The Amazing Jyväskylä!

The Amazing Jyväskylä!
Me at the harbor of Jyväskylä

15 September, 2014

Nepal 101

It’s Saturday and I got up at 5 am to accompany my landlady to the local market (or vegetable market to be exact) so that I’d know the way to get there if I want to buy vegetable for myself. It’s actually her morning routine that she would take a walk at 5 am, go home and have tea then go to teach at the university. However, it’s weekend and I had asked if she could show me the way to the market, I think she decided to do some groceries shopping as well. She said what she had bought might last for 2 or 3 weeks because the daughter didn't have lunch at home and they did not eat much though.

After leaving the house, at the corner between the alley and the big street, there’s a very small temple with a statue of an elephant God and she asked me too wait for her while she came inside the temple. There’s some sort of red powder surrounding the statue; I saw her touch the statue first and then put the red powder on the top of her forehead, this symbolizes the blessing from God, called Tika. So, very often, I see women with two red dots on their forehead: the one on top of the forehead is the blessing from God and the one between their eyes shows that they are married. Finally, to finish the ritual, she walked around the statue one time and came out of the temple. There’s also a bell hanging from above the statue and sometimes I see people ring the bell as well and touch their head and chest with their index finger but my landlady didn't do so. It’s an optional thing, I guess.

We reached the market after stopping by a dairy products shop and a spice shop. It’s a very common thing here that they eat yogurt after their meal. However, the taste of the yogurt here is quite different from what I am used to in Vietnam or in Finland. It’s not as smooth and also leaves a hint of citric after-taste. And regarding the spices, it’s amazing how many kinds of spices they have here. Of course, the common spices every one knows from Indian style of cooking such as cumin, turmeric, masala mix, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, etc. and lots of other spices that I have never come across  before. The vegetable market was huge. The basic vegetables that most of the stalls carried were cabbage, green pumpkin, daikon, morning glory, tomatoes etc. and only a few stalls had potatoes, garlic or limes. The limes here are exceptionally small!!!
The landlady and I walked all the way from one end to the other end of the market. She asked for the price, bargained and bought lots of them for a roughly two-week supply.

[Behind this fence is a small pond and behind the pond is the vegetable market]

[A close up of details on the fence]

[A close up of details on the fence]

Back to the house, the landlady invited me to have tea with her. She asked me if I wanted black tea or milk tea. I love the fact that milk tea is a norm here because I LOVE MILK TEA!!! Later, she said she had been surprised that I wanted milk tea because even though Nepali love their milk tea, normally foreigners preferred black tea. Well, I’m no normal foreigner! Hahaha =))
While having tea, we were talking about lots of things among which was her experiences of working with a Finnish project. My landlady is a chemistry professor in a renowned university in Kathmandu and she also runs a consultation firm. She took a leave from university for 2 or 3 years to work as a consultant for a project funded by Finnish government a long while ago, back in the 90s. She also paid a visit to Helsinki once during the project. We shared lots of common opinions about working with Finns in general.

After retiring from the tea session with the landlady, I came back to my room trying to figure out how to activate the internet package on my phone so that I would be able to use GPS and Google Map on my phone to explore the city. After a call to customer service with lots of “sorry, come gain?” or “sorry, I don’t understand what you mean”, I eventually managed to get the Internet working on my phone. The mobile Internet service here is actually very convenient if you know how to work it. They provide all kinds of Internet packages with amazingly cheap price. I only wanted to have the Internet available on my phone for 1 day so I activated the daily package of 20 MB worth of data for 10 rupees (1 euro = 126 rupees, so … you do the math). It lasted me for about 8 hours of constantly checking my location and occasional Facebook log-in.

I then walked my way to Thamel, a very touristy area in Kathmandu. This area is packed with souvenirs shops, cafes, restaurants, hostels, guesthouses and travel agencies. Some people would come up to me and asked if I wanted to use their services, I did have the tourist look with my camera and all. Even though the streets are always crowded during the day and motorbikes make their way through the traffic as fast as they can, people do not seem to be in a rush. I remember reading a blog written by an American expat about her life in Kathmandu and she said people here were always in hurry to go nowhere. However, from my observation from the past week, I can’t say I agree. It seems like they are in a rush if you look at the traffic. However, that’s just how it works when they don’t really have traffic lights and the flow mainly depends on the police. If they don’t go fast with their motorbikes or cars, no one knows how long they will be stuck in a busy intersection. Looking at the pedestrians; however, I see the opposite. They have a fairly relaxing and slow pace. I constantly find myself having to jump down to the street and then back again to the pavements in order to get pass other pedestrians who walk quite slowly. In Vietnam though, people are in fact always in a hurry to somewhere or nowhere. It’s just how we are, I guess.

[A type of cyclo lining up around Thamel to serve tourists]

[Similar displays in many shops in Thamel district]

Many of the stores are closed quite early at around 5 or 6 in the afternoon. I was quite surprised at first but then I realized that Nepali start their day very early. Many of them get up at 5 in the morning according to the rooster. The local markets are crowded around 5.30 or 6 and dismissed by 10 a.m. Aside from touristy area which is lighted all night, people go home around 5 p.m. and the streets are pretty empty at around 8. I was told that many families had dinner very late at 8 or 9.

Back to Thamel, there was nothing really special there aside from what you would expect from a usual hang-out location of foreigners. As I was buying some postcards to send home, I saw the name Durbar Square appear quite often. It must be a popular place to visit. So I decided to go there after having lunch in a local restaurant.

Durbar Square is a vast area covered with 49 Hindu temples, a palace and a history museum. I was surprised at first with the architecture of the palace which was absolutely European style. Apparently, one of the kings who came back from a visit to England really loved the architecture that he had seen over there and decided to build something similar. An English architect was actually hired to design this palace. It’s kinda odd seeing this palace standing next to the Hindu temples.

This is the place where one of the most important festivals in Kathmandu is hold annually: The Indra Jatra Festival. This is an extremely interesting festival which reminds me that I have been back to the land of legends and myths. And I do love to hear and to tell mysterious and mythical stories.

First, the name of the festival is Indra Jatra which is a Rain God. The statue of this God is often seen with tied hands since the myth says that he once came to the valley to steal a flower and was caught red-handed. Even when he said he was a God, no one agreed to let him go and tied his hands together. This story was to teach people that the act of stealing was not tolerated and the thief would be punished even if that was a God. However, since he was a God, the people in the valley made a deal with him that they would let him go in exchange for rain every harvesting season in the valley. Well, I think so far, he has kept his promise. ;)) More about it here

A major event of this festival is the worshipping of Kumari – The Living Goddess. The Living Goddess is a young virgin girl who is chosen among many candidates from Newari community, Shakya clan from which Buddha was from. The myths behind the Kumari are all very interesting but long and quite complicated. Those who are interested can go to this link to read more. This is a review of a biography written by a former Kumari about her life during the time of being worshipped as Kumari and the struggle to adjust back to the society after that. So very interesting that I spent the whole working day reading up about it. I’ll try to see if I can find this book here.

[Me trying to have a photo taken with the royal soldiers dressed in 18th century uniforms]

[Close-up of the current Royal Kumari of Kathmandu]

[Royal Kumari's chariot]

[The back of the chariot]

I was lucky enough to arrive in Kathmandu just in time for this important festival. I went to the first day of the festival which was September 8th and witnessed the pulling of Kumari’s chariot. The scene was incredible! Streets were packed with people playing musical instruments and pulling the chariots. My friend and I managed to get up to a restaurant’s balcony to have a clearer view of the Living Goddess. However, after passing the building that we were in, the chariot carrying Kumari was accidentally pulled off track and almost hit the building, a short while after that, it was stuck just down the road from where we were. When we were to leave the festival area, we had to push through ocean of people going against our direction. I was surprised finding myself totally okay with it even though I’d been living in a country where my personal space could go as far as 1 km to all dimensions and no one would stand closer than a stretch of the arm while talking to me. Such worlds apart!

[People are waiting to see the living Goddess Kumari]

[People are waiting to see the living Goddess Kumari]

I talked about this event with co-workers during lunch the next day. The director of the organization told me that if the top of the chariot falls down, which has happened several times, there will be some major changes or happenings in the valley during the year. He spoke of a year when there was a big massacre in the valley and the year when democracy took over and ended monarchy, the top of the chariot did fall off during the festival of those years. 

I also found a famous biography of a former Royal Kumari named Rashmila Shakya, edited by a British journalist Scott Berry, who used to live in Nepal during the time this said Kumari was in office. The book tells stories from when she was selected to be Kumari to the struggles that she had to cope with after she had retired from the position of being a worshiped living Goddess. I finished the book within 24 hours after my purchase because I was awfully fascinated with this tradition. Imagine that while many other myths or legends remain fictional; this is one unique legend of Kathmandu that has been alive and carried on for centuries on end. How fascinating is that!!!

Cover of the book From Goddess to Mortal by Rashmila Shakya

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