Newari New Year

Thamel lit by the Tihar lights
Thamel lit by the Tihar lights

Day 74 – Location: Kathmandu; Nepal

14/11/12

After the festival of lights I’d been planning to leave Kathmandu, but Ashman (my waiter friend from the hotel) had invited me to join him for the final day of the festival, tomorrow, so I decided to stay for that. Today was the Newari caste’s new year, and during breakfast I heard that there was music and dancing at the Durbar Square so I hurried out to catch it. Most of the shops were closed today, it being another national holiday. Durbar Square was crowded, and I climbed up the steps of one of the tiered temples to watch a long procession of musicians, flag bearers and shouting groups walk past the square for twenty minutes. One man was carrying a very long pole covered in flags, maybe two stories high, and was twirling it around his body athletically. The musicians in the procession played drums and cymbals and most of them had traditional dress: the men with black clothes and black Nepali hats, and the women with black and white dresses.

A festival street mural for Laxmi, goddess of wealth
A festival street mural for Laxmi, goddess of wealth

I walked into Thamel to collect my camera which had been in for a clean. There was a long convoy of open-backed jeeps driving through the streets, each full of young guys and girls drinking, singing, shouting and waving flags. Most had big speakers and were blasting out distorted dance music or had people shouting chants through microphones, with their passengers yelling out replies. It was fun and very noisy!

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After collecting the camera I came across a big convoy of motorbikes clogging the streets. There were hundreds, mostly ridden by young people, honking, revving, cheering and waving flags. There was barely room to squeeze past.

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On the way back to Freak Street I bought a 100% goose-down jacket for the cold evenings. A copy of course, but three times cheaper than you can get at home. It made me look like the Michelin man but it would be really warm and ideal for trekking if I went again. Goose-down jackets are very light and they compress to the size of a small sleeping bag.I passed more convoys of jeeps blasting out music, and dancing in the streets on the way back to Freak Street.

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I got some lunch in the wi-fi bar across the road, one of the only open places in the area. A graying, overweight and long-haired German hippy in his 50’s joined me at my table and we got chatting. He works as a translator online and has been travelling for 6 months in India. He’s now in Nepal for another 5 months. He had a nasty story; in India his landlord sent a gang of guys to beat him up to try and get money from him. He left the country soon afterwards, disillusioned with the attitude of the locals to Westerners living there. He told me that although on the surface this area of Kathmandu seems alright, he’s been hanging out for a while in shisha bars and he’s seen guys throwing around big wads of cash – he is convinced there’s a lot of drug dealers and human traffickers around here. Like every big city there’s a seedy underworld. He was going to be travelling South East Asia as well and gave me some advice on good places I should check out.

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I bid him farewell and rested at the hotel for a while. Once it was dark I was bored and feeling fed up and a bit lonely. Although I like Freak Street it’s not a great place to meet solo travelers. I decided to head into Thamel to see if any celebrations were still going on. Sure enough I came across a street performance with singing, music and traditional dancing. The dancers had painted faces and were dressed in gold, twirling around energetically to the songs. It drew quite a crowd.

Celebrating with drums and singing
Celebrating with drums and singing

 

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After it was over I went to Yak restaurant for dinner. The tables here are shared so I hoped to find some company. Sure enough I was sat at a table with an old lady from Brussels and two Dutch girls. The old lady was a bit eccentric but quite an inspiration. In her late 70’s and she was still going trekking. She said she loves walking and Scotland is her favourite country. She had recommendations for the best trekking areas in Nepal and India. The Dutch girls were cool and were travelling together. They’d be leaving the day after tomorrow for Bangkok. We ended up going to a nice bar together and chatting the night away. It was just what I needed to perk me up a bit and we suggested meeting tomorrow evening.

Made completely from coloured rice and other vegetables!
Made completely from coloured rice and other vegetables!

I walked back home and hit the hay, quite tipsy after happy hour cocktails. Although it was after 10, in other countries you might think twice about wandering dark narrow streets at night, but in Nepal people of all ages are still wandering around and it doesn’t feel dodgy as long as you use common sense.

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Thamel is lit up for the new year

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