Maha Shivratri

The sadhus recently came to Pashupatinath to prepare for the Maha Shivratri festival. Maha Shivratri celebrates the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, and it is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. According to Wikipedia, “unlike most Hindu festivals which include expression of cultural revelry, the Maha Shivaratri is a solemn event notable for its introspective focus, fasting, meditation on Shiva, self study, social harmony and an all night vigil at Shiva temples.”

In the days leading up to the festival, the sadhus and their entourages pose for photographs in exchange for tips. And, this being a Shaivite festival, many sadhus also spend their time smoking very strong hash.

Fewer Misadventures in Film Photography

I recently started developing my own color film. Color film development is tricky because you have to maintain the chemicals at a specific temperature, otherwise the film gets ruined. And when I sent my film out to a lab here in town, it did get ruined—albeit in sometimes interesting ways—so I’ll do my own development from now on.

Here we have the world’s largest Lord Shiva statue, the Kailashnath Mahadev Statue. It stands at 143 feet high. (The next largest, in Karnataka, India, is only 123 feet high.) The day we went, the park was fairly crowded, with lots of people posing for photos and generally enjoying the day.

At the opposite end of the scale, we have an admittedly out of focus portrait of the Living Goddess, or Kumari, of Patan. Among Newari Buddhists (the Newaris are one of the major ethnic groups here), there is a belief that Taleju, one of the manifestations of the goddess Durga, incarnates herself as a young girl of the Shakya caste. A set of priests selects the incarnation based on a number of signs, and then puts her through a series of tests to be sure she is Taleju; it is not unlike the selection of the Panchen Lama. Once she has passed the tests, she becomes the Kumari until she reaches maturity.

Unlike the Royal Kumari in Kathmandu, the Kumari of Patan lives with her family in a humble apartment in one of the temples. When visitors come, her father fetches her, dresses her in her gown, and puts her on the throne where she blesses the visitors in exchange for a small donation. At least during my visit, it seemed like a pretty joyless experience.

Misadventures in Film Photography (one of a series)

I love film photography. An analog, all metal camera just feels different in the hands. The loading of the film is like a little dance. The shutter’s click tells you that you’ve captured an image, with no way to erase it, and the film winder tells you that you’re ready to do it again.

The downside, of course, is that you don’t know what you’ve captured; and once you’re done, you are at the mercy of the film processor. That’s when you discover whether your lenses are really sharp at the corners; whether you’ve stored your film properly all this time to maintain its quality; and whether the processor’s chemicals and equipment are all they should be. If any of these go wrong, you can try to “fix it in post,” but that will only get you so far.

Recently, I went shooting with my Nikon FM2 (not my D700) at Boudhanath, an enormous stupa dating from the 8th century. With my iPhone camera, it looked like this:

Out of my Nikon FM2, however, it looked like this:

The images have character, sure, but I can’t say that I’m going to stick with film for the next three years.

No good deed …

A German shepherd appeared in our neighborhood yesterday—skin and bones, mangy, with infected eyes, and terrified of everything. I felt terrible about her condition, so I gave her a bowl of water which she drank down greedily, and that was that. Today she was back, so I bought some dog food and a bowl, and gave her food and water. She ate gingerly at first, but then grazed steadily.

The transformation was immediate. She begin to start off after cars, bark at some men and sniff at some others, and then she followed me up the street. I hope this act does not come back to bite me in the ass, figuratively or literally.

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple is a 5th century temple on the banks of the Bagmati River. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and a major pilgrimage destination.

The most important part of the compound is on the other side of the river from where we started. (Tourists are not allowed in the main temple.) Here, there are numerous shrines to deceased sadhus (holy men). As this is a Shiva temple, each shrine contains a lingam.

On Saturdays, this part of the temple grounds are filled with people exercising and meeting friends.

Also monkeys.

There were cremations going on across the river. Especially during the worst of the pandemic, the funeral pyres were burning all day and night.

Urban planning

is not a thing around here. Once you’re off the main avenues, the roads fork and wind haphazardly.

It isn’t just side streets and alleys. In some places, you can’t go 50 yards without having to swerve.

Another thing is that alleys join streets at acute angles. It makes for some buildings that look like ships’ prows. I asked my language instructor if there was a reason for that—for example, whether it’s bad luck to meet a major road at a right angle—but he said no, it’s just that no one bothered to put any rules in place.

First hill run

There is a trail run in Pokhara, a popular tourist destination, in December, so I decided to start training. Unlike Bangkok, Kathmandu offers lots of hilly terrain for training, so I went up into the hills on the recommendation of a fellow runner. My trail would start at the Kopan Monastery and end at a helipad just 2.2 km away. Easy, right? No.

I quickly realized that I wasn’t acclimated enough to do hard-core running at 4,600 feet. However, the view was nice.

A passing motorcyclist told me I had taken a wrong turn and my road was going nowhere, so I doubled back and found a nicely paved road leading steeply uphill to the helipad. Courageously, I decided “F*** this” and I took the road downhill which was easier, but messy. The dogs I saw at the end of the run had had the right idea all along.

Oh, really?

It’s hard enough to make good on a claim of New York style bagels in, say, Cleveland; it’s a tall order to pull off that trick in Kathmandu.

First, as to the appearance. It was bagel-shaped, apart from having a very small hole in the middle. The sesame-seed coverage reminded me more of a Greek koulouri than a New York bagel.

Inside—not quite bagel-like.

With toast and butter, the outside is a little chewy, like a New York style bagel, and the flavor is pretty good. But is it a New York style bagel? I’m reminded of what my late friend, Thom Petty, the owner of Sparky’s Cafe in Chennai, told us: “When you first get to Chennai, my burger’s only okay. After a year in Chennai, it’s the best burger you ever ate.”