It’s fair to say that this year’s Christmas festivities were a little different.
Our Christmas morning was spent in a boys’ orphanage playing games with the resident boys. (It turns out that I am relatively skilled at moving a biscuit from my forehead to my mouth without using my hands although my skills at the “chocolate game” when you have to roll a 6 and then dress up and try and eat a bar of chocolate with a knife and fork remain as poor as they did during my childhood.)
While lunch was the Nepali staple of dahl baht (eaten in the traditional way using our right hands only without any cutlery), we were in fact treated to a Christmas dinner of sorts in the evening – mulled wine followed by roast chicken and pork with roast potatoes and lots of vegetables and even gravy and apple sauce (a very welcome surprise).
Although it wasn’t officially Nepali New Year (that falls in April), Pokhara hosted a 5 day street festival from 28 December to 1 January during which the buildings were decorated with colourful lights, banners were put up across the street and the restaurants and shops invaded the pavements and set up what seemed like hundreds of stalls, thus transforming the main Lakeside thoroughfare. Billed as THE event of the year in Pokhara, essentially there was a 5 day party and various small stages were set up on the main street featuring cultural (and other perhaps less cultural) dances and live musicians. It was busy too: apparently residents from villages all over Nepal are bussed in to come and join the party and go shopping (taking advantage of the alleged “very special” and “not to be missed” new year prices).
While we enjoyed some of the days of this festival, as the holiday fell at a weekend, we went off on a side trip and spent New Year’s Eve itself in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha (in the south of Nepal). While perhaps not the most happening of places to party on NYE, this is one of Nepal’s key sites to visit.
It’s obviously an important pilgrimage destination although, other than the marker stone which pinpoints the exact birthplace of Buddha in 623BC, the rest of the Lumbini Gardens is relatively modern comprising a number of monasteries (erected in the last 20 years and many by other countries where Buddhism is a major religion such as China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand etc).
For me some of the serenity that I had expected from such an important pilgrimage site was lost by the large numbers of selfie-taking visitors. I had expected a much calmer, perhaps more respectful, aura.
In contrast, our visit to the ancient ruins of Tilaurakot where Buddha had spent the first 29 years of his life as a prince (before renouncing his privileged lifestyle and seeking Enlightenment), was significantly quieter but that’s probably because there were hardly any visitors here. It was also an incredibly misty day which perhaps also deterred less hardy visitors.
As for our NYE celebrations themselves, again this was a bit different. In our hotel there were 5 guests (including ourselves). Just after dinner, the hotel staff (with quite some pomp and ceremony albeit this was lost on the 3 other guests who remained glued to their smartphones throughout) brought out a chocolate cake with a firework type candle on top for us to share with them. This was topped off with a small glass of hot rum with honey and ginger as we sat round the fire pit in the garden. Given that this all took place at about 8pm, it’s fair to say that we didn’t quite make midnight (not least as it was pretty cold).