Eat, Pray, Stare….
Have you ever been watched? Like really, literally intentionally watched? To be honest, before coming to Nepal, I haven’t. Frankly, it came to me as a great surprise the way in which local people, especially in rural areas, react while facing foreigners. Hundreds of “Namaste” being shouted at me were overwhelming. Making my own laundry became very theatrical, it could even gather an audience of up to 20 people. Indeed, at the beginning it was quite difficult for me to overcome this particular interest shown in my every single move. However, the same people watching me were always supportive and eager to help me understand the local novelties. Local food, relations between people, religious rituals, all are still fascinating to me. Being able to participate in the life of my community allowed me to have an insight look into Nepali culture.
For the Nepali New Year that falls on 14 April, I decided to take part in a morning Puja (a prayer ritual performed in Hindu religion to worship one or more deities, or to spiritually celebrate an event). As my Aama (mother of the house) worships Shiva every morning, I was truly intrigued and wanted to experience it by myself. You might think that waking up at 5:00 am is difficult. For me it definitely is when I am on my European schedule. Here, I happen to be awake much earlier, since everyday the rooster starts its beautiful but loud and annoying hoot song at 4:00 am. So this is it, I am awake and ready to start, but how do you start? Firstly, take of your shoes. In most of the Hindu or Buddhist temples entrance with your shoes on is strictly prohibited. Our temple is very small so in practice I was just walking barefoot on my courtyard. Secondly, gather all necessary utensils and gifts. All of the little bronze pots and jars, besides being extremely beautiful, have their own purpose. The tall jar contains water enriched by sugar, buffalo butter and seeds. The small plate with several round hollows is full of tika pigments and rice. There are also flower shaped incense stands and at least several small candle bowls. Finally, add to that a few food goodies and flowers and your morning Puja ingredients are complete. The ritual itself starts with lighting up incense, candles and fumigation. Later on my Aama and I gave tikas to all gods and goddesses and decorated the temple itself and the Shiva statute with flowers. Further, enriched water was placed in yet another bowl over Shiva’s head. This placement allowed water to drop slowly down the god’s cheeks, smudging red and yellow pigments. As a younger person I received a blessing from my Aama and tika was placed on my forehead. The Puja ritual came to an end and the breakfast preparation began.
It’s Dal Bhat Tarkari, always and everywhere, Dal Bhat Tarkari. This national Nepali dish includes Dal – lentil soup, Bhat – rice and Takari – masala fried vegetables and it’s simply delicious! I haven’t met even a single Nepali person whose favorite plate wouldn’t be Dal Bhat Tarkari. Repetitively eating Dal Bhat Tarkari like a mantra for breakfast, lunch and dinner took over my dietary basis. Although it took me a while to appreciate it, I can now wholeheartedly admit that I am a true Dal Bhat Tarkari fan. What is worth mentioning, it gets especially tasty while combined with other Nepalese treats, like local spinach, pickles, buffalo yoghurt or crunchy flat bread. Oh please, dear reader, if you ever travel through Nepal, be patient and try and try and try Dal Bhat Tarkari, and I do sincerely promise that you will discover the true and delightful taste of Nepal.