I had intended to lesson plan tonight. I actually had a lot of work to do to get ready for my classes the next day. I had gotten back from the school, sat down, and started working. But the streets were unusually loud tonight. Something interesting must be going on.
I stepped out of my room and asked my Nepali roommate what was going on. She told me there was a festival for “the god of machines.” It didn’t really mean much to me of course, but it sounded cool, so off I went. Lesson planning be damned — I’m in Nepal! I came here for experiences first, and work second.
Side note, I think that the god in question was Vishwakarma, the Hindu deity of Machines and Tools. In Kolkata, there is always a festival for him on day that the sun enters the zodiac sign Virgo, which is usually September 17th. Apparently the same tradition is found here in Patan, because the night was the 17th.
So here’s our man Vishwakarma, one of the many members of the Hindu pantheon. The joke here is that there’s a festival every day in Kathmandu, so there will be many more nights like this.
Anyway, I stepped out of the guest house I’ve been staying in while (unsuccessfully) looking for an apartment, and was pretty much right in the middle of the festival. For the past week or so, the building across the alley from me has filled the streets with music from bands and musicians presumably preparing for this night. There was a huge crowd on the street in front of the temple, complete with a big tent and a speaker with a microphone. People watched from their windows and from their scooters as they rambled past. Kids chased each other through and around the wooden beams that have held up the buildings since the 2015 earthquake. Along the side of the road were huge spreads of donations — several piles of various grains, fruits, and other foods, as well as a big basket of money.
I spent some time walking around the outside of the crowd, taking pictures of the event. I didn’t understand any of what was happening, so I left to walk around the dark streets of Patan. The crowd was large enough that I had expected the streets to be mostly empty, but that turned out to not be the case; they were as crowded as they ever were, night or day.
I’ll admit I was a little terrified when I first got here. I arrived in Patan at night. My taxi dropped me off on a completely dark street, save only the light from a few windows and the cigarettes of men sitting outside. Wild dogs emerged from the shadows to inspect me, and I couldn’t see more than 15 feet down the road.
This was my first time really walking around this place at night. I wanted to get away from the crowd of the festival and into some dark, quiet places to make myself feel comfortable in them. And honestly…this place feels safer than most parts of America at night. Even in my Saint Paul neighborhood back in Minnesota, I still felt on edge at times when I’d go out late at night. Not so in Patan — there’s just an atmosphere here that makes you feel at ease. The side streets are mostly empty aside for a few people walking or driving past. The alleys direct the warm air, always giving you a breeze as you walk. On this night, all that could be heard were groups of musicians practicing together, dogs barking, and people laughing in their apartments. Compared to the daytime chaos, Patan becomes very serene after dark.
I eventually came to Patan Durbar Square. For those of you who have never heard of it (because I hadn’t), this is one of the most iconic landmarks of Kathmandu. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the top image when you google Kathmandu, and it’s not even in Kathmandu. It’s in Patan, which is culturally and historically completely different from Kathmandu. When you head south across the Bagmati River, you enter the city of Lalitpur, and Patan is the oldest part of the city. The Bagmati River is the border where two ancient kingdoms eventually met.
We’ll get some more history later, because the history of this area is really interesting. For now, here’s some more pics.
There’s a couple restaurants on the square that give some pretty awesome views of the whole thing. One of them has a rooftop area that gives you the iconic view of the square. When I went up, the guy asked if I wanted anything. I held up my camera, and he looked kinda sad and went, “Oh, photos…”
I’ve been scammed a couple times since getting here, so I felt like he was trying to guilt trip me a little. But they’ve also probably gotten hundreds of tourists doing the exact thing I was doing, with no intention of buying anything. Whether or not he was trying to make me feel bad, I did. So I went to buy a beer, to which he perked up a little. And then I had only 15 rupees, so I had to pass on it. He went back to his former dejected state. Sorry, man.
I took in the view for a couple minutes then slipped out. I’ll be back there sometime with more cash. Once back on the ground, I scoped out a few more of Patan’s many courtyards and small parks. The serenity of Patan only increases the later the night goes on, and I found it hard to return to my place despite having a class to teach early in the morning. I snapped just a few more photos, then headed home.
Next on the to-do list — apartment, scooter, and some national park permits. Something cool is gonna happen soon.