Every summer (July/August), the city of Nakchu comes alive to the sounds of horses hoofs galloping and the yells and hoots of the horsemen and the crowds. The annual Nakchu Horse Racing Festival is underway!
Nakchu, an important trading city, is situated on the Lhasa-Ziling highway. Lying in the midst of the rugged mountains, this city is home to the hardy Tibetan nomads or drokpas, and has been for centuries. It is a vast pastoral area bordered by rugged mountain terrain. Nakchu is popular throughout Tibet for its annual Horse Racing Festival. The Tibetan highlanders are adept horsemen, and in the month of July most of them weave their way to Nakchu to take part in the race. The city bears a festive look with the scores of appliquéd tents that are pitched up, bordering the Nakchu race course. This race course, at 4500 m(14763 ft), is undoubtedly the highest race course in the world. The Tibetans throng the racecourse looking grand in their traditional finery. The town has few hotels as most of the participants, mostly Tibetan nomads prefer to camp in their own tents, which are quite large and roomy and colorful too.
During the festival, shows of horsemanship skills, including archery on horseback and racing, are the main attractions. There will also be much revelry and merry making among the participants and the crowds. Tibetans rarely let an occasion pass without singing and dancing.
Over here the weather conditions are harsh and the facilities for visitors are quite basic. However the Horse racing Festival presents a great opportunity for both Tibetans as well as the visitors to participate in an age old festival.
The streets of Kathmandu were filled with ladies dressed in the festive Teej color of red as I made my way to Pashupatinath Temple to cover the Teej festival celebration on 3rd Sept.’08. All decked up like brides, the ladies young and old made a pretty sight in red sarees, green potey (Nepali bead necklace), colorful green and red glass bangles and gold ornaments. The color red is considered auspicious in the Hindu religion as red signifies shakti (power). There was a carnival spirit around the temple as some of the ladies sang songs while waiting for their turn to pay homage to Lord Shiva and pray for their husband’s long life (the unmarried girls pray for a good husband).
A three-day-long festival, Teej is mainly celebrated by Hindu women during August/ September to pray for their husbands’ well being and a happy and fulfilling marital life. According to Hindu mythology the divine couple, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were reunited only after the goddess took one hundred and eight rebirths. She fasted and prayed for her husband before she was finally reunited with him. So on this day, like Goddess Parvati, Hindu wives also observe fasting (some without taking water or swallowing their saliva) to honor Lord Shiva and pray for their husband’s long life.
The first day of the Teej festival is called ‘Dar Khane Din‘. On this day, the married ladies are invited to their parental home to feast and prepare themselves for the next day’s fasting. There is much merry making and singing and dancing. On the second day they observe a fast and worship Lord Shiva. Married women pray for the long and healthy life of their husbands while unmarried girls ask for a good husband. The third day is called ‘Rishi Panchami‘. On this day, the saptarishis (seven sages of the Hindu pantheon) are worshiped by the ladies that they be cleansed of all sins.
When I reached the Pashupati area, there was long line of devotees stretching from the main road to the temple precincts. They were waiting for their turn to worship at the temple’s shrine. Some of the ladies said that they had been standing in the queue for more then 5 hours. But this is not unusual, because women from far off places come to Pashupatinath Temple(regarded as one of the holiest shrine of Lord Shiva) to offer their prayers on this day. Female devotees line up from as early as 4a.m. to offer their prayers. The temple lies on the bank of the holy Bagmati river and as I walked by the riverside, there were ladies putting down their offerings (flowers, incense sticks and coins) on a small stone shivalinga (sacred symbol of Lord Shiva) by the river.
[ Offerings for the “Shivalinga” ]
The ladies who had already offered their prayers could be seen making a beeline for the mehandi appliers to apply mehandi (henna) on their hands. The festival of Teej is also regarded as a time when women especially take time out from their daily routine for shringaar (to beautify and adorn themselves). So this unique festival can also be taken as a kind of celebration of womanhood.
[ Women decorating their hands with mehandi (henna). It is believed that the darker the mehandi shade on the hands, the deeper will be the love between couples. ]
[ Colours of Teej ]
[ A lady finds time to do some quick household shopping ]
A huge number of visitors celebrated Janaipurnima festival on August 16 making their journey more dynamic and excited on the snowy laps of mysterious Gosaikunda. People throng at large number on trekking to view mountainous looks along with the religious ceremony.
Photo by: Valeriy Garkal
Gosaikunda, (kunda literally means pond or lake) the shrine for many deities of regular Hindu pilgrimage, that lies in Rasuwa district, north from Kathmandu, Nepal. One of Nepal’s most famous religious places of pilgrimage is Gosainkunda lake situated at an altitude of about 4,380 metres under the Langtang National Park where are 100 species of flora and fauna, many more wild lives, disappearing snow-leopard and red panda. A total of 108 glacial fed lakes small to medium including Bhairavkunda, Saraswatikunda and Dudhkunda (milk-pond ) are in this area and also the challenging Lauribina La pass 4,610 meters on its outskirts.
Surrounded by high mountains on the north and east, this lake is grand and picturesque, and the Trishuli river originates from the ponds of Gosaikunda. It is believed to have originated from the digging of the land by the Trishul (holy 3-pointed sword) of lord Shiva after he drank the poison from samudramanthan (sea- charning) and desperately wanted cold water to drink quenching the overwhelming heat of the poison. The large rock in the center of the lake is said to be the remains of a Shiva shrine and it is also claimed that channel carries water from the lake directly to the tank at the Kumbheshwar Temple in Patan of Kathmandu valley.
Every year during Janai Purnima that fall n full moon in August, thousands of Hindu pilgrims come to take holy bath in the lake. It is believed that if one prayed and bathed in those ponds, one would get fulfilled one’s wish and salvation in life. Whereas Hindu people from different parts of the country as well from abroad visit the sacred place for their religious and spiritual rituals of worshiping their ancestors, the people from other religions enjoy trekking and watching the very astonishing and wonderful activities of the different people.
Although it is known as Hindu pilgrimage, people from Buddhists community also take it equally important place for their own values and tradition of acquiring strength for meditation, enlightenment and cosmopolitan feelings. Local dances such as Syabru, Mane, and shamanism of typical Tamang (Buddhist) culture that performed on the occasion would enhance the fair robustly. In the area, majority of Tamangs who are categorized one of the very original and typical 70 ethnic communities of the country. Shamans perform the very tantric dance in their strange costumes representing of ancient and medieval ages.
Photo by: Valeriy Garkal
A bulk of weird shamans, who do not bathe in the lakes, visits the holy place each year believing that they would receive divine insights from praying to the lakes of Gosaikunda. Shamans also perform bizarre and weird dances in the fair. In a 10-days May-June cultural fair, at least 1000 people visit the place each day for the same spiritual journey. All the people who have heard about culture and traditions of Gosaikunda march on trekking to tread on its wonderful paths.
Gosainkunda trek links to the famous Langtang trek in the same district from where Ganesh Himal and Langtang peaks are visible. The lake remains frozen for 6 months from October to June. We need not worry about accommodation in the area as many good hotels, inns and restaurants are available along the route to Helambu trek. The best season to visit is June. However, thousands of devotees and tourists visit Gosaikunda on the Janaipurnima festival following the hundreds of years’ tradition.
Gosaikunda, the holy place is on the way of a popular trekking route of Dhunche-Gosainkunda-Helambu trail that takes about eight days journey. We can ride bus from Kathmandu to Dhunche, district headquarters and start the trekking. It takes 10 hours to two days to reach Gosaikunda.
Explore Himalaya Travel & Adventure is organizing special programs at Gosainkunda in August, 2009. Explore Himalaya has also arranged providing facilities to view the scenes from helicopters as part of the sightseeing.