I woke up feeling fine but in the meantime Kathmandu had gone crazy. Petrol still wasn't crossing the border and government sanctioned rationing meant hat cars were lining up by petrol stations in queues that would go on for kilometers and last days. The Buses that had fuel were crowded to the point where people were sitting on the roof and taxi prices quickly doubled. Some (most) were blaming India while others would argue that it was minorities by the border blocking traffic and causing havoc (this was the explanation of the Indian ambassador when questioned by the press). Whoever the perpetrator was, Nepal was in a dire situation. Without petrol, essential resources like bottled drinking water would not reach Kathmandu and commercial flights would be unable to refuel a the airport.
We went to have a walk aorund Patan which used to be the capitol of one of the three kingdoms in the Kathmandu valley. Because most tourists stay in actual Kathmandu, Patan has a more laid back and local athmosphere. There are few tourist shops and touts outside of the central Durham square but the temples, small alleys and houses in Newari style with beautiful wood carvings extend far beyond the square itself and was a joy to explore. Most of the temples are in active use and although many were damaned during the earthquake they are mostly still standing, supported by posts set up from the street keeping everything in place.
One temple we passed was particularly interesting. It was of the "Kumari" sect, containing a living godess. A small girl is raised and confined within the temple until the arrival of her first period. She never leaves the temple and can only look at the world through the windows. On special occasions devotees would assemble to pray in her presence and if she looks at you it would mean luck. It was strange walking around inside the temple while being aware that somewhere behind the shutters in the main building would sit a little girl watching me.
After seeing a few dozen temples and squares and a single pond we went to have coffee walking past a long row of taxi's waiting to be refueled and taking a short ride in a minibus so crammed I had to stand leaning in over a couple of other passangers and holding on to a couple of seats to avoid losing my balance and making the bus ride awkward for everybody.
Rieko had a couple of errants and I went back to the hotel to enquire about the a chariot-pulling festival I had heard rumours about. I was told that it was going to be hard to miss if I followed the crowd, particularly if the crowd was playing music.
The chariot-pulling is a festival that was meant to celebrate the arrival of the monsoon but if I had been interrupted by the earthquake in April ad now the end of the monsoon had been selected as an appropriate time to finally carry out the ritual. Personally I would argue that the whole ritual would have to be performed backwards now that it was carried out at the end of the monsoon instead, much like I would perform a raindance bakwards to make it stop raining.
anyway, the charriot was not hard to find it turned out. It was particularly easy to spot because of what looks like a 10 meter tall christmas tree is balancing precariously on top of the chariot, leaning slightly to one side making the whole thing look like it might fall over any given moment. The chariot itself has 4 wooden wheels taller than me and is crowded with (most probably drunk) priests of different kinds in their fanciest costumes.
From the front of the charriot a wagon pole extended 4-5 meters forward and on the end stands a very energetic member of the clergy who is directing the pulling of the charriot by clapping, yelling and moving dramatically up and down. In front of him some 60 drunk people are pulling this monstrosity by tugging two large ropes. Most of the time they don't manage to turn the wheels but every so often the charriot moves forward and the crowds erupts in a cheer, while the spiked wheels leaves marks in the paved road.
In front of this strange procession is a large ensemble of drummers cymbalists, hornblowers and plenty of dancers paving the way forward through the narrow streets. A large group of volunteers attempts to protect the crowd from itself and for some reason the army is also there probably ready to stop in if the boisterous crowd can't quite manage to move the charrio. I was told that this has been the case in past years. The route through the city has been planned in recent years and a team of was I presume is electricians (or citizens who own tall ladders) are busy taking down cables crowwsing the street from building to building so the oversized christmas tree won't knock them down or get caught along the way. Then another group of electricians follows the spectacle and reattach everything. All that is left in the wake of the charriot's passing is a trail of garbage, enclaves of slowly dispersing street vendors and the deep marks of the chariot wheels in the paved road.
The plan was to meet up with Rieko but she wrote me that central Kathmandu was a nightmare due to the petrol crisis and instead I wandered around in the small aleeys of Patan for a a few hours before we met up and were joined by Rieko's boyfriend to go find dinner. He tells me that the legend behind the charriot tradition stems from a time a farmer was called by a snake to help his blind snake-wife, since he had heard that humans have medicin. The farmer doesn't know what to do and don't particularly like snakes so he collects a bit of dirt from behind his ear and asks the snake-wife to eat it as medicin. The snake-wife is magically cured and as a price the snake offers the farmer anything he wants so he picks a diamond studded vest. The story takes a twist when the poor farmer loses his diamond studded vest and the culmination of the charriot festival is the moment where the vest is brought forward in order to find the rightful owner. I tell him that this leaves me with many unanswered questions still. Possibly more than before I had heard the story.
We got to eat Wo at a small hidden restaurant by the main square. A few tables are lined up by the end wall all full of people eating and yelling orders in the middle of the restaurant a woman sits on a low stool with her legs folded surrounded by bowls and dishes of meat, dough and vegetables. To the left of her a big black circular hotplate is sizzling with what looks like thick pancakes. She takes orders, puts dollops of dough on the plate with egges or meat and sends the waiters off with the finished pancakes onces she thinks they are ready. Watching her control everything in the restaurant is magical. She's like the borg queen at her command-post.
I have rice beer and rice wine with my dinner. Both are interesting but the beer in particular tickles me. It has a sweet onset, a clear and smooth body and a sour and fermented tail. I'm wondering if I can make my own.
We have a milk tea and some sweets after dinner an go to sit on the base of on the templtes destroyed by the earthquake. A lot of the local youth are sitting out on the temples in the late evening. Some in small groups of friends, others as couples.