Monday, October 18, 2010

Silence of the Goats and Celebrating Dashain

So the holiday season is in full swing in Nepal. Someone might wonder what qualifies as a holiday season in country that has holidays every week. Well you see those holidays are only a single day, now that we're into the big ones they get entire weeks.  Dashain is a a full 10 day holiday and it is followed not long after by Tihar, another multi-day extravaganza. The first few days of Dashain were rather tame, but the festivities come into full swing in the last three or four days. It reminds me in many ways of Thanksgiving back home, comprising of family get togethers and lots of food. There are plenty of other ritual and religious overtones, but the result is essentially the same, only they don't watch Football.

Nepali Goat at a Temple

I've been told that some households are preparing food for three days straight. Because so much food is involved it is quite common to give the gift of goats to people for the holiday. This leads to a huge surge in the number of goats all over town. Everywhere I went at the beginning of the week there were goats. When I went to get my TIMS card, the area near the Tourist Information Center was overrun with goats. Goats lined numerous roads, with their owners nearby hoping to sell them off. We've seen goats being put into the back of taxis and even a goat being carried on the back of a moped. Our neighbors had a goat on their patio, and the shop I buy my vegetables at had a goat tied up out front. Yes there are goats everywhere. Or at least there were.

Festival season is not a good time to be a goat.

The bleeting of the goats started to become common place through the city. But as of some time yesterday, the goats became silenced. Now I'm no friend of PETA, and I can't envision a scenario where I would be a vegetarian, but I almost felt a little bad for the goats. Their just a little too docile, far too trusting, and they make very cute little faces. Despite this, many a goat met their end at the sharp end of kukri knife over the last few days, and there are very few living goats to be found. Butcher shops all over town have all kinds of goats in various stages of being butchered ready for you to pick up. To be honest, they are quite tasty.

The first course of our Dashain feast.

Yesterday we had the privilege of being invited to participate in a traditional Newari (the dominant ethnic group of the Kathmandu valley) Dashain meal, thanks to an invitation from Akshay and his Mother. Before the meal there was a tika ceremony where the elder person of the family (in this case Akshay's mom) put a tika on each person's forehead and gave a bit of green grass (Jamara?) that was put in the persons hair. My understanding is that this is a kind of good health and fertility blessing of sorts, but I'm not entirely sure. After the Tikas were given to each individual we sat down for the first course of the meal. A portion of all the food was set aside for the gods, put in a small leaf cup. This course consisted of flat beaten rice, peanuts served with ginger, spinach with mustard seed, a lentil pancake, some buff, a bit of egg, some potato in spices and black eyed peas. All really good.

Tika Ceremony

After this was finished we moved on to the main course. Normally it is eaten with the beaten rice, but they had prepared some white rice cooked with nuts and raisins for us as well, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit. This course was very much like what we might do for Thanksgiving, with many plates being passed around the table and with each passing bowl it became harder to find space on my plate to fit more food. Dishes included a buff curry, a sweet mashed pumpkin, some beans, potatoes, a couple of soups, and a few organ meat selections. Newari food really is the best food I've had in Nepal and they do some really great dishes that use a lot of subtle flavors. The main course was followed by a set of deserts which included a kind of fried doughnut with anise seed, some spectacular curd from Bhaktapur,  and some fresh fruit including guava and apples. Also excellent.

Kim in her new Sari

We had a great time and we were lucky to be able to experience this celebration first hand. Kim even had a chance to wear her new sari that Akshay's Mom had helped her pick out (and she looked great in it I thought). So a huge thanks to Akshay and his family for having us over, we had a great time.

As a final note, I'm going to be away up in the Langtang region for the next week or so. We tried to get a bus this morning, but none were running due to the holiday (we were told it would be a 50/50 shot). Tomorrow supposedly has a 90% chance of running. Anyway this blog will be a little quiet while I'm gone.


  1. Just don't think about the story of Flop the goat when you see them getting marched off to the butchers - you will be alright....


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