Tuesday, March 8, 2011


The road to Chapagaon was filled with adorable little extortionists on the morning of Shivaratri. Little kids strung up bits of rope across the road and refused to budge until motorcyclists and trucks and pedestrians payed them a few rupees. A slightly older student of mine, leaning against a cudgel that he used to mock-threaten the passerby, explained to me that this was the tradition on Shivaratri. I asked him what prevented us from simply driving through the rope and continuing on our way. He gestured to his friend who was dutifully holding up the rope from behind and said, "If you keep driving, he will have to go to the hospital, and then you will have to pay us even more." I gave him three coins on the condition that I could photograph him, but it turned out to be a bad move: there were six other roadblocks in front of me, and my bhaai Sabin and I did not have enough coins and 5-rupee notes to satisfy the precocious toll-takers. Sabin had to do some fast talking at the last four posts and convince the kids to let us pass.

Before I left the house I had been told that it would be impossible to get to the holiest Kathmandu temple complex Pashupati, the focal point of the craziness. I later found out that more than 400,000 people visited Pashupati on Shivaratri. 

We had to clamber over walls and hills just to enter the Bagmati Park. The main temple complex is generally off-access to foreigners. On this day even Nepalis had to pay 500 rupees to enter the complex.

The park was filled with stoned Nepali teenagers, Western hippies, and holy ascetic sadhus.  Why does everyone smoke hash on Shivaratri? The only answer I got from my teacher was "This is Shiva's Day. Shiva does drugs and so people do drugs to honor Him. He is The Destroyer."

On the stone steps of the park we first started hearing a 'whhhhoooooaaaa' noise, the sound of dozens of people running for their lives, and seeing people dash in different directions. We climbed the white steps of the adjacent wall for a better view but we still couldn't see what people were running from. Finally maneuvering into the danger zone for a better view, we were rewarded with a view of completely naked sadhus waving peacock feathers and large weighty sticks, striking out at the crowd. All the sadhus were pretty ornery, especially to the Westerners coming up to them with their giant cameras and the stoned Nepali teenagers stepping around them. An interesting social dynamic there, definitely: yesterday there was a short piece in the Kathmandu Post regarding the naked Naga Babas (Holy Snake Fathers?).

Before I left the house I was told, in Nepali, "Be careful not to lose yourself." I imagine this advice was intended with multiple meanings. There was no reason to worry, though, because I'm nervous enough around large crowds and naked men chasing me with sticks; I didn't really need anything else making me nervous.

That night, after eating some delicious prasad back in Boharatar, I fell asleep to the sound of the nearby temple's PA system blasting traditional religious songs sung and played on the harmonium.

If you want to see incredible pictures of the Shivaratri festivities, then you need to check out the website of Taylor, talented free-lance photographer and my fellow Fulbrighter, poker buddy and co-viewer of the epic tour-de-force Dinocroc vs. Supergator.

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