Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Five years ago my Yoga guru invited me to celebrate the Brother-Sister Tika Ceremony with his family during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Nepal. Though I didn’t know it until the end of that day, accepting his invitation meant that I was officially “adopted” by the family. In many ways, this cemented my relationship with Nepal; I loved it before, and after the Tika Ceremony I loved it even more. Since that day, I have visited many times, but my schedule had never put me there during Tihar, so it was with great excitement that I arrived in Pokhara this past November to celebrate the full five-day holiday with my family.

Stories differ about the origin of Tihar, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. One of the best known is an ancient Hindu legend about a king whose astrologer told him a serpent would take his life. When the king asked if there was any way to escape death, the astrologer advised him to sleep with oil lamps lit around his bed and to decorate the palace with oil lamps on the day when the goddess Lakshmi was to be worshiped. In return for being so honored, Lakshmi persuaded the serpent to spare the king’s life but Yama Raj, the god of the underworld, still had to be convinced that it was not yet the king’s time to die. Yama opened his ledger to where the king’s remaining age was written as zero but the serpent cleverly put a seven before the zero and the king lived for seventy more years.

Offering of food to crows on the first day of the Hindu celebration of Tihar

Offering of food to crows on the first day of the Hindu celebration of Tihar

Day one of Tihar in Nepal is dedicated to the crow, which is the messenger of Yama Raj. Bhai (older brother) set out a plate of food to honor the crow early in the morning on this first day and we all sat on the porch, delightedly watching as crows flew down from the power lines to peck at the food. Dogs, which are believed to guard the gates to the underworld, Read More

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Shop owner strings a custom necklace in the Pote Bazaar (bead market) area of Indra Chowk in Kathmandu, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Shop owner strings a custom necklace in the Pote Bazaar (bead market) area of Indra Chowk in Kathmandu, Nepal. Hindu women, especially those of the Brahmin and Chhetri caste, receive a string of these beads at their wedding, which they wear for the rest of their lives as a symbol of their marriage. Though the shop owners at Pote Bazaar are now facing competition from newer shops in malls, the tiny stalls at Indra Chowk are still considered the traditional place to purchase items made from the glass beads. Read More

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Nepali woman squats next to her makeshift vegetable stand in Kathmandu, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Nepali woman squats next to her vegetable stand in Kathmandu. For many residents of Nepal, the meager sales garnered from makeshift kiosks such as this one mean the difference between starvation and eating, especially since the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015. She sells fresh fruits and vegetables, which she likely grows on a tiny plot near her home, as well as snacks such as potato chips and candy bars. She wraps herself in a colorful shawl to ward off Read More

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Fresh chiles (khursani) at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market in Kathmandu, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Chilies (khursani) at the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market in Kathmandu, Nepal. These exceedingly hot chilies are used in many Nepali recipes. Every Nepali household keeps a stock of these spicy peppers, which can be stored for long periods if ground up and dried. Restaurateurs & residents flock to this wholesale market early every morning to buy fresh fruits and vegetables like the khursani shown above. The market also offers fish from lakes in India, which are Read More

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Six months after the temblor, I flew into Kathmandu to see for myself what life was like in Nepal after the earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless. I knew that my adopted family and friends had all survived, but the images of destruction that had been plastered across the TV screen for days on end suggested that most of Kathmandu had been reduced to rubble. As my plane descended, I surveyed the landscape. Here and there, mounds of bricks were stacked up where buildings had toppled and piles of debris lined the rivers, but unlike what the media had portrayed, the city appeared to be largely intact.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temple (right) in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, before the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temple (right) in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, before the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temples in Kathmandu's Durbar Square, after the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

Maju Dega temple (left) and Narayan Vishnu temples in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, after the earthquake. Both were totally destroyed.

On the ground, the damage was more evident. At Durbar Square in Kathmandu, tears welled up as I surveyed the damage. The Maju Dega Temple, where I had enjoyed many hours of people watching from its upper tiers, was completely destroyed, as was the adjacent Narayan Vishnu Temple. Almost every remaining historic building was shored up with wooden pilings. Centuries-old wooden beams carved with Hindu and Buddhist tantric scenes sat in a tarp-covered heap, waiting for reconstruction efforts to begin. The Durbar Squares (Palace Squares) in Bhaktapur and Patan/Lalitpur, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Swayambhu, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath, had also sustained damage, though nowhere near as severe as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. Read More

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Girl with kohl-ringed eyes and a red tika on her forehead is all dressed up and waiting to perform the Bhailo dance during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal

Click on title to view photo in large format: Girl with kohl-ringed eyes and a red tika on her forehead is all dressed up and waiting to perform the Bhailo dance during the Hindu holiday of Tihar in Pokhara, Nepal. While performing, female dance troupes sing the Bhailo song, which is only sung during the Tihar celebration each fall. The female groups roam Read More