Wow. What a wonderful time to be in the ancient, fine city of Bhaktapur. We spent the evening watching the activities and hustle and bustle of Tihar – the festival of lights. We intentionally chose to walk in before dark making our way up the steep but uneven cobblestoned road to the pottery square area. It was crazy busy with a definite buzz in the air. Women and families were still putting the finishing touches on the bright “sand” paintings on their doorsteps meant to welcome the gods of good fortune and prosperity, and especially Laxmi on this day, to their doors. Many wonderful lovely images of these bright mandalas outlined in white and then filled in with bright colors. Some used their hands as tiny funnels, others used newspaper rolled into cone shapes.
And the children were excited. This is the day they have practiced and prepared for several months. They learn dances and songs in small groups – neighbors or cousins or friends from school. They prepare a wicker flat basket with blessings to Laxmi – mostly marigolds and some sweets but also rice in the basket and light a pottery oil lamp to walk (or run) around from place to place in a Hindu version of trick or treat. Some give them sweets, some fruits, some cash but only after they boisterously sing and dance to earn it. We were generally entertained and accosted by at least five or six groups and dutifully shot their pics and gave them some small change. They get to keep everything they raise dividing it equally. But there IS some expectation that the treats and fruits might be shared with the rest of the family the next night during the mha puja prayers.
Before dusk we landed in Taumahdi Square – a mass of veggie and fruit vendors and people everywhere. A few hours later we would find it virtually empty, but the first impression was a festive mélange you might expect a few hours before New Year’s in any western major city. And this IS the Newari New Year. Sort of Halloween and Christmas and New Year all rolled into one.
This third night of Tihar – the festival of lights for the Goddess Laxmi – is the night everyone comes out on the streets. And boy do they! We walked up the main shopping street as dusk was falling. And weaving in and out the entire mass of people were motorcycles ignoring the signs saying “No honking inside the Old City”. HA! Good luck with that one. Kids were running around with candles and acting hyped up on sugar. Old ladies and men put their offerings in the middle of the street causing everyone to dodge and duck and flatten against walls and open flame oil lamps were everywhere along with huge strands of colorful lights like Christmas tree nets cast down from taller, newer buildings. We LOVED it.
After a brief dinner, we were back out into the streets where it was much quieter and darker. Maybe half the lights had burnt out but all the electrics were still on. We stopped to pick out an assortment of sweets to eat back at the hotel with absolutely no idea what they were. Most were rice paste based or totally soaked in honey, but the vendor was sweet and a nice little box was placed in a bag for less than two bucks.
The next morning brought Happy New Year to everyone. We zigged and zagged walking through neighborhoods where real people live for about 45 minutes until we ended up falling into a delightful New Year’s party in a local square. And it was a party with music playing and costumed girls dancing inviting all to join in. A man was placing a red ribbon around our necks while a woman gave us the tikka on the fore head and another pined a happy new year badge on our shirts. Fresh tea was placed in our hands and the partying continued. Fun.
Just around the corner was the famous Peacock Window and our friend Jeevan’s shop. I went straight to him and spent a good half hour talking and learning about his wood crafts from the upstairs window looking out directly on the Peacock. He has a full-scale replica which would make an amazing fireplace surround and enclosure but that’s not very practical to pack.
Then we wandered into the commercial street and the exact same route we had taken in the dark. Our souvenir, last opportunity to shop helped us find Nepali hats and an awesome paper shop where we all went silly with purchases. We found pashminas for dirt cheap. How are they cheaper in the height of the tourist district than outside it? Boggles the mind. And finally found a little suitcase which was then carried through the square making us look a little like Mary Poppins and her bag of tricks. We were all very happy with our adventure and our purchases and our ability now to pack up the next day.
We’re taking a small group to Nepal in October 2019. If you’re interested, please send us a note and we’ll send you some details.