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Day 44: Kathmandu

Michael Palin - HimalayaI'm desperately trying to get all this down in my notebook when the music starts and the family priest, an unassuming, modestly dressed figure, who looks as if he might have come to fix the plumbing, steps forward. The exact timing of the puja is very auspicious and it cannot be delayed for foreign film crews. He sets the ball rolling by applying a dab of yellow to the forehead of the oldest member of the family, Pratima's 82-year-old mother-in-law. Today, Pratima tells me, everyone in Nepal, from the King downwards, will wear this mark, the tika.

After some light family argument over the exact order of things, the ceremony continues, in strictly hierarchical fashion, with the five brothers, and then the children, kissing the feet of their elders and giving each other the male tika, made from a preparation of curd, rice and vermillion powder. Jamara, shoots of barley, are placed on the head or in a garland around the neck as a symbol of fertility and longevity.

As an outsider I'm struck by how seriously all this is taken. Pratima's brothers-in-law are hard-nosed, professional people, one a doctor, one a banker, two others in the army. They're dressed in the labada salwar, a knee-length tunic, with tight leggings and black leather shoes, but over it they wear a Western-style sports jacket.

Many of them have been educated in Britain or America, their children speak fluent English and go to private schools. Yet here they are taking part in an ancient and rural ritual with a thoroughness that one can't imagine among their counterparts in the West.

The first thing to remember, says Pratima, is that not only is Hinduism the religion of 90 per cent of Nepal, the Nepalis take pride in being more scrupulous in their observance of festivals. The Indians, she says, have shortened their ceremonies.

'We take three days to get married. They do it in a day!'
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 44: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 99

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