has changed in the 3 years since I’ve been here.