Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's Gai Jatra Time! A Must See Festival for August

Gai Jatra is one of my favorite festivals in Nepal. It's actually a festival about death, but it's upbeat and profound when you understand it. Last year I found Gai Jatra to be a bit tiring and expensive. Just for a couple beers and a few more soft drinks and it was well over $20 due to ‘festival pricing.’ It was hard to get the shade sitting on the rooftop with just umbrellas over the tables.

I decided to take a room for the night and that’s what I did. We took the bus from Changunarayan to Bhaktapur and then walked to the main entrance where we had soft drinks on the rooftop of a local restaurant, Darbar Restaurant. The restaurant last year was inside the city. This one is just outside the main gate and the price difference was huge. We had mo: mo, I had veg and Sujit had buff and a soft drink each and it was just $5.

I asked Pramesh, a good friend and local guide in Bhaktapur, to get a room for me that would be good for the ceremony and he found a place for me. It was a bit rough, but there was a fan in the room. The windows didn’t have screens.

I have to say that I made the right choice about the room, at least location-wise. Ju Ju Newar Guest House, Inacho district in Bhaktapur. The guesthouse is located between Golmadhi and Datatraya Square and is directly across from the Buddhist Bihar/monastary, Jhor Bahi Bihar. This is one of the few Buddhist sanctuaries in Bhaktapur. Most of the temples are Hindu, but that’s not to say there isn’t Buddhist influence. It’s reassuring to see the two religions living together in such peace. If I ask someone if they are Hindu or Buddhist they usually answer, ‘same, same.’ 

Gia Jatra has a unique history, which I really don’t understand. This is the first day of the festival so there was the procession in the afternoon. Then, in the evening Bhirab comes and a special ceramony is done to appease Bhirab. I asked Pramesh to help me to understand the festival, which he did. 

One of the most revered gods in this part of Nepal is Bhirab. I read that the Newar people brought Bhirab from ancient Sumaria when they immigrated to the Kathmandu Valley. He and goddess Kali are said to be created from Shiva’s dreadlocks due to his anger. It would appear, based upon the history of the Newar bringing Bhirab so far back, that Bhirab is probably the oldest god still being worshiped in the world.

The noise of the crowd, the sounds of tambourines, drums and other instruments create a lovely ambiance. The air is filled with incense being carried by people in the procession. The people all chant in unison, dance and click their sticks together in a long line-dance. The Newar people have been celebrating this festival for hundreds of years. 

A note about our guesthouse room. This guesthouse is under new management and had just opened again for business. It's an earthquake-safe building and really lovely. They have a huge reception area that's nicely decorated. However, we had two beds, but one blanket (of course another was promptly delivered upon request). The room had not been vacuumed, nor had the bathroom been cleaned. The bed had what looked like a clean sheet. Also, the blankets were cheap with polyester fill, too heavy for summertime and not big enough for the bed-of course no top sheet. 

I hope you enjoy the video portion of this blog, as well. Have you ever been to the Gai Jatra Festival in Nepal? Please comment and subscribe.

Tips for this festival: 

One bit of advice about staying in budget guesthouses in Nepal. Get a sleeping bag liner. Sheets are not always changed between uses. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a pillow case. ‘Oh well, I won’t die.’

Leave your passport, ATM cards and most of your money in your guesthouse room before going to any festival with a big crowd. One time I got pick-pocketed and they got money from my fanny pack I wear in front.

Be aware people will be drinking pretty heavily by the evening and drunk behavior is no stranger in Nepal. There can be fights breaking out and such. Fortunately, people are not allowed to carry guns and the police work the crowd pretty well.  

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