Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Can You Take Me to Crayola Town

We've spent nearly a week exploring Kathmandu and the surrounding vicinity, enough time for me to know this is a place I'd love to come back to and spend a lot more time. The preservation of architecture and history, the gentle nature of the people we've been lucky to meet, and the ancient, on-going cultural traditions are just a few of the aspects that make exploration here so fascinating. As we've said we're going to make this blog about specific things though, I'm going to pick the color of Kathmandu. Nepali society is bursting with color wherever you look - the clothes, the prayer flags, the temples, etc - so allow me to wax poetic about this piece of Nepali culture.

The streets of Kathmandu are packed with people, partially because as in Bangkok, so much of life occurs on the street level. As you walk along, it's impossible not to get drawn into the shops, each of which has arraigned their colorful wares to catch the eye. "Shops" is a relative term in Kathmandu, sometimes they are physical shops, sometimes just a stretch of wall to hang your massive copper pots on, or sometimes just a tarp on the ground with fabrics of every color available. As Sarah mentioned, the sales approach is pretty laid back, so we spent quite a while in some of the shops, rummaging through dust covered treasures (and worthless tchotchkes, of course).

The chowks (or squares) in town take what is happening on the streets and amplify it. On a busy day (like yesterday, during the Shivarati festival - more on this later) there is hardly space for motorcycles to wedge through. The rest is a kaleidoscope of the greens of fresh produce, the yellow, red, and black of lentils and beans in baskets, and the rainbow of saris. In some major squares, religious ceremonies are taking place as well. The above two pictures are of a ceremony called the ihi marriage ceremony, where young girls are married to a divine husband. This is done so that they can never experience the stigma of widowhood in orthodox Hindu tradition. The girls are dressed in brilliant red - the color of married women - with gold necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Their foreheads are painted and some wear a white card as well with symbols on it.

Interspersed within the markets and streets are remarkably brightly colored stupas (Buddhist temples), which are both a part of the ancient history of Nepal, a living center of religion, and large tourist attractions. A typical stupa has a brilliant white dome, which is topped with a golden structure at the top, heavily engraved with symbols and figures from the Buddhist pantheon. Most are also adorned with the multi-colored prayer flags that flap in the typically strong wind off of the Himalayas. The stupa in the bottom shot is Swayambhunath, which is on a towering ridge over Kathmandu. We hiked up the steep staircase to the temple, watched a Nepali film crew taping a dance movie, and took in the sunset over the valley below.

(A little side note - on the way back we walked by one of the countless cattle in the road, and a big bull, in this case, got a little perturbed that Sarah was so close. He grunted, swung his head around and gave her a pretty good headbutt to the hip. It happened so fast that there was almost no time to be scared, and immediately afterwards Sarah had a huge surprised (and thankfully) unhurt grin on her face, as did the crowd of Nepali villagers who were around. They had a look that said, "Welcome to Nepal.")

The colors of Nepali society are by no means confined to markets, the stores, and the temples. The buildings themselves are a riot of color. The sky blue color in the top picture is quite popular (even in buildings so old they have begun to sag like knock-kneed drunks), and you can see it used again in for some detail work in the bottom shot. Some buildings, though, have gone all out and are mustard yellow, brick red, or adorned with intricate black woodwork.

The bright colors of Nepali life certainly work well with Sarah's color scheme. She's found herself a crimson red yak's wool sweater, a cerulean blue blanket, and an pumpkin orange pashmina. She looks just like a local...except for the bright red hair.

A post about the colors of Nepal would be sadly lacking without a few pictures of the people. From the Buddhists monks in their traditional robes on an alms round, to a woman going about her daily business in a typical Nepali outfit, to a young boy in a bright red robe playing amongst the stupas, to finally a very old women, supported by her family, who looked to have come to Kathmandu on a pilgrimage from a mountain town, dressed in what is likely her best apron of pink, purple, and blue.

The Shivaratri Festival that I mentioned earlier was another opportunity for us to see a traditional celebration for Nepalis that has been going on for generations but has incorporated modern bits and pieces (much like Halloween or Easter in the States or Canada). According to one local custom, kids can run around the back alleys with ropes stretched across the road

And finally, what do the Westerners wear amidst this brightly colored background? Black and grey... (this shot is pre-sweater of course).


  1. Want photos of Sarah's outfit!

  2. I feel like I would be starting to feel pretty disheveled by this point in the journey...but you guys look great!! So glad that Nepal has felt so comfortable. I'm so looking forward to hearing about Israel....

    We're thinking (and talking) about you often!

  3. So glad you guys enjoyed Kathmandu. It's cool looking at the photos and seeing places I recognise! keep having fun :) love Rach