All cows are sacred, but one with five legs must be really sacred

Holi Unhealthy - Kathmandu, Nepal

In Nepal, there seems to be a festival every week. Actually I am being told that in one year there are more than 365 festivals, but not all demand the pomp and circumstance. Businesses close, schools close, and the people come out en masse to celebrate whatever the holiday du jour happens to be. So far, I have celebrated Losar, the Tibetan New Year, Shripanchami, the festival of Saraswoti, the Goddess of Education, and two recent biggies, Shivaratri and Holi.  

Shivaratri, literally translates to 'Night of Shiva' the most important God in Nepal. It's his birthday, so be sure to wish him a happy one. In Kathmandu at the most important Hindu temple, Pashupati, sadhus, those supremely elastic, nearly naked, dred-locked Hindu holy men/gurus flock en masse from all over the subcontinent. Most of the time, they spend their days in contemplative, ganga-induced, religious highs, but on this day, the weed of choice happens to be opium, Shiva's favorite. And not only do the sadhus partake, Nepalese everywhere take up the pipe and smoke away, singing, dancing and drinking. 

Pashupati becomes a beacon for sadhus and they descend upon the local grounds and set up shop. There are sadhus handing out ganga, some in meditation, some doing unimaginable feats of death-defying gravity with their penises, some drinking chiya and chatting, and some just sitting around posing. The grounds around Pashupati become like a circus. Complete with neon gates and food booths. As is tradition, free food booths are set up everywhere and for 24 hours, you can eat all the samosas, curries, pakoras, rotis, bhatas and churras you can for free. Devi's mom came to visit the temple and she joined the line that took more than five hours for it to wind its way to the gates. We sat and watched the crowds wind slowly toward its destination. On the banks of the Bagmati, other sadhus have set up blessing stations where you can receive prayers, an intricate gold, red and silver tika and a string tied around your wrist. Don't forget the donation.

Elsewhere in Nepal, the festival is not to be taken lightly either. Bonfires are built everywhere, the taller the better and burn throughout the night, while people celebrate around them. But the most curious aspect of the whole affair happens to be the explosive sugar canes. For a week before, sugar canes are sold everywhere and people stock up on ten-meter lengths. During the night, while the fires burn, the sugar cane is thrust into the fire and left for about five minutes. Then some Nepali boy or man quickly pulls it out and runs over to the street or sidewalk and swinging it over his head as hard as he can, slams it against the ground. The cane explodes, just like you would imagine in a cartoon, ear-popping boom, blackened scorched ground and the splintered curling end of a blown out sugar cane. But it sure is good to munch on afterwards, the meat soft and sweet. All night long, you could hear what sounded like repeated gunfire all over the city. The gatherings were biggest near the Shiva temples and we made our way to one small temple in the countryside, where I got to try my hand at exploding sugar cane, and of course more Nepali dancing and singing. After midnight, the rowdy factor increases exponentially, as the Nepali men smoke away at the pipe and down the local raksi.  

Pashupati on the night of Shiva Ratri as crowds are still waiting to enter the temple grounds for puja

The other wholesome festival I got a taste of (literally) is Holi, a day that is celebrated with more vigor, if that is possible, than Shivaratri. Holi represents the victory of the great King Ram over his enemies but the celebration today bears little resemblance. Holi is known as the festival of water and color. The eight days preceding the actual day are a build up of water: water balloons, water guns, water spray, water everywhere and most of it aimed squarely at the uninitiated, the foreigner, although the Nepalese are not immune to it. Water balloons will drop from five floors up squarely on your head, water spray will find it's way through the window of a taxi, plastic bags of water will explode at your feet walking through an open square. And a little child will run up to you only to shoot you in the face with his water gun. Beware! Kathmandu is not the best place to be, so of course I went! After a few balloon bombs (yes, I actually have bruises) I went for revenge and stocked up on plastic baggies, water balloons and a water squirter. Best to be prepared. But I quickly found I didn't have a chance. It was me against them, alot of them. I had to laugh at the sight of a startled drenched Nepali women in her pretty, but now wet sari, but mostly everyone else was doing the laughing at me. But this buildup did not adequately prepare me for the deluge to come on the actual day of Holi. Remember, I said, festival of water AND color. Well, imagine the water has become a flood and it is now tinted all colors of the rainbow. Balloons were exploding at my feet spraying me with red, black, yellow, green, or blue inky water. Red waterfalls poured over the rooftops to drench anyone indiscriminately. Bright pink liquid comes out of nowhere, the vandal artfully hiding himself. No where, no one to retaliate against. But then, I made the biggest mistake of all. Til now, I have been hiding out in the locals part of town, staying with friends, conversing with the locals and generally avoiding the pit known as Thamel, the backpacker ghetto. But today, I really needed to do a little work, so I went early enough to make it into the cyber cafe without any problems, but then I made mistake number two. Armed with my Nepali version of the Super Soaker, I couldn't resist hitting a few Nepalis from the second floor window of the cyber cafe, but of course, I should have known, I was outnumbered and they were taking names. When I exited the cafe, not only was I hit by my victims, roving bands of painted Nepali boys were on the prowl. Armed with a wet pasty mix of powder and water in plastic bags, they were scooping the color and smearing it all over my face, hair, shirt everywhere. In about one minute, I was covered head to toe, but it didn't let up. 'Pugyo! Pugyo! JAU!' (Enough, enough, GO!) The color was in my mouth, my nose, my contacts were pink even. After that I welcomed the water that seemed to pour from every rooftop in Thamel. My hair was streaked all sorts of colors and sticky to the point of dred-locks. My hands stained deep dark red, the holiest and most popular color. After befriending some of them with my Nepali and convincing them I wasn't the usual tourist, I joined their gang and armed with red powder, a bottle of water (to mix) I figured what the hell. It was great! Although, no doubt some of the tourists did not like it one bit, as the hassling sometimes turned to groping, most enjoyed it and I had the most fun, trying to hit the locals who had come to Thamel to hunt.

All fun and no pain never lasts. Having traveled all last year without any bad incidents, I finally was struck down with dysentery right after coming back from Kathmandu. When you urgently need to go to the bathroom every ten minutes, you don't want to be doing it into a hole in the ground, so I went to Pokhara to rest and recuperate. It was so much nicer to become intimate with the porcelain goddess rather than mother earth. What was coming out was pretty explosive. High velocity, projectile diarrhea. With a very high fever to match, it was not a pretty sight. Thankfully, my friend Devi helped me through it with water (lots) fruit juice and extra toilet paper. And I shouldn't forget the drugs. At the local pharmacy, he managed to pick up some pretty potent medication for dysentery and diarrhea. And finally the fever subsided, the poo slowed and I came back to the land of the living with my bottle of bright orange (but definitely not orange-flavored) oral rehydration salts liquid. Now I live wary, wary of the water, wary of the food, wary of anything that will ignite the war my butt started.


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