Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mahashivaratri and Army Exercise

It is often said that Nepal has more festivals than annual days in a calendar (which, by the way, is not the Gregorian calendar, but that subject and the task of converting dates deserve an entire post in their own right). The festival of the day was Mahashivaratri, which I judged to be one of Nepal's more significant festivals because many shops were shuttered, children were off school, and the streets were more quiet -- in other words, it felt like Saturday.

Mahashivaratri honors Lord Shiva, who, as the symbol of both reproduction and destruction, is arguably the most important god in Nepal. You might know him by the phallic lingam, symbolic of his "creative role." The main celebration takes place at Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal's most important Hindu temple and where Shiva is worshiped as the lord of the beasts. The Himalayan Times reported today that Pashupatinath was prepared to host 800,000 devotees.

I'm not much for crowds when they are above the, oh, half million mark, and as a non-Hindu I would only have been able to observe from the fringes anyway, so I went about my day as normal -- until I walked out of my house this morning and saw this scene in the street:

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As you may or may not be able to tell from the photograph, a group of kids were holding a rope across the road, and I watched as the motorcyclists appeared to humor them at first but then quickly grew disgruntled and impatient.

I later learned that this is one tradition of Mahashivaratri: children essentially hold up people for money. Cute.

Fortunately, the kids are not extraordinarily insistent and their ropes are not very strong, so I managed to limbo under several ropes throughout the day without paying fees. I am all for enterprising youth, but at least put a lemonade stand next to your barricade if you have the gall to ask for money.

Then, a little bit later in the day I found myself in the strangest scene in the middle of Kathmandu:

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North of this shot, where the traffic was stopped, the road had been entirely cleared:

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And it was dead quiet.

Strange INDEED.

I soon figured out that this traffic disruption was to make way for a presidential motorcade. I did not lay eyes on that, but about a half mile down the road I saw this:

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In the Parade Ground, where every day you can witness soldiers running around in fatigues and practicing army moves, the military had taken it to a grand scale with some sort of paratrooper exercise. People were fascinated by the helicopter and climbed trees and packed onto overpasses to get a good view:

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It was a day full of celebrations and pomp and circumstance. See, Brian, I told you that everyone here is excited for your impending arrival!

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