Sunday, March 30, 2008

Monks amok

I fell off
Kathmandu, Nepal
For the second time in as many months, I write a blog with the title "I Fell Off." Sorry for my silence. I can only have the wind taken out of my sails so many times (on every level - professional, financial, the list goes on) without getting profoundly discouraged. But enough about me!

Pro-Tibet protests at either the Chinese Embassy, the UN Building, or both are nearly a daily occurrence here. I spent Friday riding around on the back of an Enfield Bullet bike with a prominent Nepali photojournalist, sniffing out the action. Not to name names, but most of the wire service stories you read were written by him.

Like a surprising number of Nepalis I have spoken to, my friend seems to think that in some way, the Tibetans deserve to get beaten up for staging peaceful protests. "We have an agreement with China, not to allow any anti-China activity in Nepal," he said. Whether or not such actions are anti-China is definitely a matter of interpretation - I would characterize them as pro-Tibet. When the protestors are chanting "Stop the killing in Tibet" it's hard to construe that as anti-China.

He went on to say, "They say they are carrying out peaceful protests. But they are not peaceful. They have banners, and they are chanting against China." Sure, that justifies getting beat up with bamboo canes and being tear-gassed. Banners and chants are not violent.

I showed him my photos of the monk being attacked 2 weeks ago in Boudha. I was surprised to learn he too had been there that day. "But," he said a bit sheepishly, "they chased away everyone with cameras."

Obviously, not everyone.

"I talked to some of the local people," he continued. (Local Nepali people, that is.) "They said, they don't like that the Tibetans put up a photo of the Dalai Lama in front of a statue of the Buddha. Dalai Lama is not greater than the Buddha. You know, they (Tibetans) are aggressive." Again, so that justifies beating them up with 2x2s? This conclusion seemed to follow very logically in his conversation.
"The people I interviewed, Nepali and Tibetan, felt that the attackers had been paid by the Chinese," I offered. He giggled. "Oh, I don't know about that." He hadn't even bothered to speak with any of the Tibetans regarding the localized violence.

His comments, and those of several other Nepalis who spoke frankly, reminded me how very inured the average Nepali has become to organized violence, how little sense of moral outrage there is and how regular beat-downs -- by either police, army, PLA or gangsters (of whatever stripe) -- have come to be expected.

Good luck with that democracy thing, guys. You don't have a clue! What do you think "democracy" means, anyway - that everybody gets a car?

Twilight of the gods
It's high tourist season, and foreign visitors continue to flood the Buddhist stupas, monasteries, thangka-painting concerns, guest houses with names like "Namo Buddha", and gift shoppes hawking Buddhist items such as prayer wheels and singing bowls. The entire mystique of Kathmandu and Nepal is based on two things only - proximity to Tibet and its "mysterious, spiritual" Buddhist culture, and the mountains (which of course are part and parcel of one another). The monks, caretakers of these living traditions, are being locked away for defending the very culture that is keeping Nepal commercially alive.

Nepal Tourism continually trumpets the nation as "the land of the Buddha." Monks and nuns, savaged and locked up in the "land of the Buddha." (In fact, saying that Gautama Buddha was "Nepali" is rather like saying Jesus was Israeli. But I digress.)
Meanwhile, the music shoppes continually play that sappy recording of the sacred Buddhist mantra, "Om Mani Padme Hung" (all visitors to Dharamsala and Kathmandu know the one....terrible, cheesy keyboards and all).
Maybe I can edit a video of the monks getting beaten using that as the soundtrack. I'm sure some tourists will buy it.....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Eyes in the door

Power Places of Nepal: a cultural minute
Swaymabunath, Kathmandu, Nepal

This is the doorway to the hilltop temple representing the element of Akash or Sky (there are five shrines, one for each element - Fire, Air, Earth, Water, and Space or Sky) at Swayambunath Buddhist stupa.

This temple's sanctum sanctorum contains an underground chamber opened only once a year, which can be entered only by specially initiated priests.
It sure does feel mysterious and arcane, standing in the mandap (front room) of the temple.

It is extremely dark in there; otherwise I would have better photos of the many brass figures and macabre wall paintings (nearly obscured by centuries of smoke from oil lamps).
I believe this same door can also be seen on the cover of Keith Dowman's coffee table book, Power Places of Nepal (which would make a great Christmas gift, hint hint).
Dowman lists 25 "power places" in the "Nepal Mandala" (there are undoubtedly lots more).
Hmm, just cause I'm tired of thinking about The Big Old Mean World for a minute, let's go on a quick Valley tour and see how many I've visited and photographed.

Swayambunath (ab0ve and below)::



Buranilakanth (aka Buddhanilakanth): Officially 'non-Hindus' (aka, white people) are not allowed inside Buranilakanth to view the statue of the sleeping Vishnu, recling upon the ocean serpent. But there is a smaller replica statue of the Buranilakanth Adisesha in Bhaktapur, below:

Kwa Baha (aka Patan's "Golden Temple")::

Rato Matsyendranath
:: Whie I admit to never having visited the actual temple of Rato Matsyendranath in Bungamati, I did witness the Most Insane Pulling Of His Five-Storey Chariot through the streets of Patan last year, like a mammoth Christmas tree on wheels scraping the rooftops and occasionally the power wires.

Kirtipur Bagh Bhairav Mandir:

Whew, I'm already tired. I still have to show you Chobar Adinath, Dakshinakali, Pharping Vajra Yogini, Sankhu Vajra Yogini, Bhaktapur Taleju, Pharping Sesh Narayana, Surya Vinayaka, Akasha Bhairava, Gokarneshvara, Teku Pachali Bhairav, Seto Matyendranath and Changu Narayana. I've been lucky enough to visit and photograph all but a few of these.
That will have to be another installation of the Cultural Minute.
This Cultural Minute was brought to you by the letter OM अ and the number १०८.

Monday, March 24, 2008


The Olympic Torch will be coming through New Delhi on April 17, on its way to Beijing. I imagine there will be an organized protest against China's human rights violations within Tibet. Best to check the Students for a Free Tibet website and get on their emailing list.
The Tibetan Marchers who departed from Dharamsala on March 10 also have a site with regular updates on their progress.

All over the world (including this morning in Greece) there are Tibetan and pro-Tibetan supporters protesting the Torch's planned route through Tibet. Here's a handy day by day guide to the Torch's round the world relay.

If you're stuck in a torch-less locale, you can at least phone, write, fax or email the International Olympics Committee (who keep insisting the Olympics are not political). Below are letter-writing guidelines courtesy Students for a Free Tibet.

Use the following talking points as a guideline when calling your NOC or drafting your own letter:
> Say you would like to leave a message with the President of the NOC. > If the Torch goes through Tibet it will likely cause further unrest, which would result in another heavy-handed crackdown and consequently more arrests, torture, and loss of life. > On humanitarian grounds alone, it is inconceivable that the Torch relay pass through Tibet at this time. > Please urge the IOC to immediately remove all Tibetan area from the Olympic torch relay route.

Here is a sample email/letter: To the President of the NOC of [insert country], As a citizen concerned about fundamental respect for human rights and dignity, I am deeply concerned that the International Olympic Committee and the organizers of the Beijing games are continuing with plans to carry the Olympic torch through Tibet. Right now in Tibet, there is no freedom of speech or movement and the entire nation is under martial law. International sources report that over a hundred Tibetans have been killed and hundreds more arrested or detained. As reports spread of arbitrary arrests, house-to-house raids, killings, and even beatings of schoolchildren, it is unthinkable that the IOC would continue to move forward with 'business as usual.' Allowing the torch to be carried through Tibet will greatly escalate tensions, giving the Chinese government an excuse to continue its violent crackdown, which will undoubtedly lead to more detentions and deaths.Allowing the torch through Tibet would indelibly tarnish not only the 2008 Olympics but the Olympic movement. The Olympic torch relay should be a celebration that unites people, not a propaganda exercise in which one people seeks to assert its dominance over another.
Tibetan people everywhere have made it clear that they do not want the Olympic torch to pass through their borders. The Chinese government's fervent desire to see the torch pass through Tibet is politically motivated, aimed at saving face despite the widespread protests, and asserting its sovereignty over Tibet. I urge you to place the needs of the Tibetan people and the values of the Olympic movement ahead of the Chinese authorities' desire to project an image of power and invincibility.
Please immediately appeal to the the IOC to withdraw the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the Tibetan provinces of Amdo and Kham - now annexed into China's Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu - from the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay route.
People, athletes and governments of conscience worldwide have responded with an outpouring of support for Tibetans inside Tibet. Please join us in saying "no torch through Tibet."
Thank you.

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about this. Tell-a-friend!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Water world

Wet ones
Kathmandu & Patan, Nepal

The much-lamented water shortage doesn't seem to apply during Holi time. Supposedly a Hindu festival celebrating spring and the change of seasons, it's been commandeered by testosterone-poisoned young men who use it as an opportunity to harass women. Believe me, the transition of winter to summer is nothing to celebrate in this part of the world anyway.

After getting soaked on the way to the breakfast place (about 50 feet from my guest house), I decided to stay in today. Here are some scenes from the past week around town.

::At the foot of one of the four "Ashoka Stupas," Patan. It's believed that the Indian Buddhist emperor Ashoka had these four stupas, one at each corner of the Buddhist kingdom Patan, built during his visit. Patan remains a stronghold of Newar and now Tibetan Buddhists.

::Cricket game in a field near Pulchowk, Patan.

::Dorje or stylized "thunderbolt", representing the male creative principle, and a guy dressed like Cab Calloway at the Ashoka Stupa, Patan.

::Vintage Morris Minor car on Jyatha marg, Thamel.

::This boy displayed the customary sweet, shy Nepali manners while installing a Communist Party Of Nepal (Maoist) poster at the public fountain in Thamel.

::A Tibetan nun who is always, always, always seated in front of the Ajima shrine at Boudha.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seeing red, and blue

Is that blood on your face, or just Holi colours?
Patan, Nepal

This morning, there was another attempted demonstration by pro-Tibetan protestors at the UN House in Patan. I didn't make it to the site in time (around 10.30 am).

An eyewitness who did make it, but asked not to be named, says it was very brief. The police acted so quickly in arresting the protestors this time that there was no violence. Basically, they just showed up (again in an attempt to deliver the memorandum, as below) and were immediately taken into custody.

When I arrived at Pulchowk, the street was still lined with dozens of Nepal's Men in Blue (police in riot gear). There will likely be no more actions for a day or so till their release of the Tibetan demonstrators - most of the leaders are incarcerated right now.

As I mentioned previously, Monday saw Nepal's most violent police intervention in a protest since the People's Uprising in 2006.

The latest I've heard about the Monday demonstrators is that nine were injured, including one monk named Tseten Dorjee who sustained serious head injuries. The wounded are dispersed between TU Teaching Hospital, Patan Hospital and Birendra Police Hospital. Above is a photo of an injured monk that appeared only in local paper the Nepali Times (not the "MSM"), so I will reproduce it here )(above). The photographer asked to remain anonymous.

The Tibetan protestors had been attempting to deliver a memorandum to the UN, requesting intervention in Tibet, when the Nepal police descended on them with not only bamboo canes but tear gas. Most of the serious injuries were from hurled tear gas cannisters.

Meanwhile, the UN themselves have issued a statement saying they did not request police "protection" from peaceful demonstrators and have or had no objection to receiving the petition. From what I've read, the Nepal police deny acting at the behest of Chinese Embassy, but I have yet to confirm that source.

On a lighter note, while on my way to the UN in Pulchowk, Patan today, I got splattered with a water balloon by a young Holi-gan who announced, "Happy Holi!" and ran away. What a coward, to throw it at my back. I actually felt a bit cheated that it was just a water balloon. Seems like a degraded version of Holi, just water instead of bright colours. I guess I should be glad it wasn't a teargas cannister.

Monday, March 17, 2008

No news is no news

Immigrant Songs continue; Protests Day 7
Kathmandu, Nepal

Didn't make it to any of the pro-Tibet actions today - I spent most of the day arguing with Nepali immigration. (Do you sense a theme here?)

While I was in Maitighar at the new Immigration office (it's been moved from the previous convenient Bhrikutimandap location), there was a major action at the UN offices just across the bridge in Pulchowk, Patan. I'm passing on these news reports.

Police in Nepal clash with Tibet protestors; 44 held

The protesters were demonstrating peacefully near the main U.N. office in Kathmandu, holding banners reading "Free Tibet" and demanding the United Nations investigate a Chinese crackdown on protests inside Tibet.
But police quickly moved in to break up the gathering, dragging protesters away and throwing them into the back of trucks that then took them to a nearby detention center.

Photo by my friend Prakash Mathema who works for Agence France Presse.

These kids in Beijing are brave souls:
Ethnic Tibetan students staged a candle-lit vigil in Beijing on Monday, saying it was to pray for the dead, hours before a midnight deadline warning anti-Chinese rioters in the Tibetan capital to surrender.

Police kept reporters well away from the peaceful protest by dozens of apparently ethnic Tibetan students gathered inside the Central University for Nationalities.
It was a small, rare show of defiance in the host city of this year's Olympic Games, where Communist Party authorities are especially eager to prevent public shows of dissent.
"It was only to pray for the souls of the dead," said an ethnic Tibetan student ....

And courtesy of my Tibetan-speaking friend Amalia Rubin, who just returned from Lhasa a mere month ago, here is a photo e-smuggled out of Tibet, of the dead bodies in Ngawa. She writes:

This photo was recently sent to me by someone in Tibet. These are bodies in Ngawa. People shot by the police. These are REAL TIBETANS. REAL people being murdered.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Drawing blood

Live from Boudha
Kathmandu, Nepal

This afternoon I witnessed a Tibetan monk beaten, along with two other protestors, during a nonviolent anti-China protest at Boudha Stupa.

The three protestors were just standing (with Tibetan flags) at the stupa entrance, between the New Nyingma Gompa and the Ajima shrine, chanting slogans. Totally nonviolent. In fact, they were there for so long it got routine and I went off for tea.

When I returned half an hour later (about 3.30 pm) they were still there, chanting "Dalai Lama Zindabad," "Hu Jintao Murdabad," ("long live the Dalai Lama," "death to Hu Jintao"), "UN Where Are you?" "stop the killing in Tibet," and so on. They were standing on a Chinese flag that one protestor told me they planned to set alight. That's about as violent as they got, planning to burn a flag.

I looked down for just a moment to adjust my camera. Out of nowhere I heard a sickening thud and people started running. I ducked under the porch of the Nyingma Temple (figuring that if I had to, I could go inside - surely they wouldn't trash the monastery and shrine). The Nepali boys went straight for the one monk of the three protestors - -with large 2x2 wooden sticks raining blows.

"Don't take pictures! Don't take pictures!" they yelled at anyone with a visible camera. Then, "This is not a place for protest! This is our God-place! Do not protest here!" in English. Which to me, sounded very rehearsed and conspicuous. In English? The attackers were local Nepali boys (from the Tamang community, if it matters).

Having a little sub-compact camera finally paid off as the professional photogs with their bulkier equipment were chased off and threatened by the attackers. I just stood behind a column on the mandap of the New Nyingma Gompa and snuck snaps.

The monk, his face painted with the red, blue, yellow and white of the Tibetan flag, lay motionless on the ground - I suppose he'd been trained to react that way to violence. The boys continued to whack him, with body blows to the back and front torso.

Some Tibetans tried to approach the monk to assist him. They, too, were attacked. A uniformed security guard, employee of the Nyingma gompa, stood by with hands behind his back.

Eventually the thugs disappeared and sympathetic persons could approach the monk. He was lucky they hadn't busted his ribs. The monk sustained only some bad abrasions to his face, which bled fluently through the face paint. Very slowly, with his friends sustaining him on either side, the monk began to walk. He must have had terrible bruises all over.

Two Tibetan helpers flanked the monk. I came over and suggested, "Shechen Clinic jaane." (It seemed better to go to the clinic of a local Tibetan monastery than to go to the Nepali-run hospital, which might not be sympathetic.) Slowly we all started moving down the unpaved lanes, toward Shechen.

Bystanders glanced up from their labour, looked aghast, clicked tongues and shook heads. The attackers had actually stooped to attacking a monk - a nonviolent monk. This was sure to rouse more anger in the community.

We were joined by another foreigner, a British man named Lewis. He had seen the whole thing too, and felt it important to accompany the monk and party down the lanes. It was less likely that the party would be attacked again if a couple of foreigners with cameras were walking beside them. (Indeed, the tradition of the sahib dies very hard.) Westerners are both assumed to be pro-Tibet and sympathetic, and simultaneously less susceptible to localized violence.

The fact that the attackers were local Tamangs confused me. Tamangs, a Tibeto-Burman people, share a language family, and more importantly, the same religion of Tibetan Buddhism with Tibetans. There are a number of Tamang monks as well as Tibetan in the area. Why would they attack the nonviolent protestors and monks?

When we reached Shechen, the doctor cleaned and dressed the monk's wounds. Luckily there was no serious injury. I took this chance to question the Tibetan compadre. The duo (and many other protesters in the area) turned out to be from Himachal, and came here with a coordinated group to launch nonviolent protests.

Tenzin and other Tibetans I spoke to believe the Tamang boys were paid by local Chinese contacts to carry out the beatings. They claim there have been a number of monks (at least eleven, according to the doctor at Shechen) injured in the same way, by local thugs on Chinese pay. It's true, there is a certain amount of rivalry between the Tamang and Tibetan communities - for one thing, the more recently-arrived Tibetans tend to be more prosperous and high profile. It's so sad that a bit of money and local rivalry could induce them to attack their co-religionists.
There were a few guys hanging round the Stupa who had "McLeodganj" written all over them. I cautiously approached them. One told me that there was another action planned for either the Chinese Embassy or the UN building in Pulchowk within the next hour, but they couldn't or wouldn't give a fixed time or place. The next time I looked, they had dispersed.
These days, there is a skirmish at the stupa every single evening. There is a routine march round the stupa Kora, or circumambulation path. After about 20 minutes of this, the procession attempts to leave the Stupa enclosure (a UNESCO World Heritage site) via the main gate. It seems a fitting symbol for the whole procedure - going round in circles, unable to find an outlet for their justifiable anger, then beaten back by local powers sympathetic to China.
Every night they are confronted by Nepali police in what's known locally as a "lathi charge" (raining blows with their bamboo canes, the subcontinental version of a billy club). The pro-Tibetan group is driven back (running, with that panic I know so well from a number of Indian stampedes) into the stupa enclosure.
I didn't see this, but in last night's skirmish several shops on the Main Road ("Boudha Tushal") were vandalized - bricks thrown through windows. Locals I spoke to claimed the shop owners were either Chinese, or locals functioning as Chinese spies, employees and sympathizers.
I'm waiting for a call from a photographer for Himal Media whose "stupa mole" will tell us if there's more activity tonight, but right now I'm exhausted.
Travel advice for Kathmandu: it helps to be white, and wear running shoes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Georgia on my mind

"I hate flowers. I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move" - Georgia O'Keeffe (American artist and Scorpio)

Seen in a Baluwatar garden in Kathmandu.
(now some smart-ass is going to write in with some suggestion about white balance.)

Bhote Kranti

.....means Tibetan Uprising
Kathmandu, Nepal

Turns out there was a Tibetan action in Kathmandu for Tibet Uprising Day, March 10.
The Chinese Embassy was way too obvious, so the marchers started at Boudhanath Stupa and were halted at Chuchchepati. Some 200 people were jailed, but (according to the news) all were released the same day.

The government of Nepal (whoever that is, these days) has become increasingly pro-China in its policies, including those toward the Tibetan immigrants. Just last week the Nepali police raided the Tibetan refugee reception center at Swayambu and "renditioned" a Tibetan man back to China. (According to the Chinese government, he was wanted for assaulting a Chinese citizen. )

There have been numerous recent cases of Tibetan refugees being turned back at the border, jailed just after crossing the border and then repatriated, or harassed within country by Nepali police (due to the Tibetans' fragile legal status. Unlike India, Nepal has given them no offical refugee status).
Meanwhile in Dharamsala, India, the peaceful Tibetan march toward the border was nipped in the bud by a restraining order from Indian Police.

Scenes from the 'hood: Here's one of characteristic Nepali "hitis" or public water fountains. These inverted-pyramid-like structures were built long ago by the Malla kings and still provide water for a great many urban Nepalis. People do laundry, fetch drinking water and bathe publicly in the hiti. Receding water tables and increased population mean many of them are reduced to a trickle. This hiti is down a side street in Thamel. I walked by it again today; The opposite wall (not visible) is now covered in Maoist election posters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Waiting Land

Scenes around town
Kathmandu, Nepal

Dervla Murphy wrote a great book about her travels in Nepal, called The Waiting Land. Some twenty-five years later, Nepal still has that feeling....of waiting.

There was no pro-Tibetan action at the Chinese Embassy today, for Tibetan Uprising Day - but there were a whollllle lot of Nepal Army and Armed Police guarding the Embassy building, for several hundred feet in every direction at every chowk (crossroads). I took one photo of the guys hanging out with their riot shields and then a guard stopped me.
The king may have been sidelined, but he's still in his
palace. It's protocol as usual at the western gate of Narayanhiti Palace, aka scene of the 2000 Royal Massacre. As far as the loyal retinue are concerned, the king's still an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. These dapper fellows in traditional dhauri-suruwal and topi are the Pravesham Patra (entrance protectors), along with the world-famous Gurkhas, of course - one of whom cracked a shy smile for me.

::These two brothers were doing temple duty collecting used lamp wicks at Bhatbateni Devi mandir this morning.

::Election posters dot the city, explaining the process to Nepali voters. There hasn't been a proper election in Nepal for nearly 12 years. Despite the fact that it's a multiparty election, the only party logos and advertisements I see around town are CPN (Maoist).

People who've seen the new jillion-dollar US Embassy Compound say it's a literal bunker, going six storeys underground. Evidently I am not alone in believing that Nepal will likely be a staging area for the coming showdown between India and China.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

South of the border

Or Bored of the South?
Kathmandu, Nepal

Indo-Nepal border to be sealed from March 10
Oh, great. Right in time for me as a I get my visa to return to India. How long is THIS sh*t going to go on?

They may end up having elections after all here in Nepal, but if they do, it will be a Maoist/YCL (Young Communist League)-controlled farce. Reports are already filtering in of YCL assuming "poll protection" duties in the rural areas.

The Election Commission (housed in the former building of the world-famous Hotel Royal) has printed up ballots. On the same page of the newspaper we read that electronic voting machines will be used. So which is it to be?

I THINK (reading local papers, one has to infer a great deal) the print ballots will be used for "practice" and dry-run trial elections - which of course, should have taken place 4 months or so ago.

Yes, Bhutan and Pakistan both recently had successful elections...but in neither case was it their first try. Bhutan went in baby steps
... and Pakistan had several false starts for years.

Indo-Nepal border to be sealed from March 10
BAHRAICH, MAR 8 (PTI)--The Indo-Nepal border would be sealed from March 10 and additional barriers and pickets installed on all the passages linking the area with the Himalayan kingdom in view of constituent assembly elections in the neighbouring country.

DIG, Devi Patan, Manmohan Bashal told newspersons here yesterday that policemen in plain clothes would be deployed keeping in mind the sensitive nature of the border.

"A meeting of senior officials of both the countries would be held before the elections for better coordination," Bashal said adding that a close watch is being maintained on Maoists as well as Madheshiya activists.

V for Visa Victory

Yes, I finally got my long-awaited Indian visa for 6 months, double entry. It was a real uphill battle. Basically, they are changing all the rules and regs for second-time / repeat visitors to India from Nepal. I must blog about it soon in detail...just so burnt out right now.

How many times have I changed fonts within this post? At least twice. I tried changing them back and it's not working. Can't deal with it right now...where's tech support when you need them?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

K-Town Updates

News from Nowhere
Kathmandu, Nepal

--The "historic" agreement signed last Thursday between the UMDF (United Madheshi Democratic Front), which had been spearheading the Tarai agitations, and the provisional government here in the 'du seems to have eased the petrol crisis. Now the trucks delivering gasoline from the Indian "mainland" should be able to get through without obstruction....unless, of course, one of the other several Tarai-based ethnic groups decides to launch an agitation. (The Madheshis aren't the only disenfranchised people living in the Tarai, just the noisiest.)

--My acquaintance Sajani Sakya, the Bhaktapur Kumari, has decided (or more likely it has been decided for her) to take early retirement from her post as Living Goddess. The 11- year-old girl's parents chose to have Sajani undergo a traditional Newar ritual of "ihi," or symbolic marriage to a fruit.

It's not as weird as it soun
ds (or maybe it is, and I have just been in this part of the world too long). Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai underwent a form of the same type ritual prior to her marriage to Abhishek Bacchan (in her case, she ritually "married" a tree).

Most Newar girls undergo this simple ritual around age 11, but Kumaris do not.
Why this was so important for Sajani to do this now is a mystery. Anyway, the search is on for a new Bhaktapur Kumari, and Sajani is now attending public school like a regular girl.

--Maha Shivratri - a major Hindu holiday for the god Shiva - is coming up, which should mean the freaks, sadhus and Shiva Bhakts will be on display at Pashupatinath. That's March 6th, by the way.

--in a non-Nepal based story
: many people write to me asking about where they can see HH the Dalai Lama. HH's schedule is always available at his official website. As this is the year of the Beijing Olympics, he will be abroad most of the year hoping to raise the profile of the Tibet issue as well as that of other human rights issues within China.

However, it's just been announced he will be teaching in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh (I think that's in Spiti valley) from June 22-24. There is little commercial accomodation in the area and the HP government is trying to figure out how to house all the pilgrims. Maybe I'll bring a tent.

More news as it happens!