Indra Jatra

From Justin:

We have been in Kathmandu the past few days mostly organizing and preparing for our trip to Tibet. We arrived in Kathmandu just in time for Indra Jatra, an eight-day harvest festival held in honor of Lord Indra the god of rain. We wandered into the festival the day the Kumari, the living goddess, is pulled through the streets in a giant chariot. It was also my birthday.

The event happens in Durbar square one of the oldest sections of Kathmandu. After quickly scoping out the area, we retreated to a café seeking refuge from the rain. As it let up we ventured out to discover one of the main thoroughfares just outside the cafe was closed, blocking us from the heart of the festival. We turned to the side streets and back alleys around the square, where we stumbled upon a crowd in the courtyard of a building cheering and screaming. There we saw the Lakhe, a dance between a man in a red, fanged mask with wild red hair and a boy in a blue Greco-Roman tunic. The dance had a David vs Goliath feel as the boy would chase the demon and the demon would then chase the boy all to the clash of a cymbal and beat of a solitary drum.

The folks in the courtyard were mostly young. There were some elderly folks on the ground but they were mostly leaning out of their windows, watching from above. The children were the most thrilled and frightened by the demon. They would run away as he danced around the courtyard. Two boys probably about 7 and 9 pulled on my coat to ask if I was scared. They told me they were very scared, especially when the demon shakes his head. As the dance wound down the boys invited us to follow them to the main square. At the square they explained more of the festival telling us of the giant white elephant who would appear and chase the demon away. We parted ways and they disappeared into the massive crowd that had assembled.

I was particularly struck by those two kids. I was surprised by how well they spoke English because they were so young. I was surprised they were wandering through such a huge crowd without an adult. But I was really taken aback by their kindness. They were genuinely interested in our reaction to the festival, attempted to explain elements of it and they were kind enough to guide us to the main square. In my handful of other travel experiences, I have rarely found adults to be this kind and helpful let alone kids. I think those two kids reflect the warm and welcoming attitude I've experienced in Nepal.

We spent the next hour or so walking through the rain, and watching the crowd. We saw more red masked demons running about and a giant white elephant made of cloth representing the god Ganesh. Processions of musicians passed by and finally three giant wooden chariots, with wooden wheels, appeared, one of which we knew held the Kumari. The chariots were heaved by groups of men, intoxicated with the excitement of the festival. They were encircled by a large group of police who seemed bewildered with keeping the crowd at bay. The chariots must have been incredibly heavy because they did not roll smoothly and only moved in starts and stops. The crowd of men would pull and then quickly move to avoid the approaching wheels. The middle chariot, the one with the Kumari, came to a dangerous, abrupt stop just in front of us. We were barely able to see her because the chariot was also filled with other people but Zoe did get a picture of her.

We left the square soon after the chariots passed. We were soaked from the rain and I was drained from the entire event. I was also eagerly looking forward to my birthday meal, which turned out to be one of the best on the trip so far.

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