Why Nepal scared the sh*t out of us…
Entering Kathmandu, Nepal.
Entering a country of ancient traditions, impressive to some but strikingly painful to others. This story is about encountering local traditions while you travel. You might not like this one, I warn you.
How to describe Kathmandu? I don’t even remember all the details. Chaotic, old, rural, and with the problems every big city faces: traffic jams and pollution. Around the main Durbar square however, a strange feeling quickly came upon us.
It is not that we felt odd in our Western-style clothes, but the square was like a time loop, a peek into history.
Traveling back in time
We love to spend time traveling, but sometimes travels make time stand still. You reach places where you actually sense history.
History reaches us not only through old buildings or the way people sell and buy goods at the market. It is mostly customs and habits that make us wonder why people have not passed through the door we call progress.
Of course we have to cherish our traditions, but don’t you think that sometimes we should hold up a mirror to people? Some traditions don’t fit in todays way of life, overtaken by science or just common modern sense.
Yes, I know I am talking from a Western perspective here. In many Western countries traditions have adapted to modern times, but when you travel the world you come across traditions that really make you wonder.
Or scare you!
One of those traditions happens annually in Nepal. We stayed in its capital Kathmandu exactly on the days it all happened. Call it lucky or call it bad luck. It’s up to you to decide.
It started when we drove through the city in a Tuk-Tuk. We saw something strange in the corner of our eye. Slowly we turned our heads, only to see something that struck us. A man was carrying a plate walking the narrow and dusty streets around Durbar square. He looked like a waiter. Only thing was he carried a big silver plate with a goats head on top of it.
Its tongue sticked out. The funny thing about it was my immediate response (strange that I still remember that so well): “Hmm, must be freshly slaughtered”. It was, it was freshly slaughtered!
Just half an hour later we were drinking tea and another man passed by, carrying a same plate with yet another goats head. At that time we started to feel a bit strange. What was happening here?
Mass animal sacrifice
We quickly read our guide books and talked to fellow travelers. We found out that this was day One of mass animal slaughtering throughout Nepal. They call it sacrificing. I didn’t recall the numbers, but for sure thousands and thousands of goats, cows and buffaloes were slaughtered. Why? For good luck. To celebrate the victory of good over evil.
There was an atmosphere of excitement in the city of Kathmandu. But a kind of excitement that made us feel very uncomfortable. But human beings have a strong sense of curiosity, even up to the morbid. So we stayed around.
Tough as we were (or wanted to be), we found our way to a square where thousands of Nepali gathered (including some ‘lucky’ travelers like us). This seemed to be the Taleju Temple where 54 buffaloes and 54 goats were about to be slaughtered.
We watched animals being slaughtered in a ceremony with flags and music. We showed our antipathy but strangly enough were also impressed by the power of the sword. One man could chop the head of a buffalo in only one hit of the sword. A lot of strength is needed for that I can assure you.
Animal heads were collected one side of the area. The body was dragged around the place, creating a circle of blood (I warned you). Blood was also collected and used to spray on cars, airplanes or Tuk-Tuks for another year of safety and good luck.
Worship or cruelty?
It is not strange that lately animal rights campaigners are trying to stop this tradition. I am not writing this post to judge these events. I am telling this story to let you know that traveling the world means you might bump into unexpected sights and events that might scare you. Things you might wanted to avoid. But remember, sometimes the unavoidable creates the unforgettable.
Tell me, what places or events have you encountered that made a lasting impression, good or bad?