Alina Laurent-Olive comes to Nepal summoned by legends
I felt it before I saw it. The heartbeat of a place that I knew I was going to fall madly in love with. It was close to sunset and wind swept back my hair as I peered out of the small micro-bus window to take a better look at the devastatingly long drop of the small cliff side road we were travelling on.
“Nearly there,” my newly acquainted travelling companion told me with a beaming smile. We had been on this compact mini bus with blaring Nepali songs and breath-taking views for 11 hours after crossing the India-Nepal border. I had set off early hours of the morning from Nepalgunj, after I almost forgot to get stamped out at the immigration on the Indian side. If crossing a seemingly uncontrolled walk across a border, strict immigration rules still apply, even if they are conducted on an old, rickety table outside a dilapidated office with a cow overlooking the proceedings.
Finally and intrepidly, I disembarked from the hot and sticky seats, barely able to feel my legs anymore. I hailed a taxi and off we went into the myriad of bumpy streets streaming with animation to my Trip Advisor recommended guesthouse in Thamel.
The next morning sunlight and suspense poured into my room. The city of Kathmandu, known as the city that has more gods than people, was where I was in search of a touch of magic. “Today I’ll take you to meet a living Goddess,” said my new charismatic Nepali friend. Of course I thought he was joking, but with a twinkle in his eyes he began to tell me about the Kumari. A young girl is selected as the living goddess as a manifestation of the divine devi or power; revered and worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists.
It is said that the Kumari must have many virtues to be appointed. One of the trials she must go through to measure her suitability as the reincarnation of Taleju, is to spend a night in a temple room surrounded by the grotesque severed heads of sacrificed animals, and throughout the night, hideously masked frightening men jump out at her to try and scare her. If she is the one, she shows no trace of apprehension. “Where does she live?” I asked, and with great enthusiasm and he led the way.
In Durbar Square one can spend hours taking in the tick of the city’s timelessness. Unfortunately she wasn’t at home today. Sensing my doubt, my new friend said in an affectionate tone, “Ah, have faith; you’re in the city where gods walk.” Feeling a little disappointed, we moved onto a festival celebrated by the newars.
A short bumpy ride on a scooter later, we arrived at an archaic and intricately carved temple. People were eating, laughing and presenting orange and yellow flowers in an act of revere whilst whispering their prayer. There was a little more commotion, however, coming from a small stone built room. Drawn in by the crowd and curiosity, I ventured further. And there she was. Sitting in an elaborately decorated chair, all in red and dark painted eyes, surrounded by balloons, with old men playing musical instruments and singing. I couldn’t believe I had found her by coincidence.
As people bowed before her entranced and touched the hem of her dress, I sat and took in the grace and vision of the deity sitting before me. As the men’s voices and beat of the percussion filled the air, I felt a peace that radiated through my body like a wave. It was then it dawned on me that I was doing it, I was being alone and although I may not have supreme power of my fears like the little girl in front of me, I knew I had received the magic I needed by being brave; feeling the fear and doing it anyway and embracing the god within.
Our fears are what sometimes keep us from the stories and adventures we can dream about in our living rooms. What are you afraid of and where will that fear take you?
The author has been a Learning and Development consultant and trainer for eight years for the INGO and corporate sector. Adventurous, creative and loves a challenge.
A version of this article appears in print on May 05, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.