The Kathmandu journey continues, Part 7…
Our small amount of time in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal was strikingly memorable. This was not alone due to the wonderfully friendly people we met, the deep and fascinating culture or the beautiful, if fragile architecture, it was because all of these things were impacted dreadfully one week after our return when the country was hit by a catastrophic earthquake. It is with deep fondness, sadness and ultimately an intense feeling of good-fortune and privilege that we remember our time in this unique and captivating place.
Bisket Jatra – Nepali New Year in Bhaktapur
An early morning wander through the streets yielded more visual gems of this vibrant city, with more of an ‘every day’ vibe rather than big celebrations or historic sites focus – plump, brown chickens perched on second floor window sills, kids played in the street, even the surprising sight of women sitting and talking, NOT doing chores of some sort or another – New Year’s Day does bring some benefits!
We called into the Peacock Shop, which also houses a paper-making factory, in the hope of taking a tour. Being New Year’s Day, the workers had been given the day off, so while we didn’t see the many ‘stations’ of the process in action, we were still given a tour and explanations, which was still interesting. Happy with their product, we made some purchases in the shop before leaving the smiling young woman who was thrilled at her first sale for the new year.
This ‘first-sale-of-the-year-luck’ was a motivator of several shop owners who were eager to haggle to make that sale, ensuring a prosperous start to their year ahead. We were happy to oblige with some purchases of cashmere and silver. I’d say a good start to everyone’s year!
But one of the biggest delights of the day that surpassed the shopping bargains and general cheer of the city, was the smog clearing and being able to see the view to the mountains, all green and peppered with houses.
Found a fantastic place for lunch at Newa Cchen Restaurant on Dattatraya Square. It is a small, ‘no frills’ place that is attached to a guesthouse, but the food is excellent and more than a bargain. They cook traditional Newari food, and their delicious peanut sandheko (peanut salad) and vegetable bura (lentil pancake) moved this spot up to my favourite restaurant in Bhaktapur.
In the late afternoon, Laxman, the caretaker of our accommodation (Milla Guesthouse), met us to take us to the “good places” to see the festivities of Bisket Jatra. The increase of people wandering the streets and squares over the last couple of days hadn’t really prepared us for the sheer numbers out in force on this special celebratory day.
What a crowd! Thousands of people were gathering in each of the squares, all searching for great vantage points. Laxman took us through the throngs and after a couple of crush-crowd panic moments, we were in a prime position. Laxman’s big grin throughout was certainly reassuring in the press of bodies. The number of people gathered sincerely looked like they were the result of the CGI of films! And it was quite extraordinary how many were crammed in the open space of Nasamana Square – an area once filled with ancient temples which were destroyed in the 1934 earthquake, now providing stone plinths for better viewing and space to topple trees. By the time we made our way to where the chariot and pole were, we had missed the felling of the “husband tree”, but it really didn’t matter. We moved from one viewing point to another, just above the heads of the people trying to strip bark from the fallen tree, the belief being that it will bring good luck and good fortune for the year ahead. The smaller “wife tree” would be pulled down in another tug-o-war tomorrow. (For more details on the rituals of Bisket Jatra, see previous post.)
There were also plenty of food offerings and animal sacrifices being made at all of the shrines around the squares, but I didn’t need to watch that particular component of the festivities – wtinessing a goat or chicken having its throat slit is not something I need to see. Instead, my focus was drawn to the musicians everywhere, some still marching along the streets, others seated in circles enthusiastically playing their instruments.
We spent quite some time with Laxman watching the proceedings, but when we found out that the chariot would not reach its destination for another few days, we decided to slowly make our way back to Dattatraya Square for some dinner – a long flight the next day impedes the party mood somewhat!
We are so glad that we ‘saved the best till last’ and had our last few days in Bhaktapur. While I am positive that this ancient city would be wonderful to visit at any time of the year, it was truly special to be here during Bisket Jatra.
And, here, our Kathmandu story ends…
Read our full Kathmandu story here:
Part 1: Thamel & Durbar Square
Part 2: Patan
Part 3: Pashupatinath & Boudha
Part 4: Kirtipur & Nagarkot
Part 5: Changu Narayan & Bhaktapur
Part 6: Namobuddah & NYE in Bhaktapur
Part 7 (current): Bisket Jatra in Bhaktapur
Our guide was Rajesh Shahi
He can be contacted on Facebook or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos of Kathmandu before and after the 2015 earthquake – BBC News
Is it time to go back to Nepal? – Lonely Planet