Archives for the month of: May, 2011

I had been wanting to take a trip to Palanchowk Bhagawati temple in Kavre district for quite sometime but the realization of that plan was prevented by the dark specter of the perennial nuisance of Nepali life:  Bandhs.  To quote the wisdom of the Nepali language: baddar ko hat ma naribal. Having neanderthals for leaders is quite a burden to our Homo sapien populated country.  How would you explain the failure to draft a respectable constitution within two + one year especially when you have 601 people chosen to work on it?

So when the roads finally cleared I made my way to the Palanchowk Bhagawati temple.  The road to Palanchowk Bhagawati temple stems from Araniko Highway that begins in Kathmandu and ends in the Nepal-Tibet border.  At Lamidanda on the Araniko Highway, I took the narrow but black-topped road to the temple.  The temple is located on top of a lovely ridge overlooking the Panchkhal and Tamaghat valleys to the south and west.  Palanchowk is considered a sister temple to both Shobha Bhagawati and Naxal Bhagawati temples in Kathmandu.  The temple area is quite busy during Saturdays, and a lot of people did go there too along with me in the aftermath of the bandh.  After lighting a diyo for world peace in Palanchowk Bhagawati temple, I headed to Dolalghat.  Dolalghat is a Newari settlement on the banks of the Indrawati river through which the Araniko Highway passes.  Approximately one kilometer from Dolalghat lies the confluence of the Sunkoshi and Indrawati rivers, both of which are part of the Saptakoshi river network. In the serene environment of the place where the union of two rivers took place, I wonder how long it would take for peace and civil order to be established in Nepal.  I wonder for how long the people of Nepal would  have to suffer due to the mistakes of the men chosen to lead the country.  Also, I took this trip on Ganatrantra Diwas (Republic Day) of Nepal which due to the hand of fate happended to be a bandh-free day in the districts through which the Araniko Highway carves through.

The Valley of Panchkhal in Kavre District

Panchkhal Valley with the Dhee River in the Foreground

The Palanchowk Bhagawati Temple

Faithfuls in Queue at Palanchowk Bhagawati Temple

The Ornamental Snake (Nag) on the Palanchowk Bhagawati Temple

Statues and Graffiti at Palanchowk Bhagawati

Bikes outside the Palanchowk Bhagawati

Bridge Across the Indrawati River at Dolalghat

Indrawati River

A Ferryman on the Banks of the Sunkoshi

The Sunkoshi River

Confluence of Indrawati and Sunkoshi Rivers

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face,

tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

– Rudyard Kipling

Orhan Pamuk is a Turkish novelist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. He belongs to the so called “Postmodernist” group of writers which includes Columbia’s Gabria Garcia Marquez, Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges, Italy’s Umberto Eco and America’s Don DeLillo. “Postmodernist” is just a tag for the unclassifiable. In similar fashion, Orhan Pamuk’s most successful novel “My Name is Red” has been called “Postmodern”

If you consider the details of this book, then you’d realize that “My Name is Red” is a serious challenge of classification. Here are some aspects of the book:

1. The book consists of 59 chapter, each a monologue by a different character. Thus you have a story told with multiple perspectives with many narrators.

2. The main thread of the novel is a murder mystery involving the death of a renowned miniaturist illustrating a top secret book.

3. The novel is a period piece in 16th century Ottoman Empire

4. There is a built in love story in the book

The first chapter in the novel is a woeful monologue by a corpse. The corpse is that of Elegant Effendi, a renowned miniaturist. While the plot device of most thrillers involve something in the lines of a potential nuclear disaster or an insidious homicidal maniac, My Name is Red involves something more subtle: an agent of cultural change. The Ottoman Empire in the 16th century was at the time at the height of its power and influence, yet remained an insular empire. This was reflected in the Ottoman Miniatures (Illustrated Books) which complied to strict Islamic conventions which included flat faces and no perspective. At the same time, Europe was undergoing its Renaissance period of artistic and cultural reinvention when Da Vinci and Michelangelo were the rage of town. So the Sultan decides to commission a book illustrated in the “New Venetian Style” in order to compete with the Venetian luminaries. But there are those who resist and cling to the status quo. The old style of miniature painting was justified with Islamic theology so naturally adjusting to the “new venetian style” would require a crisis of faith. As a result one of the miniaturists ends up murdered and puts the project which would unite the Eastern and Western styles for the first time in trouble. This is when the main character, Black (what a horrible name) is caught in the web of events in order to win his love interest. Or at least that is the main thread of the novel.

In literary terms, My Name is Red is a stylish book with unusual literary techniques. The mode of narration of events in this novel is amusing: each chapter has a different narrator. This gives an organic reading experience as Pamuk constructs his world of art and politics in 16th century Turkey. The monologues consists of the main characters lamenting about the problems of their life. But then there are also unconventional monologues which include those from the color red, Satan, a dog, etc. They add flavor and originality to the book and at times even comic relief.

The language is fluid and full of long expressive sentences that are masterfully translated. Pamuk shows dedicated artists or miniaturists who have a fervent devotion towards art and liken art to god or religion. However, during the course of the book we also witness the staining of art due to the old, tasteless politics of the “East vs. West”. We get a peek into how extremism and fundamentalism develop when politicians take advantage of poverty, illiteracy and xenophobia of the masses and the exaggeration of certain ideals (think Taliban). And we see Pamuk, a secular Muslim, testify his love for divine nature of art and his frustration towards an increasingly radical Muslim world.

Although a difficult and demanding book, I was enthralled by Pamuk’s foray into the darker side of faith and the timelessness of art itself. My Name is Red is a book that will stay with me as I grow as a writer.


"The new Venetian style"

An Ottoman Miniaturist at Work (Drawn in the Typical Minature Style)

Your Typical Miniature Illustration (Note the Chinese Influence)

A Typical Minature Scenery (Note the Lack of Perspective)

A Miniature Supreme (This Illustration Depicts Muhammad, whose Face is Veiled for Dogmatic Reasons, in his Trip to Heaven. This Visit of Heaven is Known as Miraj)

On the banks of the Bagmati River at Sankhamul, Patan (please refer to the previous post) stands the Jagat Narayan temple. This red brick Vishnu temple dates to the Rana period, and was built by Janga Bahadur Rana’s younger brother, Jagat Bahadur Rana (hence the name). Jagat Narayan temple is composed of two courtyards, the larger one houses the Jagat Narayan temple whilst the smaller courtyards towards the east is a complex of smaller Shiva temples also known as the Jagadishwor temple. In front of the Jagat Narayan temple reside  the statues of Garuda, Ganesha and Hanuman bowing down in prostration to the temple of Vishnu with the Garuda on an elongated pedestal. It was raining when I visited this temple. As I took shelter from the rain in the courtyard of the temple, I observed this surreal temple trapped in a parallel universe of architectural delights. Despite urbanization mutilating Kathmandu’s rich heritage, one can still find lovely temples with fantabulous statues at seemingly random places. Ignorance is bliss, as an ignoramus once stated. But the commutative law is not relevant here, bliss is not ignorance. I might be accused of being myopic, but staring at Jagat Narayan temple in the rain made me think that perhaps bliss is the vision of a carefully designed and laboriously built structure in the rain.

Another thing that I noticed in the complex were the quotes pinned on the wall. They weren’t the usual internet-pasted, cliched, do-good-and-serve-society quotes from the Hindu shastras. I was delighted by the variety of quotes which ranged from sarcastic to morbid to good ole religious crap from the sacred texts. Some examples:

“Protect the Dharma and the Dharma will protect you”

This delightful quote captures the essence of the Buddha’s take on dharma. If Buddha was born this century and went to Harvard on a full scholarship with (OMG!) a student visa, he might have said “Dharma is good for health as revealed by a recent survey and I have further illustrated that in my new book ‘The Convenient Dharma'”. That thought makes me fearful of Kalki (the upcoming avatar of Vishnu) who might just change the world by becoming Time’ Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Bairagi Satya (The Depressing Truth) –

  1. To be in the womb is painful
  2. To be born is painful
  3. Growing up is painful
  4. Life is painful
  5. Death is painful
  6. In short, except for enlightenment,  everything else is painful

That was the Memento Mori mode of thinking that promoted suicide-advocating ultra-pessimism. Nasty yet horrifically true. Pink Floyd was right.

“Keep god in your heart and be ready to face all forms of suffering”

– Time (samaya)

This quote seems to embody the philosophyof Stoicism that Samurai Jack seemed to uphold. Parallels can be drawn to this quote: “Hope for the best, expect the worst”, “Parishram gara tara phal ko asha nagara.” And Time is not a magazine here but the writer seems to satirize the entire quote by attributing it to the abstract concept of time. Einstein’s fourth dimension seemed to give insights on what it helped create: Life.

After the rain stopped I stepped out of this forgotten corner of the universe and made my way through the slimy metropolis, thirsty for more of the alternative Kathmandu. Alternative is an overused word, that is 100% true: alternative music, alternative sources of energy, alternative medicine, alternative lifestyles, etc. But with people growing increasingly disillusioned with the status quo, we do need alternative methods with hints of the retr0. We need to evolve our way out of the silliness of the modern times and make our way into a brave new world.

The Jagat Narayan Temple

The Courtyard of the Jagadishwor Temple

Remixed Bell

Where is the Idol?

The Garuda in front of Jagat Narayan in the Rain

The Two Garudas

Jagat Narayan (Vishnu)'s Fanbase (Ganesha, Garuda, Hanuman)

A Statue of Hanuman from a Scene from the Ramayana

The Embrace of Pigeons

Sankhamul ghat,  located in between Lalitpur and Kathmandu districts is not far from the confluence of Bagmati and Manhara rivers.  Sankhamul bridge conveniently connects Naya Baneshwor to Patan. Sankhamul ghat (Hindu crematorium) is bejeweled with old Newari buildings and temples. It is on the banks of the Bagmati river whose holiness has been stained by becoming a filthy, public health hazard and an a perpetual eyesore. Bagamati is the river which is representative of the Kathmandu valley. Though it is often touted as a “Holy River”, it has been begrimed by urbanization and mass rural to urban migration. When the denizens of Kathmandu valley began installing modern toilets, Bagmati was reduced to a holy sewer. The width and flow of Bagmati decreased as the years passed and Kathmandu began its nightmarish metamorphosis into the “Sick City” that we are all so familiar with.

Sankhamul Bridge

By-Products of Modernization

Sand Mining in the Bagmati River

Sand Mining in Bagmait River

Sankhamul Ghat

The Gate to Urban Wilderness

Stand for Holding the Funeral Pyre

Temples on the Ghat

Confluence of Bagmati and Manhara Rivers

The Jailed God

Scavengers of Leftover Offerings (Prasad)

Women Waiting to Fill Water Containers Despite Being Less than Five Meters from the Bagmati River

In the hills near Dhulikhel lies Namo Buddha, an ancient gumba important for both Hindu and Buddhist communities of the region. Through the Araniko Highway which originates in Kathmandu, I headed towards Dhulikhel, the district headquarters of Kavre district. At Dhulikhel we left the Arnico Highway and headed south-east on the Dhulikhel – Bardibas Highway.  Little less than ten kilometers from Dhulikhel we left the Dhulikhel – Bardibas Highway and headed towards Namo Buddha. The road to Namo Buddha is graveled though it is not as steep and difficult as the Godavari – Phulchoki road.  The day we chose to visit Namo Buddha was on the auspicious occasion of Buddha Jayanti (anniversary of Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death), a lot of vehicles were traveling to Namo Buddha to offer their prayers to him. And  a point in the middle of the road, two large buses going in opposite directions were unable to pass as the road was too narrow. They were in a difficult dilemma as there was very little space to back up and make way for the other buses to pass and continue towards its destination. The event showed the type of difficulties people were undertaking in order to offer their respects to the Buddha.  When we reached Namo Buddha there was a cultural program underway to appease the tourists. The festive atmosphere of Namo Buddha had brought people from far and near together in order to celebrate the life and tribulations of a man who had sacrificed his kingdom, his wife, his family and his home in the pursuit of truth. I left Namo Buddha hoping to return again during next year’s Buddha Jayanti. Further down the road, we headed to Dapcha, an old Newari village which was a busy trading center in its better days. To me this village is like a time capsule, a fragment of the past  we forgot when we developed better methods of trade and better routes with better equipment. High up in the hills, and with no easy roads leading to it, Dapcha is a forgotten entrepot in an old trade route from Kathmandu to Eastern Nepal. Like other villages high up in the hill, the youth are missing in Dapcha as they have moved to the city pursuit of greener pastures. We were told that Dapcha was a bustling bazaar long time ago, but in the present it has been reduced to a  bazaar that has dried up and void of energy, leaving behind only the shadows of a glorious past. The houses in Dapcha still have a medieval Newari structure and designs, are made of mud and brick, and have preserved their purity from the rising modern designs in the cities. The times they are a-changing and as a result Dapcha has become a victim of modern times. Near Dapcha, we found a dusty road  carved out by a bulldozer which connected Dapcha directly to Bhakundo Besi, a valley which the Dhulikhel – Bardibas highway has penetrated. After we rejoined the highway, we returned to Dhulikhel. In Dhulikhel, we decided to visit a large statue of Buddha in a place called Shantiban which stood in the vicinity of a Devi temple. With the rays of the setting sun falling on the Buddha’s eternal smile, I wandered how detached we are from the Buddha and what he left behind for all the souls drowning in the pool of suffering. Thousands of Buddha statuettes are sold everyday in Nepal, thousands of books  on Buddhism are sold everyday in Nepal, thousands of believers go to Lumbini, thousands of lights were lit in remembrance on Buddha Jayanti. But how far we are from peace in our country and in our souls. With the deadline of the constitution drafting approaching nearer and nearer, with the rise of corrosive communalism in our politics, with the fall of proper law and order and the steady rise of crime, I wonder where the birthplace of Buddha is headed towards. Is it heartbreak or peace? According to the Mahayana tradition, while Buddha was under the Peepal tree getting closer and closer to enlightenment the demon of temptation, Mara, tried to prevent the Shakyamuni’s moment of enlightenment. Of course, Buddha resisted and obtained enlightenment. As I look at Buddha’s statue on the day which embodies his life, I wander when Nepal will dispel its Mara (conflict, violence, communalism, depravity, corruption,  etc.) and obtain peace the way Buddha did. As Nepal is controlled by forces beyond anyone’s control, all I can do is to light a diyo for the dying peace in Nepal.

A Large Shiva Statue Built by the Marwadi Community

Starting Point of the Dhulikhel - Bardibas Highway

A View of Dhulikhel as Seen from the Dhulikhel - Bardibas Highway

Hills South and East of Dhulikhel

A Faceoff between Two Buses on the Road to Namo Buddha

Outside Namo Buddha Gumba

Cultural Program to Commemorate Buddha Jayanti

Used Diyos

A Diyo Seller

Namo Buddha

Prayer Wheels

Offerings of Rakshi

Crowds at Namo Buddha

Newari Houses near Dapcha


The Houses of Dapcha

A House Built by the Ranas Near Dapcha

Ruins of a House that Recently Caught Fire in Dapcha

Hills Surrounding Bhakunde Besi

A Statue of the Buddha at Shantiban Nearby Dhulikhel