Bungamati Home

SYNOPSIS:  Excursion to Khokana and Bungamati; the village of the rain god, of traditional wood carvers, and of the fourth living goddess.  About earthquake damage and attitudes.

If Kathmandu is bad, the villages around the earthquake zone are even worse off.

Bishwa with his motorbike is a great option for me to be on the move.  He is a safe driver with a comfortable motorbike, and he knows his surroundings.  Nepal’s travel season is over and business for him and other tourist-dependent industries is down.  He got lucky he met me, and vice versa. 

Today, he drove me to Khokana and Bungamati, the home village of the rain god whose festival I witnessed yesterday.  Today is the day of the showing of the god’s vest.  After that spectacle is over, the chariot will be pulled back to the god’s home temple, if there just were a temple left… Both villages used to have important temples that have been reduced to rubble.

Devastation in Bungamati, two years after the quake, is visible at astonishing levels.  It seems it has been only months after the quake, not years.  I spoke to a woman from the village, and an interesting picture emerged.  She is among the lucky ones, whose relatively new concrete home survived the quake without a crack.  Everyone was and is affected by electric outages and by the damaged infrastructure.  Huge black plastic canisters are filled with water that is delivered by trucks.  Village roads are impassible and every inch of space along the road is filled with stacks of bricks awaiting construction.  According to her, people were holding out for government or international funds to rebuild for a long time, but in vain.  As it became clear that people were left to their own devices, resentment set in between those who lost everything towards those who lost nothing.  Occasionally, all villagers banded together and organized communal efforts to clear debris.  But often enough,  those who were most affected were on their own with little to no help from others, or the outside world.  As people often lost businesses along with their homes, they are lacking disposable income or savings to rebuild, and most likely will settle in the long run for living in makeshift metal homes, set up after the quake and meant to be temporary. 

A noticeable number of beautifully carved wooden doors attests to the fact that Bungamati for generations has been home to master woodcarvers.  Their work can be found all over Nepal.  We visited one studio and I admired a number of small and large-scale works in progress.  I wouldn’t mind one of those doors, but… how to get it home?  And even by US standards, these doors are not cheap.  But what beauties!

Nepal has a unique tradition which is followed by Hindus and Buddhists alike.  In four major cities, Bungamati included, young girls are chosen from the highest caste following a rigorous selection process.  For one day, or in some cases for an entire year, that living goddess known as Kumari will go on display for 1-2 hours per day to be worshipped by the devotees.  For the duration of her appointment, she is believed to be the incarnation of female energy and divinity.  And wouldn’t my luck have it, that the receptionist at my beautiful Newari Hotel once was a Kumari?  To this day, she is exceptionally beautiful and proud of that period in her life.  She was about 8, a typical age for the Kumari.  But some are chosen as young as four!  Kumari literally means princess.  Princess for a day… princess for a year — what an honor and what a burden that must be.

We passed beautiful rice paddies and lush valleys on the way to the villages.  We passed shanty homes and million-dollar villas.  The natural beauty of the surroundings belies the sad reality of life for many in the villages.  But as everywhere, some are blessed with everything; others have nothing. 

Good night.

3 comments so far

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  1. The carved doors brought to mind Ghiberti’s magnificent bronze Baptistry doors, of course those were bronze and these wood. But people must really love to carve/decorate doors.

    You have to marvel at the determination and resilience of people. Like when a tornado goes through a community here, devastating it, and they are ready to clean up the mess and rebuild.

  2. I get a sense of hopelessness for the people living there, living among the rubble year after year.

    • Yes, that what it looked like to me, too. I had to think of the Dresden “Truemmerfrauen”, the ones, mainly women, who cleaned up after the total devastation of Dresden in 1945. I see this going on everywhere, the removal of rubble, the cleaning of salvageable bricks. But two years into all of this, shouldn’t there be more progress, more reconstruction? That might spur people on. Corruption within the government seems to be a major factor in all of this delay.