Chaitra Dasain on a Nepalese Homestead

Som’s house above Phedi, Nepal – God only knows what time it was when the rooster in Som’s house decided to start crowing, but the sun was nowhere neat being up. I really wanted to kill it as it was only about four feet away cock-a-doodle doing for half an hour or so. A short while later, Som’s family was all awake and when his grandmother opened the door from my bed, I could see the sky over the hill across the valley turning that pink-red color just as the sun was coming up.

We got up at 5:45. The entire family was already awake and had our morning tea. About an hour later, Som and I went to go out over the top of the ridge behind his house to buy some sugar for his family. This was another major hike as the ridge behind his house is twice the size of the one we climbed to get to his house in the first place. After another 30-minute climb up of this second ridge, we looked down at Phedi and it looked like it would from an airplane, so small and so far down. We climbed over the top of the ridge, and there were yet another breathtaking view of Annapurna and Machha Puchhre rising up over the next valley. This view was better than any I had seen up near Jomsom or Pokhara because the sky was clear and blue and we were much closer to these mountains than before, so imposing and so beautiful. Of course, I had left my camera down at Som’s house, so no photos were taken.

We walked down the backside of this ridge through the houses scattered along the side of the hill and stopped at what appeared to be someone’s home to buy some sugar. His house doubled as his shop and Som had to wake the man up and tell him to get us some sugar which was stored in an old petrol can. Met Som’s brother over on that side and then we headed back to Som’s house to give his sister her cooking supplies. On the way back, we stopped at Ram’s in-law’s house and what you know he was there. He had come up from Pokhara that morning when he heard that Som and I had gone to the mountains. He came up as well with his brother-in-law. We hung around Ram’s relative’s house in the sun for a few hours while his brother-in-law got ready for the festival.

Today was the first day of Chaitra Dasain, festival held twice a year honoring the Nepalese goddess, Durga. This festival was actually a smaller version of the Dasain held in January and February every year and is the largest in the country. The goddess Durga fought in one over the forces of evil described in the form of a buffalo in their folklore. So many buffalo and goats are sacrificed during both these festivals in the goddess’ honor. Hopefully, we would see a buffalo lose its head today over in the market. At about 12:30, everyone was ready; me, Som, Ram, and three others and we headed back up the ridge with the incredible view of the mountains on route to the market. We stopped in at a few people’s houses along the way, and I guess the boys found out from these people that not many people were going to the market today. Instead, we made our way down the volleyball court at the local schoolyard. The court sat on one of those narrow terraces cut into the side of the mountain and played volleyball for a while. From the court, we could look up to the top of the ridge and see a white temple structure up there.

I could hear the Nepalese blowing this long horn, the sound echoing across the valley signifying they were about to slay another buffalo, very cool. We finished playing the game and headed back over to the top to Som’s house to help make dinner, but along the way, we came across a family outside their house who had just finished sacrificing their buffalo. The body of the buffalo was sitting in the path decapitated with the blood flowing from the neck over the edge of the terrace and down into the field below. The buffalo head was sitting over near the porch of the house, eyes still open and glassy like it never knew what hit it. Some told me that they were supposed to kill the buffalo with one cut of the axe or sword but sometimes it took two or three hits to actually get the head to come off.

After seeing this buffalo carcass in the path, I think it was quite all right that I did not get to see the killing first hand. It already reminds me of the slaughtering of the cattle in Uganda a little too much. Back to Ram’s in-laws to say good-bye to him for the evening and head up to Som’s house for dinner. As we were climbing up the terraced field up to his house, we could hear all the women outside his house screaming at something and when the house came into view, we could see a man in a red shirt being pushed down the path in front of Som’s house by another Nepalese guy. The man in the red shirt had obviously been drinking too much Roxi, local wine celebrating the festival and was just being a typical public drunk. One old man, one of Som’s neighbors who also had his fair share of Roxi picked up a large tree branch around when Som’s sister held him back drunk on the head with it. The crazy man in the red shirt got pushed along the path toward his house as all the women in Som’s house continually screamed at him. All other men came out of their houses and started to assist forcefully the drunk down the path. The crazy man was screaming and yelling away and once he was down the path where Som’s family could not see him, they climbed down the terraced fields to scream at him some more.

Being the only person in a five mile radius with fair skin and blonde hair, I stayed in the background as not to attract the drunk’s attention. I like the women scream at the drunk and went back to Ram’s in-laws where I got to meet his wife and two sons. Good to see them since I had heard so much about them. The drunk moved on and I bid Ram farewell until the next morning.

Up at Som’s house, we had the traditional, the same dinner of rice, dal, and cooked buffalo meat, fresh and once the dinner was over, they started cooking this bread they make only for this festival. It is a rice flour base, a little sugar, and deep fried in buffalo fat. Som’s sister made the first one and when it was done cooking, she handed it to her father who broke it into four pieces and through one piece into each corner of the room as an offering to Durga. Once that was finished, it was an all you can eat fest of rice, roti. Som’s entire family and I ate and ate and ate this bread for almost two hour solid. His sister was continuing to make the bread unrelentlessly. Som’s father and uncle were well into the homemade wine and smoking the chillum but they continued to eat.

When we were all chock a block full, the final rice roti was made and everyone had to have one bite of the last bread as it was the final one. On that note, Som and I climbed into bed as his father prepared the next course.

Next course – We started eating at 5:30 and it was now 9:30. His father prepared some rice they had grown themselves and served a bit to everyone in the room. It was sweetened with sugar as a dessert and Som told me they believed this was special rice that would cure whatever ailments you might have. I could only eat about half of what they served me and after assessing the amount of rice left on everyone’s plates, it seemed to be the norm. Everyone was full and tired of eating I expect. So, the once the goats were to their post in the corner, everyone hit the sac and this was the Chaitra Dasain.

This festival is not a real public festival that has a lot that tourists can see. It is more a low-key family festival and I felt lucky to have been a part of it with Som’s family. Throughout the day as we had been walking around, I was using Som as my interpreter to ask different people about the Bonne Manchie to see what other versions of the tail there are. The different accounts and descriptions of the beast are to follow. Som’s father had a first hand citing for me to record. Bonne Manchie, the Nepali jungle man also known as the Yeti.

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