Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dancing days are here again

Lost in a masquerade
Lalitpur, Nepal

Indra Jatra, Dasain and Kartik Purnima mean it's time for the ritual masked dances of the Newari people. I'm currently engrossed in tracking them down (obscure, community-based, secretive besides the language problems) and documenting them. Last night I went to Lalitpur (Patan) to see the Ashtamatrika (Eight Goddesses) dance of the Newari Buddhist community. I only have time to upload one photo right now (before running to Immigration).

I have seen lots of masked dancing by now, and I think the Ashtamatrikas are the most exciting yet. They seem to be the most classically influenced, and the most ritualized. These dances were begun in the 1600s on the orders of the Lalitpur king (at that time it was one of the rival 3 kingdoms of the Kathamandu Valley), who was a great devotee of the eight guardian goddesses.

The transformation of the dancers, as soon as they don the mask, is really astonishing. They assume a hands-on-hips stance and begin trembling with shakti.

Hundreds of people from the community turn out and follow the Goddesses on their journey from Nakabahil (courtyard of the dance-god) to the courtyard of Taleju Bhavani Temple, where the gothic gables tower over the dancing devis.

I was the only foreigner there. It amazed me that so few outside people know about the vibrant, living culture of the valley, especially since it's been going on continually for the past four hundred years.

Last night there was a power cut, so we were marching through the cobblestoned streets in candlelight - it felt like the dances must have one hundred years ago.

Getting your goat

Dasain Days
Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu, Nepal

Finally, the weather cleared yesterday, after a weekend of seemingly interminable drizzle and rain and mud. Billowing white clouds now hang over the green hills that surround Kathmandu, and it's hot at mid-day.

On my way to Immigration, I passed an impromptu open-air goat market - the sidewalk was transformed into a musky-smelling barnyard, with all sizes and colours of goats nibbling at green fodder suspended from rope ties. They were adorable! But sadly, all are doomed. They have all been brought in from the surrounding villages to be bought as sacrificial offerings for the Dasain holiday. If all goes as planned, each and every one (all male goats) will have their throats slit and their blood offered to the goddess Taleju Bhavani, a manifestation of Durga. The unwanted goats will go back to the hills.

I had romantic notions of topi-wearing hill-dwellers herding the goats, on foot, over valley and dale into the big city for market - a sort of annual pilgrimage. Actually, the goat-keepers rent a mini-van (for about 500NRs a day,or $7.00 US) and load the goats inside; as many as 20 goats are crammed into the little vehicle. They pick up uncooperative goats by the horns (in one hand) and the back-scruff (in the other) and toss them in.

The hundreds of goats there were distinguished by some numerical system scrawled onto their horns, and sometimes, blotches of coloured dye on their shaggy coats. One shyster tried to sell me a goat for 3000NRs (about $50), but it turned out the correct price was 160NRS for 4 kg.

The goats are weighed (or as they say here, "weighted") across the road on a medieval-looking contraption that is a combination of a seesaw and swingset. The balances are big enough for a couple of humans to stand in - in fact, it looks like the thing they use to weigh the accused with in Monty Python & the Holy Grail ("I am NOT a witch, and this is not my nose, it's a false one!"). There were a few regulation weights there to balance the goats, but they also used a chunk of cinder block.

If the goats had any inkling of their fate, they seemed pretty resigned to it.

On the other side of the road were an especially handsome looking gaggle of goats, with long shaggy coats, twisted ornamental horns, and an extra swatch of shag hanging between their eyes like overgrown bangs. They seemed like the cool, laid-back hippy goats. Turned out they are a special kind of mountain goat called "Changra," but they don't cost any more than the other goats. I scratched them behind the ears, ruffled their fringed bangs and said a silent prayer for them to be reborn as humans (hopefully, vegetarian humans).

Immigrant Song
At Immigration, they told me that in order to stay in the country on a three-month student visa, I need the following things:
-$750 deposited in my name in a Nepali bank account. This is to prove I have $250 a month to cover my expenses for the three months's time;
-a receipt of fees paid and enrollment from the dance academy in Bhaktapur (which means I have to pay the teacher in advance, usually not a good idea);
-Letter of recommendation from the Nepali Ministry of Education (this is known to take a month or more - sometimes tourist visas run out just waiting for it);
-Various copies of my passport, visa and application itself (not a big deal).
-After the initial submission of the bank statement, you then have to show another just to prove you still have the money (that you didn't just borrow it in order to make a false statement).

$250 a month is quite reasonable for living expenses in Nepal; the problem is, getting it all together at the same time (plus the school fees).

They give you a nicely printed list of all these things (guidelines for foreign researchers and students)... in Nepali script! Talk about missing the point.

All this has to be accomplished within the next 30 days, and about 10 of them are official holidays. Nepal maa, din din ne, ek naya mela aunchhu (in Nepal, every day a new festival is coming).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Caste away

Trickling down
Kathmandu, Nepal

It's raining, it's pouring. Normally the monsoon is history at this point in the Nepali year, but a new low pressure front from the Bay of Bengal has put a real damper on the Hindu Dasain festival, which began with the new moon on Saturday (along with the Muslim Ramadan).

Lots of friends in America write and ask me questions like, "Does the caste system still exist in India?" It's sort of like asking, "does racism still exist in America?" (In case you didn't guess, the answer is "yes."

Some very well-meaning middle class Indians have solemnly proclaimed to me that "the caste system is illegal here now." Sure, that explains why you're tall and light coffee coloured and all your servants are short and dark brown.

Like everything in India, there are exceptions. Sort of like seeing black people at Vanderbilt University. Ninety percent of the time, they were sanitation workers. The occasional black professor or physician was a real contrast, and surprise.

This article gives a very brief overview of the situation (which is vast and complex). I am just giving
this article as a backdrop to the situation, so don't yell at me in Comments if you don't agree with every little thing it says. (For one thing, from what I can see with my own eyes, Brahmins are not "in an abysmal state" in most places.) If 49% reservation sounds like a lot, remember that lower castes are about 70% of the Indian population.

An additional factor is that poverty and low caste don't always coincide, leading some to demand reservations on the basis of income rather than caste.

Also contrary to this article, caste is determined by looks an amazing amount of the time. I have a Nepali friend who was an orphan (he was left at an orphanage
as an infant). They had no idea what his caste actually should be. As he grew older, it turned out he had a big they dubbed him officially Brahmin!

Here in Nepal, the caste system is very much a reality. The owner of my hotel is Chhetri (the second "highest" caste after Brahmin); his marriage to a Newar girl just four years ago sparked a schism in both families. The Brahmin waiter in our restaurant assumes an air of automatic seniority and bosses around his Tamang colleagues (and also reserves the right to pre-emptorily snatch tips off the tables).

Marriage ads in the paper are listed "top down" - that is, Brahmin first; then Chhetri; Newar; and "other." And just last week, there was a huge riot at Shaileshwor temple when Hindu Dalits (outcastes) attempted to enter the place of worship and were violently turned back by those of higher castes.

I applaud the Maoists' attempts to forcibly break down caste barriers (forcing high-caste people to accept water, for instance, from a Dalit - this in a place where Dalits can still get beaten for taking water from a high-caste well), but wonder whether there will be an inevitable backlash.

NEW DELHI -- Years of affirmative action have upended India's caste system to the point where some upper-caste Brahmins are reduced to working as porters and pedaling rickshaws, while almost half the places in universities will soon be reserved for lower castes and tribal people. Source: The Washington Times

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Going Postal

I go to the P.O.
Kathmandu, Nepal

The Kathmandu Valley has been called the world's largest open-air museum. Priceless historic carvings, statues and monuments are strewn casually, even carelessly, around. Old men sit chatting on the plinths of Hindu carvings and drunks lie in the shadow of Buddhist stupas. Little kids clamber all over the mythical chimeric animals (part lion, part eagle, part dragon) that guard the countless viharas, temples and courtyards. Probably some art historian would think it's destructive. I think it's cool that so much of the stuff is still a part of the city's everyday life. And it makes doing a chore, like going to the post office or the bank, an exotic adventure back into time.

That is, if you walk through the right parts of town. It's possible to walk to the General Post Office completely in the 21st century, or the 18th. If you head down Tridevi to Kantipath then over to New Road, you can walk through four-lane traffic past concrete buildings (though none rise higher than five or so stories - thank God). Or, you can walk through Thamel to Jyatha, Vijaya Punani, Tyora, Asan Tol and Indra Chowk to Sundhara, down herringbone brick lanes practically tripping over goats, mud puddles and ancient statuary. You will get lost down the myriad alleyways, but that's part of the fun. I don't think I have ever walked the same way twice.

I had to go mail some books to my friend Tim in England- something I had promised to do a couple weeks ago. I had managed to find not one, but two Lonely Planet Travel Atlases for India & Bangladesh. This is a priceless travel resource, and of course, it is now out of print. Since Kathmandu has some of the best bookstores on the subcontinent, my friend at Alpine Books got ahold of a couple for me to send to Tim, at an only slightly inflated price. I guess that's to be expected, considering that the book is scarce these days.

Between the rain and various weird deadlines and festivals, it never seemed the right day to go. Finally a sunny day with no pressing agenda, no political strikes, no rituals enacting ancient legends and no stomachaches dawned. A rarity in Nepal!

A few of my favourite things
Here are a few things I saw on my way to the GPO.

--Butterfly kites and wooden kite-string reels on sale in Jyatha. Changa Chait, the big kite-flying festival, has its final round this Sunday in Nagarkot. I think Floriane and I will take the bus up on Saturday. It's a great excuse to see green trees and breathe clean air (I guess you do need an excuse to do that these days).

Everywhere I looked, on the street and on rooftops, little kids (always boys for some reason) were fixated on their kite reels. Usually they had an older brother up in the building or on the rooftop helping them detangle. At the Boudhanath Stupa, kites mingled with crows, circling hawks and prayer flags in the autumn sky.

Mahaboudha -- There are countless stupas, or
three-dimensional pagodas whose structural symbolism represents "the mind of the Buddha," throughout Kathmandu city. The style with the wise Buddha eyes is unique to Nepal. Tibetans are the most well-known Buddhist community, but in fact about 15% of Nepalis are Buddhists, mainly Newari Buddhists, and these stupas were built by their ancestors.

Mahaboudha is one of many neighborhood
s centered around a stupa, the same way a typical southern American town would be centered around a clocktower. Mahaboudha is now a place for buying electronic goods and appliances. In addition to the usual foot traffic and livestock, there are also delivery vans clogging up the narrow alleyways dispatching boxes of microwaves and blenders.

Nepali Buddhist stupas look very different from
their southeast Asian counterparts. The stupas in countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand are much more austere, with little or no figurative artwork.

In Nepal, the stupas are covered in a profusion of guardian creatures, faces, eyes, winged figures and all manner of animistic (ani mystic?) pagan-looking curlicues and doodads. Lots more fun than the others, which I find too sleek and very impersonal. Rather than serene, pure white, The Nepali stupas seem to be bursting with life.

At the base of
Mahaboudha stupa, there were little kids playing, the usual sleepy street dogs and a few grubby drunks lying in the Buddha's shadow. Maybe they will get some enlightenment from passing out in a holy place.

--Things fall apart: I have to smile every time I pass this crumbling house. It is literally being propped up with long 2x4s (and it's not the only one of its kind). There are still people doing business in the ground floor, maybe even living in there. It looks like it will disintegrate any minute.

Somehow, this doesn't stop life from going on. In the west, it would have been condemned and destroyed years ago, and it would have had all sorts of yellow tape and barriers to prevent anyone from going near it. Here, there are no liability it's just your tough luck if it collapses while you're in there.

Dharahara Tower-- This pseudo-Mughal monument was built by some Rana general in the 1800s. A few weeks ago, some guy committed suicide by jumping off the top. During the Rana regime, the rulers began emulating foreign architectural styles (from both India and Europe) with some decidedly mixed results.

The view from here is probably great in a few weeks, when the monsoon clouds finally burn off for good. But the fees they charge for this are bizarre. It's something like, practically nothing for Nepalis, a few rupees for citizens of SAARC countries (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), and about $5.00 US for everyone else. Forget it!

There is nothing exciting about this rather ugly tower other than a potentially decent view and a good workout for the calf muscles. I wonder if any foreigners ever bother going inside.

There is a legend that some crazy army general rode his horse all the way up the stairs, and off the top of the tower. Supposedly, the man survived because he used an umbrella. The horse was not so fortunate.

Its location does make it easier to find the post office.

Serpent Fountains--Until twenty or thirty years ago, public fountains were a viable, thriving place to get one's water, cool off and socialize. Nepal has a unique style of ornately carved, sunken public fountain/pool called "hiti." They are often dedicated to various gods (for instance, Narayanhiti was the fountain of Narayan, or Vishnu).

In a few places, the hiti are still flowing and functioning. Mostly, however, they are green and scummy, if not completely dried up. A combination of lowered water tables, slackening monsoons and the proliferation of indoor plumbing and alternate water sources has left most in disrepair.

These sunken stone fountains are a marvel of art, architecture and urban planning. There are concentric scalloped steps, surmounted by statues of various deities and guardians, and each spigot is an ornate face or mouth - usually of a serpent or water creature.

The one by Dharahara is larger than most, and especially fantastic. It's called SundarHiti (beautiful fountain). Just imagine how lovely it must have been, with fresh water gushing from the mouths of the bronze dragon-heads.

To get some idea of the fountain's scale, you can see the passers-by sitting on the outside ledge. Easily 100 people could have fit in this pool. A few months ago I was able to descend the steps into the dried pool and touch the heads of the water-demons. Now, the entrance has been roped off. Perhaps they are in the process of restoring it - I sincerely hope so.

In Bhaktapur and some smaller towns, and even a few places in Kathmandu, you can still see women washing their hair, bathing (wearing a coverup sarong of course), drawing water in buckets, and washing clothes standing in these great stone fountains. Young kids play and splash all around them, and men hang out on the periphery, gossiping and smoking.

Forgotten Lions-- Just about anywhere, you can see statues guarding the entrances to small neighborhood temples, hidden away round every nook and cranny.

This leonine pair were guarding the locked-up entrance to a Shiva temple in Gaushala. They looked prepared to take on all comers, and it was kind of sad to see them staring for eternity into a grassy vacant lot. There are so many statues like this in Kathmandu, after a while, you almost don't see them.

I can envision a children's fantasy story, all about the stone creatures of Kathmandu and their secret lives. Perhaps on one special day, one of these magical midnights, during a particularly rare conjunction of planets every 12 years, they all come to life and roam silently through the darkened streets.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Royal Treatment

Of masks, monarchs & Maoists
Kathmandu, Nepal

Another Indra Jatra - Nepal's most colourful festival (and here, that's really saying something. If there are 365 days in the year, there must be 366 festivals) is once again at an end. Amid rumours of Maoist disruption, and a few anti-monarchist demonstrators waving black flags and shouting "death to the King," King Gyanendra and Queen Komal made a dignified appearance in Durbar Square.

It was six days of medieval pageantry, military pomp and ceremony, rain, mud, and ritual - that combination of majestic, macabre, arcane, occult and festive that is so unique to Nepal.

The world-famous Gurkha soldiers, a nearly-deposed monarch of the world's last Hindu kingdom w
ho had taken the throne amid murder and controversy, political street agitation, a pipe and drum corps dressed in vintage garb of the 18th century, animal sacrifices, ancient virgin goddesses, masked dancing gods and demons doing battle in the streets, a lunar eclipse, a 50-foot wooden pole being worshipped as a sacred phallus, streets lit with oil lamps and primitive torchlight, massive chariots with wooden wheels that rumbled like the monsoon thunder - did I leave anything out? I mean, what more could you possibly ask for in a show of barbaric splendour? I have spent the past 3 hours (literally) trying to get a strong enough connection to upload these photos, so I'm too tired to write more now. It will be a miracle if all these photos upload without a glitch....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lunar Tunes

Victory! Virus Vanquished
Kathmandu, Nepal

Whew. It's been a way-out week. If it sounds like I am speaking in ancient riddles, just bear in mind, I am living in the KathMandala.

The Lunar Eclipse on Thursday coincided with the Nepali festival of Indra Jatra, and like most Nepali festivals, this meant lots of animal sacrifices. A baby buffalo (! a baby, that just doesn't seem fair) was sacrificed in front of the Mahadeva Mandal in Durbar Square, and I saw them kill 2 ducks and a sheep right in front of the goddess' chariot at Kumari Ghar. It never seemed right to me that the animals sacrificed are the most harmless, sweet, guileless, defenseless animals - sheep, goats, ducks, chickens. What would the Crocodile Hunter say?

All this along with the King's public appearance and the 3-day Maoist labour unions rally. Needless to say, traffic was a mess.

This, plus the lunar eclipse (considered unlucky in Hindu tradition) must have released some local weirdness. Not only did I get verbally and physically assaulted - shoved and yelled at by some fat German photographer wearing a Hawaiian shirt; grabbed on the butt by a local guy in front of the Seto Bhairav shrine; then threatened for a bribe by yet another local tough who insisted I had to pay to take photos of the street festival -- but Tawanda, my erstwhile laptop Compaq Presario B1800, was down with a mysterious virus.

Following this mishap, I was too depressed all weekend to do anything but watch the Animal Planet Steve Irwin marathon. In Hindu tradition, a lunar eclipse means that the snake-gods Rahu and Ketu, thirsty for divine nectar or Soma, are devouring the moon. The entire operating system froze up and I couldn't even boot. It really felt like something reptilian was in devour mode.

I spent a great deal of Saturday frantically calling friends in order to find a laptop repair geek, and watching Irwin in his life-long dance with some of the planet's most dangerous snakes. Coincidence?

Luckily, many prayers and about 12 hours of Crocodile Hunter later, the young techies at Mercantile Operating Systems on Durbar Marg were able to "operate" and restored Tawanda to working order. That'll teach me not to back up the photos onto hard disks at the end of each day.

Good Vishwa-Karma
So it's a good thing that the special day of Lord Vishwakarma is coming up, on September 17.
Vishwakarma (translates to something like "universal work") is the lord, sort of like a patron saint, of architects and also of all tools, workers, machines and instruments.

On the 17th, everyone will do puja (make offerings and hold ceremonies) to the tools of their various trades - hammers, scissors, sewing machines, cooking utensils or in my case, camera and computer. In south India, you break coconuts. Here, you throw rice and flowers.

I refuse, however, to sacrifice a duck.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Just a quick note - today is both Indra Jatra, a big festival in which the King makes a public appearance (hasn't been doing that much lately) and the beginning of a 3-day Maoist and labour unions mass rally here in Kathmandu. I can hear the marching, chanting demonstrators on my street now. I guess today I will be shuttling back and forth between Hanuman Dhoka (the old palace square for Indra Jatra ritual) and the Kula Manch (site of the Maoist mass rally). Ancient tradition meets modern politics.

It's not often you get to have the darshan of the King, the Kumari (Living Goddess) and Prachanda (Maoist supremo) all in one day.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Steve Irwin, 1961-2006

Not possible. It's just not possible. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, dead from a stingray barb in the chest (!) at the age of 44.

I was literally *just* watching him here in Kathmandu on the Discover channel, thinking, wow, I've been watching him do this for 10 years now and he's still at it, with so much gusto.

Damn, at least he died doing what he loved - wrangling with fierce creatures out in the wild. It's appropriate that he died at Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and that only one other person has ever been known to die from a stingray barg - in 1945.

Crikey, ain't she a beaut?!

Photo of Steve Irwin used courtesy BBC.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Umbrella Man

Shelter and shade
Kathmandu, Nepal

I finally found an umbrella man, on my way to CIWEC clinic. He sits by the roadside under a tiny blue-tarp lean-to. He's little more than a child, and speaks almost no English. But his slender, tiny fingers work delicate miracles on broken parasols.

I was always taught that umbrellas were disposable. If an umbrella breaks in America, you just buy a new one. There is no one who would even think of repairing it, much less know how to do so.

Here, just about anything can be and is repaired - people simply can't afford to toss things aside. The cobbler will even painstakingly sew plastic flip-flops back together.

I'm a bit attached to my green folding umbrella. It's nothing special, but I bought it in Kandy, Sri Lanka in March last year, where the alternating rain showers and blazing sun make it an absolute necessity. In Sri Lanka, there are entire umbrella stores (In Tamil an umbrella is called "kooday"). This umbrella has been with me ever since, through three countries. I hate to give up on it, even though now it has a broken metal rib and a couple of holes in the vicinity. I love the fact that the inside tag is in curly Sinhalese script.

There are shoe repairmen (cobblers) on every other urban corner, all belonging to one of the "lowest" castes in Hindu society because they work with leather.

An umbrella man, while also "low" caste, is a bit more specialized. This one is a thin, dark brown boy with an enormous helmet of glossy black hair. His "Indian" features (round, not almond eyes; full lips, and dark brown skin) mark him as a Madhesi, or native of the Terai - the hot, flat, fertile plains near the IndoNepali border.

"Maithali bholnu hunchha?" (You speak Maithali?) I offered, hoping a familiar name - Maithali is a minority language spoken in Terai - would put him at ease. "Maithali nahi, Bhojpuri," he said softly, averting his eyes. I asked him "your native place?" and he answered with the name of his village, which escaped his lips like a whisper. Something sinuous, like Siraha, Sarahi, or Senauli.

I squatted next to him, watching as he opened his homemade repair kit, a metal can that looked like a Danish cookie tin. All shapes and sizes of metal bits, most of which were scrap; a motley assortment of thread colours, needles of various sizes, scissors, and a tiny pair of rusty pliers were inside.

The boy's father - a paunchy, balding carbon copy whom I instantly disliked, probably because he stood idle while his young boy did all the work - came along and insisted that I sit on the "good" chair. In this case, the good chair was a stool woven of cane covered in colourful plastic threads. "It is the custom," as they say here, to offer a guest the chair - usually, there's only one chair in the place.

Often my hosts embarrass me by taking the chair away from the elder in the room, and insisting I sit there instead.

I see this multi-coloured stool all over Nepal, but never in India, where it's all machine-made moulded plastic furniture these days. Every bus here has a couple of these stools - they plop them down in the aisle to make more seating.

The boy carefully selected the closest matching thread in his repertoire, a dark blue colour. His tiny fingers threaded the needle, then worked the blue thread through the tiny eyes of the umbrella's metal underpinnings. His father stood over him sternly, and I got the feeling that if the boy made a mistake, he might well get cuffed on his glossy black head.

It was 3.30 p.m. Immaculate, uniformed children were parading home from school, toting bright-coloured book bags brimming with their futures. The contrast was almost physically painful to watch - surely the Umbrella Man (boy?) had never gone to school.

His repair of the broken metal rib was really amazing. He fished, from among his assorted metal scraps, a piece of aluminum just the right width. This he measured, and cut down to size with the rusty pliers. His motions were so intimate with the umbrella rib, I almost felt I had to look away. He bent low over the umbrella, pinching and pressing the metal rib into place.

A fair-skinned local lady came by and interrupted the operation. She complained in Nepali about the scuffed heel on her shoe - a frivolous white plastic sandal with a stack heel. After a bit of theatrical teeth-sucking and a eyeball-rolling disapproval, she paid him 20 rupees for his work. She retired into the building behind their blue-tarp lean-to.

The boy then resumed stitching up the quarter-sized hole in my umbrella, almost good as new. In less than ten minutes, my Sri Lanka Kooday was miraculously whole again. I opened and shut it a few times, just to make sure.

"How much you give?" blustered the father.

The correct price was probably 30 rupees or less. All I had in my bag was a fifty.

"Fifty rupees," I said.

"Fifteen??!" the father spluttered. Fifteen and Fifty are commonly mistaken for one another here.

"No, fifty. Pachas rupiyah," I said gently. I have always been an advocate of paying the correct local price, but I just couldn't bargain with these people living on the side of the road. The father smiled with approval. He had gotten an extra twenty rupees from the gori touriss.

It was starting to rain as I snapped the boy's photo. I had to stand close under the tarp, so the camera wouldn't get even a drop of rain. Even a tiny bit of rain is ruinous for digital equipment. He was so engrossed in his work, I don't think he noticed my camera.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

An Asian Occasion

All wet
Kathmandu, Nepal

Classic, the last few days. For three
days I couldn't log into Blogger
at all.

I even had my personal techno wizard Double T of Black Cats Manor on the case.

By the time he figured it out, the wi-fi a the wi-fi cafe was down. "Not our fault," the guy behind the counter assured me. "This
Worldlink fault." That really makes me feel so much better about not meeting deadlines and leaving correspondence unanswered.

Then yesterday, there was a breakthrough. The Wi-fi was working, *and* Blogger was working. Victory!

A short-lived victory. I typed for one hour, then the power went out, and stayed that way till closing time. I packed up and went home, feeling very Blogged down.

Chariots of the Gods

Today I went down to Basantapur Square to see the fixin's for the upcoming Indra Jatra fest
ival. The ancient chariots that will carry Kumari, the Living Goddess, as well as the kumaris of neighboring Patan and Bhaktapur, have been assembled near Kumari Ghar. They look like something from a fairy tale - a giant's jewelbox on wheels, their many-tiered pagoda roofs and intricate fittings made of carved teakwood and ornate brass.

Local people touch the chariots ("ratha") reverentia
lly, then touch their own foreheads, as they strolled past on their way home at dusk.

The ferocious Kal Bhairav shrine (below) was glowing with butter la
mps. Kal Bhairav ("black wrathful manifestation of Shiva") is the protector deity of Nepal. The shrine-keeping crone told me "two rupees" for a lamp, then a greasy-haired man came along and tried to charge five rupees. The old woman scolded him, which I found gratifying.

I climbed the giant plinths of a Durbar Square temple, steep steps like Mayan pyramids, and watched the people scurrying home with parcels of fresh vegetables and chicken carcasses.

In nearby Kot Square, part of the old royal palace, some hundreds of buffalo and goats will be ritually slaughtered as part of the Dasain festival in late September. This slaughter is considered critically important to maintain the safety and w
ell-being of the kingdom (if you can still call it that). I guess the comparison with Mayan pyramids isn't too far off after all.

Kite-flying season is upon us. In the fall, it's the tradition to fly diamond-shaped paper kites, probably because at that time the monsoon is finally over. There's even a six-day (three consecutive weekends) kite-flying competition at Nagarkot, called Changa Chait. Local companies sponsor rival kite-flying teams, like American corporate baseball.

The street stalls are full of wooden kite-string reels. The kite string is embedded with tiny bits of glass so the Fighting Kites can cut one another down. Talk about cutthroat competition! It always reminds me Charlie Brown and the evil kite-eating tree, except in this case it's evil, cannibalistic kite-eating kites.

Then it started to rain - lightly at first, till it was torrents. I took shelter inside the Buddhist courtyard temple of Seto Macchendranath, a god ironically associated with rainfall.

Giant palmetto bugs began crawling around the entry foyer to the temple. I just couldn't wait any longer and as the rain slacked a bit, I decided to head for home. The water, washing in huge lakes-full over semi-paved streets where minutes before people had been spitting, peeing and slicing up dead animals, was up to my ankles. I was glad I got my typhoid shot.

Kamat's Potpourri has reprinted one of the "role reversal" photos I took in Andhra Pradesh with Vijay Sekuru.

Valley Vistas
My friend Ranjit is an entrepreneur here from Canada. He is setting up a BPO call-centre in Kathmandu, called Linktree. He has experience from working with Mphasis in Pune and decided he liked Nepal enough to set up shop here.

Last Sunday, we went on a drive (Ranjit has a car, with air conditioning. To a budget traveler like myself, this is a real treat)to Chobar, just outside the city. We never did find the Chobar Village Resort we were looking for...but got some beautiful views around the valley anyway.

You can really see why they call it "The Emerald Valley" - especially during monsoon, it's a lush (if mushy and marshy) green and misty blue marvel of fertility. The photos don't even do justice to the squares of shocking-green verdant rice paddy, but I did my best.

Funky Chicken
This man was on his way home, near Naya Sadak (New Road) at KulaManch. He's a fowler, or chicken vendor. He had sold all his chickens so the wicker baskets were empty.

He was chatting with a friend who spoke some English, so I asked the friend, "how much for one chicken?" They discussed it briefly.

"Three hundred, four hundred rupees," the friend interpreted. (That's about five dollars.)

"Isn't he afraid of bird flu?" I asked.

"Some six months after, he was afraid," (I knew what he meant - six months ago. After, since, before and ago get confused a lot) "but now no more bird flu." I wondered how he could be so sure.