Friday, December 26, 2008

A fireside chant

An exotic Christmas on the cheap
Thamel, Kathmandu

There is a roaring fire here in the lobby, and a roaring plasma-screen TV showing BBC to give electro warmth. But why, or more importantly HOW, the hell is it raining in late December (ie, today) in the Kathmandu Valley? This region famously has no precipitation from, say, early October to late March at the very least, maybe even later.


We (friends and I) managed to make yesterday fun, despite the glaring lack of immediate family. Rene, Amy and I went out carousing for inexpensive presents. Whoever is running Thamel these days (I think it's a war between the gangs and the Bahun-Chhetri dominated Thamel Tourism Development Corporation) decided to do what they should do every day of the year - block off Thamel to large vehicle traffic. Read: we could walk the streets and window shop without fear of being mowed down by a speeding taxi or SUV, careening down narrow ancient streets that were made for pedestrians, bullock carts and bicycles.

BRAVO, TTDC or whoever did this. For once, people could shop and enjoy the cornucopia of Exotic Cool Affordable Stuff that Thamel offers, from handmade yak milk soaps to calendars of Tibetan Thangka paintings, to 100% hemp woven house-slippers to pashmina (or sometimes "pashmina") shawls. I actually noticed shoppes that I have been walking past for years and just never could stand still long enough to see.

The aura in the streets was one of festivity and genuine friendliness. We were approached by one family with a small daughter who wanted to take "our daughter's picture with different-looking people," so we obliged by holding little Anya as the parents took snaps.

I also noticed none of the major street "hawkers" (Tiger Balm madam??) seemed to be out, though my friends and I did get approached to buy "hasheeeeeeesh" a few times. During the day there were processions by the local Newar youth in traditional costume, playing Dhimay Bhaje, with the Gandarbhas playing sarangi. I found it cute that the locals found a way to participate in Christmas and make the "foreigner" neighborhood festive, without ever being tacky, overtly commercial or in-your-face.

Multiculturalism appeared to be good for business. Several restaurants offered special Christmas dinners, usually including turkey and pumpkin pie. I had the Northfield's pumpkin pie which was more like punkin' puddin' with crust around it, but then, I never had a pumpkin pie I could really complain about. And even random Nepali families who had nothing to gain monetarily seemed to enjoy wishing us "Happy Christmas." Or, as the hand-painted sign at Tom & Jerry's said, "Happy Christmas Merry."

I was also glad the Hindu fundamentalists weren't all up in the air (as they may have been in parts of India) about observation of Christmas. Obviously, all the salaried office workers were happy to get yet more days off. And like Dasain, Christmas has become a pan-cultural holiday that one can observe as religiously or un-religiously as one likes. I didn't see any non-pagan Christmas decor - it was all trees, Santas, presents and stars.

Down by Narsingh Chowk there was a techno-street party complete with female Nepali DJ on the stage and boomin' music. Fortunately it didn't seem to get too least while we were there. Thamel is sufficiently chock-full of places selling alcohol that there's no need to sell beer on the street, for crying out loud.

My contribution to the Nepal economy, in the form of presents for friends, included: one handmade stuffed animal made of woollen felt for my 3 year old friend; two Thangka calendars; one copy of the Tenzin Palmo bio Cave in the Snow; one bar of handmade Rose soap; one packet of locally made incense; and a box of Indian sweets (doda barfi, chocolate barfi and moong dal barfi) to share with all and sundry. The most expensive present in the lot cost 500NRs (about $6.00).


Vinod_Sharma said...

merry christmas sirensongs!

aliceinparis said...

sounds like a lovely Christmas! December rain in Kathmandu...the weather is whacky everywhere! I laughed reading about the picture taking" different looking people".
Hope your 2009 is full of fun adventures and peace:)
Cheers, Shelagh