Saturday, May 14, 2005

Rato Machendranath

Rato Machendranath is a 15-meter-tall chariot with six-foot high wheels, made entirely of wood and vines - no nails, no pegs. It's pulled by a team of men. It holds a god that gets toured around the Kathmandu Valley once a year. Its stability can best be described as 'tippy'. They've been building it for a few weeks down the street, and it got rolling on Thursday.

Every twelve years, the chariot starts a couple miles from Kathmandu and comes the extra distance. The last time that happened was three years ago. It fell over three times that year.

If you're wondering "what happens when it gets rolling down hill?", don't worry. There are guys running backwards in front of the wheels throwing sticks under them to slow it down. When they want to stop outright, the guys wedge logs under the wheels. That causes an abrupt stop where the entire thing lunges forward. I saw it get up on three wheels when they did that. I have some video of that, but at 18 megs it's a little big to put online from 56k.

Friday morning, I got up at 5:00AM on account of the mosquitos in my bedroom. I went for a walk down to where they parked Rato Machendranath for the night. When I got there, it may as well have been noon - there were hundreds of Newaris circling around the chariot. Lighting butter lamps, throwing offerings, buying vegetables - it was busy.

Yesterday my boss approached me to ask what I'm planning for my last week in Nepal, and in the course of doing so told me those plans will include going to their choir concert. So we went to their choir concert tonight. It was at the British school. I haven't seen so many white people in a room since the US embassy's town meeting after the coup. Most of the music was in Latin. It was like being in Church, in Italy, at the long service. As I was listening, I thought briefly about how secular performances of this kind of music is a specialized interest - like spoken word readings of Tender Buttons. Intricate and technical, but not a general crowd pleaser. Later they rubbed some funk on it and did a few numbers from the 1994 film Sister Act. Tremendous.


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