Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Eight: Patan

Saturday, April 7. (Written on Sunday, April 8.)


We are on our very last leg of the trip now. Only 6 hours to wait in the Amsterdam airport (one of the nicest ones I've been in) and then an 8 hour flight home to Calgary. I hope I can recreate the last few days accurately (had no time to journal), but probably not. Nothing that I could write in words could accurately capture this trip. 

Feed the Birds.
We got up really early again on Friday, 6 am. Left the house by 7 and drove to Patan with M and B. This is the "old city" and they both actually used to live here and grew up as neighbours. This is a really ancient part of the city and is full of temples. Lots of ornate, carved architecture, worn wooden statues and random shrines and alcove niches containing gods everywhere. Massive stone lions or elephants guard the temples and everywhere people are praying and chanting. 

Elephant ride.
Forbidden temple.
Sleeping stray.
There was one temple that women aren't allowed in, so we skipped that one. There were a few market vendors selling goods and flowers, sometimes in garlands. There was a mini Trafalger Square full of pigeons and women squatting and selling handfuls of rice from pans to feed the birds. You could actually hand feed the birds, which our group seemed to really enjoy, but I was content to stand at a distance and take their photos (bird phobia).

Blossoms for sale.
We moved slowly through the squares and temples, sometimes crushed in with the joyous crowd. Other areas were more open. One sight that stands out for me is an ancient holy tree that really looked like a dozen smaller trees with their roots and trunks all tangled and snarled together, fusing into one incredible tree.

Holy tree.
The average small Hindu temple is difficult to describe. There are usually four sides with smaller temple alcoves on three sides. The front has a half-door, usually with a statue on either side. The god is housed inside and you can approach the window to respect him or her with a prayer, an offering of rice or flowers, or by lighting a candle and placing it on the half-door. The area out front is littered with these items and people vie for a spot at the window to glimpse the god and worship for a quick minute until it is the next person's turn. But no one pushes, they simply take their turn and move on. 

The most impressive temple that we entered was aptly named the "golden temple". And gold it was. You enter a sort of courtyard and in the middle there was a smaller temple and when you looked up, the gold plating seemed brighter than the sun. I followed the crowd around the outside and rang some bells and spun some more prayer wheels. An open room that ran along one side of the outer temple contained some kind of seated choir. The sang/hummed in that distinct nasal manner and there were also a few accompanying instruments: bongo-like drums and a kind of organ I have never seen before. It sat on the floor, a small box and was operated by an accordion "pump" on the back. It sounded beautiful. 

Inside the Golden Temple:    

Entrance to the golden temple.
Golden temple.
We also saw a couple of butchers. They sat on a kind of portico, open to the world, and hacked up a water buffalo (you could see its large head propped up in the corner). People could buy cuts of meat for offerings. I watched him viciously chop and slice until he was able to pull half the ribcage section right off. The blood ran into the street so you couldn't get too close (as if you would want to). The dogs were right up front anyway, sniffing in the gutter and waiting patiently for scraps.


Brightly painted doors, homeless sleeping on temple steps (like the dogs), the most excellent looking carrots I have ever seen, bicycles so weighted down with goods that they can't even be ridden, a whole shop of woven goods including basket slippers. Just an amazing, ancient place.

Patan ladies.
We then went out for breakfast at a little diner that was fairly dark considering it was on a corner and had windows along one full side (I suppose they try to conserve energy during the day and aren't much for florescent lights...maybe this accounts for all the joy?). The restaurant employed autistic servers ad promoted autism awareness. I enjoyed sharing with everyone a dosa, a rice wrap filled with veggies and potato that you pull apart with your fingers and dip. My own personal breakfast was more Western style: scrambled eggs and bacon. I had actually ordered the masala eggs to try something more local, but they made a mistake and I couldn't bear to send it back. The bacon was really fatty, but had a great, smoked flavour.

Group leaders.
We spent the rest of the daytime at work, trying to finish up some last minute things. We watched some more hand felting - they put my gloves in a plastic net, pre-wet and soaped and then kneaded them on rubber mats (on a table top). We also worked again with Puja and her slightly taciturn friend - two of my favourite group leaders. We worked on creating pom pom and button charts and I rampaged around in the yarn storeroom to finish collecting what I could to take back with us for sampling.

Puja with a production group.
The Everest Ladies.
We considered going back to Thamel because Jackie needed to get buttons for the summer samples, but the family insisted that we join them at a festival. We were getting tired and still had work to do that night (our last night), but we relented, not wanting to be rude.

M drove as close as he could to the neighbourhood and then had trouble parking (as there is none - it's more like a free-for-all). There aren't parking spots like we are used to, or entire lots for that matter. You pretty much just find a spot big enough and that's where you park. 

It was dusk, turning to pitch black night. We joined the crowd which snaked through the streets as one unit. Some stood to the sides, hung out of windows or watched from rooftops. It was kind of like our own Santa Claus parade, except at night and everyone is moving in the road instead of crushed to the sides. And instead of many floats, there is just one: a heavy temple made of old wood that houses, in this case, a goddess and is carried on the shoulders of about twenty men. We were told that sometimes it is dropped, which must cause injury to the bearers, being so heavy! 

People worship, dance, sing and pray, the hub of excitement is centered around the goddess. As we moved closer to her, we listened to a passionate, rhythmic song with lots of drumming and traditional wooden piping. There was a sort of procession led by two female dancers...a bit of a provocative dance considering the cultural views of women as subversive. I suppose this is the same religion that birthed the Kama Sutra. Again, lots of contradictions here in Nepal. 

Festival Songs:      

Jackie and I had to link arms, otherwise I would have been swept off and would probably have been lost in the crowd and still be on that street lost and wandering. As we continued along the street, the music blended with a new song up ahead. The entire mood and passion of the crowd and being the only Westerners there is definitely not something to be cheapened by mere words. 

We then crept through one of those quaint, short wooden doors into the darkness which opened up onto a back lane, away from the crowd. A few more turns in the labyrinth and we were at M's uncle's house. Somehow during all this, Jackie and I were separated, although the house was so crammed and stuffed with family members that I didn't even notice she was gone until she burst in apologizing for losing me. I had just assumed she was also somewhere in the house. In any case, I was quite comfortable following Rabin up to the roof where we watched the boys play "football" (soccer) with whatever they found up there (the Nepalis are extremely resourceful people) and he explained a little more about the festival. We also had a fantastic view of the full moon above and of the festival winding through the street below and beyond the house a bit.

Then we joined his ancient uncle in their sparse living room that was dominated by a huge photo of none other than our dear Rocky Mountains in Canada! Some shy boys sat changing channels on the TV and we were served strange pink shrimp chips (like styrofoam, crunchy pink circles), dry pappadums (Mmm!) and buffalo organs (ugh! the second thing I guiltily refused to ingest on this trip). I tried one piece and it was flavourful , but I'd had so much strange meat in the last few days (mutton, other buffalo jerky earlier, and the bacon) that I simply couldn't bring myself to do it. 

Two other new introductions to my Canadian palette were two alcoholic drinks: white rice beer and rice whiskey, both homemade and served in cloudy 2L pop bottles. The white beer was almost opaque, white, but had a nice, mild flavour. The whiskey was not to my personal taste - too strong and the rate that it warmed me up alarmed me. I also knew that a few more sips would go straight to my head and someone had already filled my glass of beer while I wasn't looking. Anyone who knows me well, knows I should never mix alcohols. So the whiskey was the third and final item on the trip that I couldn't finish.

Typically in Nepal, guests would be served at a table of some sorts, whether a dining room table ("Western style", they said) or at a living room coffee table. But we were invited to dine in the kitchen with the family Nepali-style (maybe they were impressed with our fondness for their beer). They sit cross-legged on long mats and pads and eat off plates with their hands. A couple of women moved around with huge bowls of food, offering seconds and thirds and then fourth servings. 

Traditional dinner.
The main dish was beaten rice, which I didn't care for much. The rice is soaked for days, then dried, beaten and fried (not at all like cooked, soft rice). It is crunchy, wide flakes that you scoop up with the side dishes (curries, sauces and vegetables) and shovel into your mouth with your fingers. It felt strange to me and I could only do it successfully by tipping my head back and dropping the food in (pretty sure they were quietly making fun of me for this). I had practiced eating with my hands at lunch, but I still hadn't mastered the technique. Their practice is to use the left hand for the toilet and the right hand for eating, although I'm sure they know that I don't wipe my ass with my hands at all (Western style). 

After dinner, Jackie and I had a conversation via translator with the matriarch of the house (wearing red signifies that you are married; if a man is wearing white it signifies that he is in mourning for his mother).      
Back at the house, Jackie and I set to work again, mainly making notes of the winter samples to leave with Bindi. We didn't quite finish, but it wasn't a huge priority so we called it quits (relatively) early to get a good night's sleep before our departure the next day.

Naturally, I was up late anyway, packing and re-packing and organizing, trying to fit as many samples and yarn balls into my luggage as I could. Luckily, packing is one of my special talents, having moved so many times in my life. Getting excited to get home now, but also very sad to leave.

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