Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Panauti!


My friend, Kamal, came to pick me up and surprised me by wanting to take my scooter instead of his motorbike. I love to ride on my own scooter because it is easier to get on and off. I really have an attachment to my scooter. I bought it two years ago shortly after I arrived in Kathmandu; of course I paid much more than its value, but it was well worth it. It’s been two years and about ten drivers, but it’s held up very well. Bajaj has discontinued this model and there is something that needs to be replaced, but my last driver had no interest in getting it fixed. It seems each one would try to convince me to upgrade to a motorcycle, or at least a newer model. 

So we set off for Panauti, an ancient temple village on the way to Nama Buddha. Panauti is a beautiful temple city with an amazing Bhirab temple. I stood there peeking into the temple so impressed by the human sized Bhirab along with several other gods. I was never able to find out who the god on the other side directly facing Bhirab was. I’m not actually a devotee, but rather a fan. 



 


The admission of 300 NRs. includes a visit to the little museum, a nice treat. One problem with museums in Asia is they do not always have the items marked well in English. Most of the things were self explanatory, an entire room of artifacts. This one was my personal favorite. 

Bhirab's Arm

These masks are the kind used for festival ceremonies. It is said that the devotees who wear them become possessed by the actual god during these ceremonies and it can be quite a site. The masks can weigh over 20 pounds/40 Kg. and the devotees will wear them for the entire day, walking while fasting-eating nothing and drinking only ceremonial alcohol. 




One day while at Kathmandu’s Darbur Square there was a very special festival whereby elderly devotees wore masks like these while walking from a rural village and kept them on all day. This festival only happens each 12 years. It was quite a site, especially considering the fact that it is believed that the actual gods are walking among us during these festivities.




This is Bhirab during Indri Jatra. This devotee wore the mask all day while running through the crowd prior to the chariot precession. It is tradition for the young men to heckle Bhirab during this festival and he is quite capable of dealing with them. Sometimes he even hurts them. It really would seem divine intervention would be needed for this type of activity, no food, no shoes and only alcohol during this late summer festival. 

Back to the Panauti Heritage City and temple: I always like to find out about guest houses in these rural areas so we stopped by Ananda’s Guest House and CafĂ© for lunch. It seemed to be the only place to stay within walking distance to the temple. No, not a Western concept in sight. We tried to order lunch but there was no food. The owner suggested finger chips/French fries, so we ordered milk tea and two orders of finger chips, and then we waited. We waited some more and finally we were served. Then the owner wanted to show me the rooms. Even my Nepali friend was becoming impatient. 


According to the owner, this place is mentioned in the Lonely Planet. I would not recommend this place. There was no glass in the windows and the building was obviously several hundred years old and looks to have had zero maintenance. It was downright scary to me. It being late January I cannot imagine anyone paying 500 NRs. to stay there for a night, but the owner continued to remind me that they do not include VAT or service charge, which would potentially increase the price to 615 NRs. He insisted that it is a real bargain. 




The owner proudly told me that they even have authentic, Nepali mattresses on the bed. Yes, this is a real ‘Nepali experience.’ There is a brand new guest house in the town, but it is a bit further to walk to the temple area. I am not trying to be classist or touristy; no windows mean anything can fly or crawl in during the night. There didn’t seem to be an inverter system, so the only light would come from this window or a candle. Do you see a safe place to put a candle? Although I am not including their contact information, you can easily find it near the old temple grounds. 

I am including another, newer hotel's contact information at the end of this post. Hotel Panauti is new and quite nice. Rooms start at 500 NRs. with shared bath or 1,000-1,500 NRs. with attached bath. This was the off-season prices.
Booking Advice This is why I advise against booking directly or long term from a booking site in Nepal: A Tourist's Manual, eBook. If you come at high season and do not want to stay at the Lonely Planet’s 5 star choices, you should never book directly to the hotel from the internet. You should always use an internet booking site for the first one or two days and no more. 
If you like the guest house and want to stay there for a week or more you should talk with the manager about a reduced rate to continue your stay. If you don’t like it just start shopping for a better guest house with a better price. They are everywhere in the valley and there is always a way to get a room out on the trekking trail. For more tips, you can check out my eBook, Nepal: A Tourist's Manual. 
Know that all internet prices are inflated when it comes to Nepali guest house rooms. Some are more than quadrupled over the walk-in price. If you book for two days and love it, what if it is booked after that? As unlikely as this would be, they will either make room for you or will get on the phone with their competitors to get you a comparable room. That’s just the nature of the hospitality service. 

One other tip from the book: Never arrive with a person of the opposite sex without stating that you are married if you want to share a room. There is an old law that you must be married to stay with someone, but many in the tourist business use it to sell additional room. 

Hotel Panauti, Ltd. hotelpanauti@yahoo.com http://panautihotel.com Phone: +977 011-440055, 011-440469. Dharma Narayan Sonam, 9841-416526.

Panauti Museum and Municipality, 0977-011 or 0144131, email: panautimuseum@yahoo.com  http://panautimun.gov.np


Temples are often home to many children. They are usually very poor. Please do not give them candy or money.



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