Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kumari - The Living Goddess

So this was the first time I ever heard of the Living Goddess Kumari. It seemed fine (somewhat) in theory - a young girl is an image of the divine female energy which gave birth to the universe. And in any case, there are many who believe that the divine resides in all of us; so I didn't think it odd that the Nepalis worship a Living Goddess.

But then we visited the Living Goddess' home (Kumari Ghar) in Kathmandu's royal palace. And as we set foot in that home, I couldn't believe that this was the home of a 5-year old. The 'palace' is ancient, stuffy...it was a dark, dingy temple rather than a home in the first place. We never actually got to see Kumari (foreigners are not allowed to enter her room or seek her blessings); but I could picture a 5-year old girl sitting with a painted face, away from her parents, blessing believers who bowed to her feet. And I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in that little girl's head. Does she believe in her own divinity; does she feel burdened with this responsibility of national welfare at the age of 5; does she wish she could run in the fields or does she feel superior to the kids who run in the fields or is she oblivious of the 'normal' life that other kids have; does she feel anxious that she will turn into a mortal once she reaches puberty; does she crave for her mother's hug?

The parents who get their daughters to 'contest' the selection process to become a Kumari obviously think of it as a privilege to have their little girl selected as a Goddess. But the mother must feel a tug at her heart when she sends off her precious little girl to a temple in the custody of unknown priests who perform secret rituals to her baby. The whole idea of that beautiful little girl in that temple made me shudder!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Trekking in Nepal

Me & 17 girls from work went spent last week in Nepal & it was such an adventure! We pushed boundaries....physically its the longest I've walked & steepest I've climbed. We camped in tents, huddled in sleeping bags, found innovative toilet solutions in the wild, battled the leeches that got to some of us, walked downhill in slippery monsoony terrain and saw the most beautiful of sights along the way.

We started the trek from Kathmandu & our first campside was in Chisapani. We woke up at 5.30 am in the morning to watch this glorious sunrise & I couldn't imagine anything prettier then.That was until 2 days later when we reached Nagarkot, once again we were up at 5.45 am & in front of us was a valley at the other end of which were the Northern Himalayan range crossing across the Eastern range & a beautiful golden sun rising from the right & lighting up the right side of the peaks in the Northern range. It was a sight of such beauty, it left 18 girls speechless!We were girls from 9 different countries, confident, self-made, strong, funny, bubbly. We had a great time being together. Ofcourse, we also got a lot of attention :) There were Israeli trekkers chatting us up, there were Indian tourists asking us if they could add us as friends on facebook & there were Nepali shopkeepers willing to give us steep discounts. But these are the men who stole our hearts...our sherpas! Our strong, chivalrous & ever-attentive guides, who were the most earnest college kids earning some extra bucks during the Dashain (Dasera) holidays! We made many Nepali friends in our week there. But we met our most adorable new friends on our second day in Nagarkot. We went to a village school for which we had raised money in singapore to buy shoes, stationary & a new computer. We played & danced with the kids all morning; and fell in love with their bright eyes, runny noses & pahadi cheeks! I missed Kabeer the most that day :-(And finally, the beauty of the mountains was unbelievable. The sight of the snow-capped peaks is a privilege that my city-eyes are going to cherish for a long time to come!