The great chariot festival of Karunamaya has begun, bringing with it the mandatory, and much anticipated, summer rain. The festival is celebrated by Valley residents and the people of Yala (Patan) with such enthusiasm that one cannot help but want to make sure the whole world knows about it, and bring them to Patan to join the festivities.
While mountaineers head for the peaks this pre-monsoon season, the rest of the country and Kathmandu sees a decrease in tourist arrivals after the spring peak. The month-long festival of Karunamaya (Bunga Dyo, Rato Machindranath, Adi Lokeswara, or whatever other names you want to call it) should be marketed to the rest of Nepal and the world. Patan could probably make a whole year’s worth of income in a month if this was properly done.
Nepal often makes international headlines for the wrong reasons: natural disasters or political upheavals.
We need to get out some good news as well. The Chariot festival is one of the most dramatic and Instagrammable festivals in the world, comparable to bull-running in Pamplona.
Patan has a lot more to offer. Jitendra Shrestha and Prakash Dhakhwa have spent a good part of their creative efforts and resources to convert their own houses into high end home-stays and helped neighbors to do the same.
Check out Cosy Nepal to see the wonderful spaces that the visitor can call their home away from home, in Patan. Newa Chen has rooms, gallery and performing spaces. The visitor can also see how the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, Rohit Ranjitkar and their team of artists are restoring the monuments like Bhai Dega at the Patan Durbar Square after earthquakes of the past.
Patan today has eating places, there are enough hotels in the outskirts of the historical core area, the city has trained young people who can help guide the visitors, and has even launched an app so you can walk about Patan with the help of your phone. Patan, with the help of Lok Chitrakar, has just freshly painted the gate at Patan Dhoka with the iconic depiction of the eight Asta-matrika mother goddesses who protect the city against anything bad that could befall this ancient settlement.
At Pim Baha, Shailendra Shrestha, who operates Taaja Pha bed and breakfast, is there to take you through at least 2,300 years of history of the neighbourhood, the Ashok Stupa and the ancient pond. Please take time out to go to the neighbourhood in the evening when the illuminated temple is reflected in the waters.
The chariot festival of Karunamaya is made of numerous facets that could be of interest to the world travelers. The open spaces, historical ponds, the families and guilds that make the chariot, the various species of timber and plants/flowers involved and offered, the musical instruments, rituals and feasts.
The great festival keeps Patan a united community, and this is probably the biggest value created. It is not a small task to pull the great chariot through the lanes of Patan despite all odds. People’s participation is a term much used in development literature, but if you want to see what it really means, you have to come and see for yourself. The energy, the care, respect and sense of purpose of the faithful illustrate what people working together can achieve.
The legends, folklores, history and anecdotes associated with the chariot festival are also of great interest. It consists of kings, naga mythical snakes, farmers, and of course, hidden treasures. There is deceit and integrity and suspense which ensure that each year there is a really good reason to come together and rebuild the chariot and have the festival again and again.
So much has changed over the last 15 centuries in Nepal, the Kathmandu Valley and Patan, but the chariot festival of Karunamaya or Bunga Dyo goes on. No disaster like the earthquake of 2015, no political changes like the end of monarchy in 2006, have disrupted the festival that is an integral part of one of Nepal’s (and world’s) truly intangible heritages.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc