After our high mountain adventure, we took it easy on our last day in Pokhara. Time to do laundry--clothes, coats, everything because they were filled with the dust and mud of travel. Our laundry bill was more than our hotel room!
We headed next for the mountain village of Bandipur, a favorite place of mine. It sits atop a mountain. No vehicles are allowed, so it is a quiet and peaceful place. The people are Newari, one of Nepal's oldest ethnic groups. Raju of our group is Newari.
We checked into the same room that I have stayed in three time before. After check-in, we strolled about the village and had tea on a quiet side street. As evening came, the air became quite cold.
The next morning we ate breakfast on the street lined with buildings reminiscent of medieval Europe in some ways. Supposedly, the village was quite important in years past as a trade route. Now it caters to locals and the tourists who come to relax. We watched as school children skipped merrily toward school. On the way out, we hiked to a soccer field that offers a great view of the Himalaya peaks beyond. They seem to float in the air, as intervening clouds obscure the base. It was the day for a multi-school picnic. Cooking pots were set up for each of the schools. School children noisely moved about to enjoy their day out of class. Goats were tied awaiting their chance to be part of the picnic fare.
Next we headed to the mountain temple of Manakamana. It is on the way back to Kathmandu and is reached by cable car crossing the river and ascending the steep mountain. Special cars are provided to haul goats, chickens, and an occasional small buffulo up the mountain to be sacrificed.
We checked into a guest house for the princely sum of $5 for four people. Afterward we strolled about, stopping for tea on a side street. We went out back to the garden area where fresh produce is raised. Corn cribs mounted on poles held a crop already gathered. Marijuana plants grow high on the hilly back yard. It is common here.
The next morning, my friends arose early and prepared offerings to be given at the temple. This was a day of special sacrifice and would be busy. By the time I joined them, long qeues had already formed, snaking their way toward the small inner temple. Bells were being rung and chants made. The temple is constructed in typical multi-roof fashion with supporting beams. The beams are cared with sexually explicit representations of fertility.
People approached the square in front of temple pulling their goats who bleated repeatedly. The sacrifices didn't begin until 8 a.m. after special prayers and chants were made. A priest came to the place of sacrifice and chanted there for a moment. I was allowed to enter the actual sacrifice area to observe close up--I mean "close up." The first offering was brought--a basket of eggs. Each egg was pierced and part of the egg was thrown on the area. The first goat was brought, a black one. His head was pulled back and a sharp knife swiftly severed it. The head, still flicking its ears, was placed on the altar. The blood gushed from the goat's torso, almost getting me as I stepped aside. It was a gruesome sight, even for this farm boy who used to help butcher animals for our food. The next goat was brought, a white one. I had had enough, so I made my way through the line of waiting goats back to the courtyard.
Blood sacrifices have been prominent in many religions, including Judaism and Christianity. Blood is seen as a life force. We have moved past the ritual offerings of animals because of the One sacrifice for all time. Sometimes, maybe, we need reminding of the raw power of sacrifice. We Westerners have divorced ourselves from the realities of animal slaughter which underlies our daily food. Perhaps we also have forgotten how gruesome the One sacrifice was made as we meet in our clinically clean places of worship.
We made our way down the mountain by cable car, mounted our bikes and returned to Kathmandu. Ascending the pass to enter Kathmandu Valley is a difficlult passage with the cars, trucks, buses, tractors, and every other form of transportation vying for space on the narrow road. Open gaps from recent landslides keeps you on your toes in driving. Once in Kathmandu, we almost collided with a scooter whose driver was busy yakking on a mobile phone. But finally we made it safely to the house.
Manish's family greeted us excitedly. It was good to be back home.