Monkeys, Cremations, and Sufi Music

December 6, 2009: Pashupatinath, Nepal

After class today, a couple classmates invited me to come along to a concert with them down the road in Pashupatinath. The show sounded really interesting– some musicians from Rajastan, India who play the sacred music of the Sufi mystics and sing the divine poetry of Kabir. Using sitars, drums, violins, harmonium, and the flute-like melody of their voices, these musicians were singing love songs written to God and the energy was powerful.

The town of Pashupatinath is quite old and is a very important Hindu village that is rich with culture and shrines and curious religious stuff everywhere. This is also where the dead come to die and all day and night bodies are prepared along the river, before being set aflame and cremated– their ashes then released into the holy Bagmati River. All day long, wafts of smoke are drifting everywhere around town like some kind of perpetual fog. Kind of a strange vibe to think that all this smoke, which I’ve been breathing all afternoon, is coming from bodies burning.

The monkeys in Pashupatinath are quite entertaining too. There is a huge population of them crazy creatures living here and they walk around the place as if they own it. It’s totally surreal to find yourself surrounded by hundreds of monkeys that are leaping from tree to tree and strolling on down the walkways beside you. At first, you don’t know whether to be affraid or to laugh, but when you see their profane bright pink buttcheeks, it seems unthinkable that these silly creatures could pose any risk.

When I got back to my hotel room this evening I found a letter under my door from Irati, a new friend of mine, suggesting we have dinner together. I met her at a coffee shop, and after doing a couple loops around the stupa, catching up on the wild saga that is life since we last saw each other, we headed off to a nice little restaurant.

At first when we got there the power was out and so the place was lit up with candles. It was beautiful. I gotta say, I love it when the electricity goes out in Nepal. It happens every day for varying durations and at different times. Sometimes it can be a nuisance. But one of the good things about this is that it’s the only time when them dingy fluorescent lights that light up all of Nepal get put to rest. This grim lighting has a way of making every space look like depressing police interrogation centers. When there’s no electricity, though, everyone uses candles. And for a while all is quite beautiful and romantic around town. It makes me laugh, though, because once the power comes back– all ambience and the intimacy of the situation get snuffed out right away. They immediately blow out the candles and flip back on their ghostly fluorescent lights.

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