Maha Shivaratri at Pashupatinath

Categories:Adventures, Kathmandu, Nepal
Vagabond Tim

As if that is not the most confusing title in the world.

Allow me to explain some of the terms before I start rambling…

Maha Shivaratri is essentially Shiva’s birthday, which translates to a few hundred thousand people milling about in a haze of hash smoke to the incessant beat of drums and instruments as annoying as the Vuvuzela. I walked about 16KM that day as all the roads were closed to vehicles.

Pashupatinath is apparently the most significant temple to Shiva, as well as being a UNESCO heritage site. From my point of view as a godless heathen it is a large series of buildings and staircases with a lot of monkeys.

So I woke up fairly early and headed out for breakfast knowing I would be walking around all day, almost immediately I ran into local children who had set up roadblock tollbooths with rope, most of the time I simply walked past them or glared at them until they relented, now this is in part due to the fact that I hadn’t had a coffee yet and partly due to the fact that in a distance of about 500 meters I ran into over ten of these. It got old really damn fast. Lars insisted on bribing them with cookies for reasons I cannot explain, perhaps he simply hates children less than I do.

Sufficiently full of caffeine we began the ridiculously long and winding trek across town to the temple, about halfway there the crowd thickened to a shoulder to shoulder situation not unlike a black Friday sale. I have often lamented that Nepali people walk at less than half what I deem to be a comfortable pace, this was far slower. What on an ordinary day would take about twenty minutes stretched into over two hours.

Finally we got close enough to the gates to begin seeing a cue for entry, it stretched back several blocks. As we contemplated finding the end of this nonsensical snaking line we were beckoned through by a few police officers, apparently being white gives one a free pass to not wait in line. While my inner hippy recoiled at the massive disparity in privilege being shown to me over actual Hindus who might actually appreciate the festival I was certainly not going to wait in a line that most likely would take until October to get into the gate.

After bypassing the line and walking another few confusing blocks we encountered yet another line of equal length, this process repeated half a dozen times until even being waved through the lines it had taken far far to long to get onto temple grounds. When I finally got close enough to the temple I discovered that the cremations usually taking place at the temple had not been stopped for the festival, this lent a rather unpleasant odour to the place, on top of the 700,000+ sweaty unwashed humans baking in the sun and the ever present cloud of hash smoke… in short it was a vision of hell.

Climbing a few dozen flights of stairs at a pace that would drive a snail insane we reached the clearing at the top to find it somewhat less packed full of people, one could almost extend their arms without hitting more than five people. The upside to the horrific climb was that the majority of the smoke was now below us.

Many of the locals described all sorts of fun and revelry taking place at the event, but all I was able to see was a few people busking and a human meat grinder of traffic, even the monkeys were in hiding from the massive crowds. I would like to say the experience was something other than a terrible waste of a day, but that would be a lie.


Just a few hundred thousand people crowding around trying to walk in every direction at once


I saw a few kids doing some kind of weird costume dance, somewhat disappointing compared to the promised festivities


Atop the mountain the crowd had dispersed to the point that it was only mildly infuriating to try to get anywhere


Leaving the temple I took another crowd shot, only to discover upon looking at it later that it more closely resembles some kind of riot or poison gas attack


The aftermath of the children’s toll lines is a network of strings tied to things all over the city

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