Entering Kathmandu, Nepal.
Entering a country of ancient traditions, impressive to some but strikingly painful to others. This story is about encountering local traditions while you travel. You might not like this one, I warn you.
How to describe Kathmandu? I don’t even remember all the details. Chaotic, old, rural, and with the problems every big city faces: traffic jams and pollution. Around the main Durbar square however, a strange feeling quickly came upon us.
It is not that we felt odd in our Western-style clothes, but the square was like a time loop, a peek into history.
Traveling back in time
We love to spend time traveling, but sometimes travels make time stand still. You reach places where you actually sense history.
History reaches us not only through old buildings or the way people sell and buy goods at the market. It is mostly customs and habits that make us wonder why people have not passed through the door we call progress.
Of course we have to cherish our traditions, but don’t you think that sometimes we should hold up a mirror to people? Some traditions don’t fit in todays way of life, overtaken by science or just common modern sense.
Yes, I know I am talking from a Western perspective here. In many Western countries traditions have adapted to modern times, but when you travel the world you come across traditions that really make you wonder.
Or scare you!
One of those traditions happens annually in Nepal. We stayed in its capital Kathmandu exactly on the days it all happened. Call it lucky or call it bad luck. It’s up to you to decide.
It started when we drove through the city in a Tuk-Tuk. We saw something strange in the corner of our eye. Slowly we turned our heads, only to see something that struck us. A man was carrying a plate walking the narrow and dusty streets around Durbar square. He looked like a waiter. Only thing was he carried a big silver plate with a goats head on top of it.
Its tongue sticked out. The funny thing about it was my immediate response (strange that I still remember that so well): “Hmm, must be freshly slaughtered”. It was, it was freshly slaughtered!
Just half an hour later we were drinking tea and another man passed by, carrying a same plate with yet another goats head. At that time we started to feel a bit strange. What was happening here?
Mass animal sacrifice
We quickly read our guide books and talked to fellow travelers. We found out that this was day One of mass animal slaughtering throughout Nepal. They call it sacrificing. I didn’t recall the numbers, but for sure thousands and thousands of goats, cows and buffaloes were slaughtered. Why? For good luck. To celebrate the victory of good over evil.
There was an atmosphere of excitement in the city of Kathmandu. But a kind of excitement that made us feel very uncomfortable. But human beings have a strong sense of curiosity, even up to the morbid. So we stayed around.
Tough as we were (or wanted to be), we found our way to a square where thousands of Nepali gathered (including some ‘lucky’ travelers like us). This seemed to be the Taleju Temple where 54 buffaloes and 54 goats were about to be slaughtered.
We watched animals being slaughtered in a ceremony with flags and music. We showed our antipathy but strangly enough were also impressed by the power of the sword. One man could chop the head of a buffalo in only one hit of the sword. A lot of strength is needed for that I can assure you.
Animal heads were collected one side of the area. The body was dragged around the place, creating a circle of blood (I warned you). Blood was also collected and used to spray on cars, airplanes or Tuk-Tuks for another year of safety and good luck.
Worship or cruelty?
It is not strange that lately animal rights campaigners are trying to stop this tradition. I am not writing this post to judge these events. I am telling this story to let you know that traveling the world means you might bump into unexpected sights and events that might scare you. Things you might wanted to avoid. But remember, sometimes the unavoidable creates the unforgettable.
Tell me, what places or events have you encountered that made a lasting impression, good or bad?
Talking about lasting impressions, have you ever considered climbing the Mount Everest? Here is a post on We12Travel with 5 things nobody tells you about hiking to Everest Base Camp.
Near Kathmandu you will find one of the imperial cities of Nepal, Bhaktapur. Check this (Dutch) post with highlights and tips for a visit to Bhaktapur.
ALSO READ: Rhine encounter in Chitwan Nepal.
Good read and good to know what Westerners (in general) make of our everyday affair. This is a calendared event in Kathmandu around Dashain/Tihar every year.
Try Googling Gadi Mai festival; you’d be scared sh*tless. 🙂 Good photos 🙂
Thanks for commenting Utsav. The Ghadi Mai festival is indeed one of the festival that triggers a lot of discussion, am I right?
It does. Mainly for the mass sacrifice/slaughter of animals and partly for the associated geopolitics involved. It is said that the pilgrims are mainly from India and the capital raised (quite a lot by Nepalese standards) is siphoned off back to India leaving Nepal with only blood and gore. 🙂 There is a lot in Nepal that would have you awestruck as well and not just scared sh*tless.
Thanks for visiting. 🙂
Reminds me of the ending of Apocalypse Now. The horror, the horror. Interesting post.
Sir,i like your post..i am a citizen of Nepal.surfin on the net on the oppose of sacrifice n unhuman cultures took me here and im glad to see people tryin 2 raise awareness against killings.I am a nepali but,i lasted a vegetarian although everyone forcd me..im raising awareness here in Nepal to stop all of these n had a couple of serious argues with my family and circles.but,a large group will make a difference..the gadimai fest,is another heart breaking sacrifice practice in which 200000,animals are sacrificed..if u google,it will come and theres are forms for the letters to post to the unaware government of Nepal to aware them..the government itself donates 4.6 million rupee,60000 dollars for sacrifice each half year, im so shamed to call my country, a lord buddha’s land..
Thank you for your honest answer. I can understand how difficult is must be for you in your fight against animal cruelty and I am glad my post supported your work in some way.
I imagine that none of the meat actually goes to waste – i.e it is eaten afterwards? Animals are ritually sacrificed in Balinese Hindu ceremonies also – I have been in Java during the Muslim day of sacrifice also.
It is an interesting Western perspective we take to be appalled by the act of killing animals, yet we are happy to eat meat (often in such disguised forms!) in almost every meal. (probably in much greater quantities than the Nepalese and are more wasteful with it)
Do you think the way the animals die (or live – in the cases of Poultry and Swine) is much more humane? – Just because it happens out of our view?
I am a great believer that if you cant deal with the connection of meat being once a living thing then you shouldn’t actually eat it…
I do believe all the meat is eaten. In Nepal it was the animals blood that was used for sacred purification.
If I believe this way of killing is more humane? I didn’t write the post to judge this aspect of Nepalese culture. And really, I wouldn’t dare to answer that because I don’t know.
I guess Torre’s comment was spot on: in countries like Nepal the death of the animal is much more appreciated/valued.
As much as I hate to see animals suffer, it worries me that westerners may travel to these cultures, form judgements based on their own values, and try to change ancient customs to comply with their own. How many cows do we butcher for Big Macs? A LOT MORE than you saw butchered that day.
I’m still bummed that the missionaries stopped cannibalism. That would’ve been cool to see, no? Hello? Anyone? Okay, maybe I’m just a little twisted …
Hi Torre! Twisted? Well….cannibalism?! lol
Seriously, glad you commented here. I am totally with you when you talk about trying to have other cultures comply to your own. A lot of wars resulted from that kind of thinking. Sometimes it is difficult to understand cultural aspects; what is right and what is wrong?
But if you travel the world and come across the road less traveled (.) you have to prepare yourself for such events. And yes, in some countries this happens out in the open (rather than in closed factories).
They’re not particularly wealthy in Nepal. The farmers in the Annapurna mountains told me they hardly have enough food to feed themselves and their families. In many parts, people’s lives seem to be all work and no play. So, I imagine that butchering a farm animal is a HUGE sacrifice for them and the animals life and sacrifice (even though it seems pointless to us) doesn’t go unappreciated.
Thanks for sharing this story, I think I’ll avoid Butcher Fest 2012.
You are asking what events have left unforgettable impressions on us? In our many years on the road we have seen many such events, but do you know what left the biggest, most lasting impression? It’s how generous, how helpful and how wonderful human beings are in all the places we have travelled to. And when we lived in rural China and went against (possibly) one million of cultural issues without knowing, we were always forgiven and welcome and that has taught us a lot about this world. We will try to be equally tolerant and forgiving to anybody who ventures out of their comfort zone into ours, be it for pleasure or for reasons of fear. We will never forget how it feels to be vulnerable and non-understanding and to have someone hold a hand out to us…
We love your articles and the way they make people think! Thank you
Nadine, what a great comment! Indeed it doesn’t have to be one single event that makes that long-lasting impression. I totally agree with you that traveling the world learns you a lot about people. People in different cultures with different backgrounds but many of them with a dedicated willingness to help.
Wonderful message you just wrote, thank you.
This is travel writing!
I look into the ancient myths and the whole idea “of the Net of Indra” suggests that “surrender” of a gazelle to a lion is part of the symphony of the cosmos.
That said, this stuff sounds gruesome to my Left Coast ear–I echo Farnoosh (w/you): “It is mostly customs and habits that make us wonder why people have not passed through the door we call progress.”
And yet, what are these are ancient rites and rituals…common as time immemorial. Ours are there (going to the movies, consuming “grown” chicken); I wonder if I’ve just sterilized our myths, our morbidity, our jubilee.
P.S. How did you stylize these photos so well?
Thanks Mark. I am sure it is all part of the Net of Indra, all things are connected. But we have to travel to discover them. We have to walk the Net and wonder.
I guess only traveling makes the Net visible, when slowly the fog of day-to-day routine dissapears. Stories help to understand. Thanks, great comment.
I’m glad I read your blog.I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal, but if I ever do, I’ll make sure its not during the killing season. Your pictures captured the killing of the animals very well.
If you have the chance, Nepal is a beautiful country. We also went to Chitwan National Park (to watch – not kill – rhinos) and Pokhara (where we experienced a stunning view of the Himalayas – I will share that one later on this blog). We combined it with the North of India. One of our most impressive travels indeed.
In my home country Malaysia, the Muslims has a day for slaughter as well, they call it Qurban meaning sacrifice in Arabic. It is a sacred day where cows and goats (usually) are donated and slaughtered (sacrificed) in the mosque and the meat given to the poor. It is similar but not as extreme as the Nepalese where the body was dragged around and blood sprayed! That is absolutely animal cruelty! Okay, I take that back, I have no right to judge their culture and tradition. However, I would feel very disturbed if I am one of the spectators.
Remembering my (few) travel encounters, I do have a recollection of a tribe near Guilin, China where the women never vut their hair for life. They pinch your behind as a way to say they like you! More cute than scary really!
Thanks for another great post Emiel!
I totally understand you that some acts of sacrifice are for the good, but others are just cruelty. As I said in other replies here, we might find it difficult to judge but we need to show and tell. Love your Chinese travel story, thanks!
In some parts of Indonesia people still practice cock fight (and other animals, such as sheep). They put two roosters in an arena and let them fight until they got bleeding and in some cases until one of them dies. It is such a horrible spectacle I must say. I’ve heard that in The Philippines they also have such thing. I’m gonna check that out when I’m going to Manila in early April this year.
The cock fights are indeed terrible and very much illegal I believe. Thanks for sharing and I must say I’d rather read your post and watch your pictures of the Borobodur and Prambanan temples 🙂
Wow!! I would probably have gotten queasy!
I once attended a Matanza (in Spanish, a “killing”) here in Spain. They pretty much have a picnic, slaughter a few giant pigs, and resume with the picnic.
After watching the first pig thrash for its life and hearing its squeals (it sounded like a small child getting murdered), I grabbed my bag and hiked to the nearest town, which was half an hour away on foot. A couple of friends and I had some coffee before heading back up (we were only gone for a total of an hour and a half).
By the time we got back to the picnic, all the pigs had been slaughtered, and their various body parts were divided into several heaps (gut heaps, leg heaps, head heaps).
This is now (somewhat) unlawful in several parts of Spain, and Animal Rights Activists are definitely trying to put a stop to it (in addition to Bullfighting), but these are all traditional ceremonies very ingrained in Spain’s culture. Not that I necessarily enjoy them, but they are impressionable and make you think: SPAIN!
Queasy…well, in the beginning that was also our thought Michi. But after some time that fades away (getting used to it is not really the right expression here).
I can understand very well that you grabbed your bag and turned your back on these killings. I am sure I would have joined you. What a story. I understand that you also have difficulties judging these Spanish cultural ceremonies. But we can and have to tell and share those stories, so we do. Thanks Michi!
Emiel, your writing in this post has improved significantly – was it so that you explain the shock while still staying true to both a “sick” tradition and also to animal rights? I don’t know but some phrases here are amazing…Example:
“It is mostly customs and habits that make us wonder why people have not passed through the door we call progress.”
As for this tradition, do you know what I am about to tell you? That in old Iranian tradition, THIS very thing is a sacred act and people do it for special events. It is always a poor goat too. Sometimes a cow. For instance, they “sacrifice” a goat for the health of a newly wed couple or for a newly born baby or for the declining health of a loved one – and it is a sacred tradition which is really sad and sick but it is what it is ….
Now I know where we got the damn tradition. Those Nepalese! 😉
Thanks for the compliment! Look at all the other comments, there is so much going on in the world. And as Tien says, it is difficult to judge culture and tradition but we are here to tell the stories and to show what is happening. There are some pretty sick traditions out there which I found on the internet while researching this post.
And now…let’s check the Facebook mini survey for my next subject…let’s leave the traditions and sacrifices for a while 🙂