Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cable cars and animal sacrifices

The road from Kathmandu to Pokara is a killer (in the literal sense).  Carved precariously out of the side of the mountain, it is deeply rutted and washed away.  Rock falls are common, almost as common as accidents.  You would think that local drivers would show real caution on a treacherous road like this, but they careen down the hills at great speed by bus, truck and 4-wheel drive.  All are in an apalling state of repair, and passing fatal accidents is depresssingly common.
The fun really starts once you get to the  base of the mountain though.  Curving through the range and following the path of the Chitwan river, the road is an endless series of tight corners and sweeping bends.  The road surface is better than anything else we have seen in Nepal, and it is great to really open the bikes up for a while.  It takes all day in the saddle to reach Manakamana by nightfall - however it has been an exhilarating experience.  Dave  Moore was the only on to take a spill, coming unseated whilst riding through a spillway.  The curface was mossy underneath the water and the bike simply vanished from underneath him.  Dave is a seasoned offroad rider though, and was back up in a minute or two and ready to carry on.
Manakamana is stuck on a hillside across from a temple of the same name.  Our visit coincided with the 8th day of the waning moon.  This day is auspicious to many Hindi people, and the bring an animal sacrifice to the temple to be blessed with fertility and good fortune (hmm, are they linked?)  The entry prices show adults at 350Rp return, children at 150Rp return, and animals at 250Rp one way.  These guys don't get to come back down the mountain.
A cable car takes you across the river and then up an impossibly steep climb to the top of the mountain.  Once at the top, the ground falls away and the cable car leaps across a deep valley to the next peak.  Exiting the cable car station, we need to climb still higher on steps through a lovely little township until we reach the temple at the summit.  This is really quite etereal and would not have looked any different in the middle ages.  The temple is swathed in smoke for a dozen large braziers, people are ringing huge brass bells all around - and we are certainly the only western faces.  The 'blesssing' action occurs around the back of the temple, and we follow a group of devotees leading their offerings to sacrifice.  The sacrifice yard is tiled and about 6m square.  The entire yard is carpeted in a slippery mat of bright red blood that also extends some way up the walls. 

We watch as a goat is led into the yard, wild eyed because it can smell the blood and perhaps its fate as well.  The priest is very calm and clinical.   He simply picks up the goat and raises it above his shoulders.  It is slammed to the grouond with an audible thud, the neck is twisted back, and one sweep of an impossibly sharp blade severs the entire head.  Jason wasn't quite quick enough to dodge a fountain of blood from a chicken that was next, and now has a permanent reminder of the event on his good t-shirt.
Leaving for Pokara this afternoon.