Every town in Nepal has its own special festival or celebration. Yesterday I headed out to Dhulikhel, 30 km SE of Kathmandu, to see their take on the Nava Durga Jatra. I was told it is Nepal’s version of the Running of the Bulls, though instead of bulls masked Gods, expecting substantial pay offs, chase worshipers through the streets.
When we arrived people were hanging out of windows, standing on the pavement, watching from doorways. Everybody was looking over their shoulders, children giggled with nervous tension and teenagers roamed the streets, anticipating the God’s arrival. Outside the house where the masks are stored, people worshiped wooden masks, touching them to their foreheads and offering fruit and tikka.
A group of skittish youths announced the beginning of the chase as they sped down the steep street and around a corner. Fleeing the square, diving into homes, excited screams and laughter filling the village, people scattered, eager to escape without making a payment to the god.
Brave or maybe foolish, young men ran before the God, tempting with handfuls of outstretched rupees. One boy publically mocked when he could only produce a 50NR payment to the God for his release.
The ornate masks worn during festival weigh 10 to 15kg. Chasing people through the steep streets of Dhulikhel is difficult, heavy work and it is not surprising when one of the gods stops in a hotel to demand a free beer. At night the traditional Nava Durga dance is performed. This video is of a Nava Durga dance in Bhaktapur.
The Nava Durga is the Mother Goddess. She has nine forms and is worshiped by power worshipers as a form of energy, empowerment and the ultimate form of Shakti, feminine power. Durgas are the various demonic representation or manifestation of the mother goddess, Mahakali, Kumari, Barahi, Brahmayani, Mahesvari, Viasnavi, Indrani, Mahalaksmi and Tripurasundari. Seven of these forms are represented during the dances. At Dhulikhel only four of the Goddess’s forms are represented during the chase.
Dhulikhel Nava Durga Jatra is a great day trip from Kathmandu. It provides a nice insight into village life and the festival is harmless fun, appropriate for those traveling with children. Be sure to wear your running shoes and bring plenty of small notes to pay the God’s for your release. Being a foreigner I thought I’d be a target but the only god who caught me was a young god in training and he was satisfied with a 10NR pay off.
Dhulikhel is a pleasant town with great mountain views. The village has a population of about 9500 people and as with many of the towns in the Kathmandu valley the Newar influence is obvious. Stone paved streets, too narrow for cars, wrap around the mostly red brick buildings with ornate wooden carvings. There are also a number of Hindu temples to see and a Buddhist monastery.
Local buses run to Kathmandu until 4 or 5 pm, if you decide to spend the night the town has a good range of accommodation options and there are plenty of restaurants to test out the traditional Newari foods. There is no money exchange in Dhulikhel and I could not locate an ATM so be sure to bring sufficient funds. The local bus leaves from Ratna Park bus stop throughout the day and is approximately 40NR. One hopeful taxi driver quoted me 3500NR for a one way trip to Dhulikhel.
Dhulikhel Nava Durga Jatra is held in mid March. Local festivals coming up are the Nala festival next week in March and the Sankhu festival in April.