Last Year I celebrated Maha Shivaratri at my home in Pokhara. Like most guys I enjoyed the craziness of the festival. It’s an excuse to stay out late, drink, smoke and play with fire – all in the name of worship of Lord Shiva.
In Pokhara there is a tradition of building large fires in the street. Children often steal wooden things from house to fuel the fires. It is believed to be bad luck to discipline them because they are stealing for worship.
During Shivarati people eat sugar cane, at night the long sugar cane sticks are heated in the fires. When the sugar is hot enough the sticks are hurled at the pavement causing small explosions and sending melted sugar flying in all directions. Many people have ended up in hospital with burns from sugar explosions; the practice is dangerously stupid but ridiculously fun.
This year I am in Kathmandu with my new Budi, we decided to go to Pushupati together to see the naked Sadhus and the drug crazed tourists. Not being from Kathmandu we didn’t know about the long queues that await Hindus wanting to get inside. The line snaked all the way from the temple door, up the hill, past the main entrance and out along Ring Road. We asked how long it would take to wait in the line and where told at least five hours.
My Budi is foreign and would not be allowed access into the temple (only Hindus)but we were given access straight into the complex (after a little lie about me being her guide otherwise I would have had to wait in line).
Once near the river the real problems started. Pushing, groping, chanting, smoking, young men were enjoying themselves far from the eyes of polite society. They called out rough words and propositioned the few women brave enough, or naive enough to venture into the celebrations. Luckily my Budi can’t understand enough Nepali to have been too insulted.
There was a really strong police presence but that only seemed to make things worse. As excitement rose in the crowd the police tried to calm things with sharp random whacking of their sticks. The crowds responded by fleeing, causing violent, crushing stampedes through the narrow stone stairways. It is surprising more people were not hurt.