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Nepal’s living goddess

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…who still has to do homework

Samita Bajracharya is a 12-year-old Nepalese girl who lives with her family, studies hard, and enjoys playing a Nepali version of the lute. But until recently she was also worshipped by people who believed she was a reincarnated goddess.

Along a busy thoroughfare in Lalitpur, near Kathmandu, a passageway leads into a large, open-air courtyard. In the back corner, there’s a modest home, with a red sign outside that simply reads, “Living Goddess”.

A narrow wooden staircase leads up to the second floor, where the goddess spends much of her childhood. She’s called a Kumari, which means “young, unmarried girl”.

She’s worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal, who believe she’s a reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga.

I got to know the mother of this Kumari – Nepal has a few of them – after several visits to her house.

How did it feel when her daughter, Samita, was chosen to be a Kumari, I asked?

“I felt both happy and sad,” she says. “On one hand, I felt happy because when your daughter becomes god, having a god in the home is a delightful thing. But I also got scared because I wasn’t sure if we would be able to follow all the rules.”

There are many rules. For one, Samita’s mother has to apply special makeup to her daughter’s face in intricate designs. The girl isn’t allowed to go outside except for festivals. On those occasions, her feet must not touch the ground. That means someone has to carry the young goddess.

Furthermore, the Kumari is not permitted to speak to anyone besides her family and close friends.

The best way to find out what life is like for a child goddess is to talk to a former Kumari. I call Samita’s predecessor, Chanira Bajracharya (no relation), and she agrees to an interview in her home.

We sit on the floor of the dark chamber where she spent a decade praying and blessing visitors.

Chanira Bajracharya in 2007

I expect we’ll do the interview in Nepali, but when I ask her a question, she starts speaking fluently in English. She tells me that she learned the language by reading newspapers during her Kumari days.

“When I was a goddess, I used to peek through the holes of windows,” Chanira says.

She’s now a 19-year-old business student, and looks like any ordinary teenager in her fashionable green T-shirt and black trousers. She became a Kumari when she was just five years old.

“Being a goddess is just like being a princess and you get everything at home,” she says. “I never missed going outside, but rather enjoyed staying at home and being part of the divine life.”

This divine life ended abruptly when Chanira was 15, on the day she first menstruated. Suddenly she was no longer the Kumari. She says the transition was difficult.

“When I had to step out of my house for the first time, I didn’t know how to walk properly,” she says. “My mom and dad, they used to hold my hands and teach me how to walk.”

During her Kumari years, private tutors taught her at home. All of a sudden, she started going to school with other children.

“It was a big challenge for me,” Chanira says. “All of the classmates were so afraid to talk to me because I was an ex-goddess and I was treated a little bit differently.

“They even used to say that I’m an alien. They said that to me.”

Believers no longer bowed down to her or touched her feet as they’d done for years.

“I lost that respect,” she says. “I never imagined that my life would be so changed in such a sudden way.”

As soon as Chanira’s tenure ended, local priests chose a new Kumari. Her successor, Samita, happened to be a close friend, almost like a younger sister.

“When I was a goddess, she used to come here and we were friends so she knows about the Kumari life,” Chanira says.

The Kumari’s life of prayer also includes homework. When I go back to the current Kumari’s home, her mother allows me to enter her room and watch a private tutoring session.

For the first time, I see her as a normal girl as she sits quietly at her desk, and carefully takes notes.

“There wasn’t a tradition to educate the Kumaris in the past,” her teacher Rachna Upreti says. “Their world was in the four corners of their rooms.”

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Kumari

Kumari child
  • Kumari Devi are pre-pubescent girls, believed to be the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga – also called Taleju in Nepal
  • They are chosen based on several physical characteristics, but also have to pass a series of tests
  • There are several Kumaris in Nepal – the most important, in Kathmandu, lives in a royal dwelling called the Kumari Bahal
  • The goddess is believed to vacate the Kumari’s body when she first menstruates
  • The Kumari is selected from the Shakya or Bajracharya clan of Kathmandu’s Newari community

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

 

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‘Earliest shrine’ uncovered at Buddha’s birthplace

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The remains lay buried beneath the present day Maya Devi Temple

Archaeologists digging at Buddha’s birthplace have uncovered remains of the “earliest ever Buddhist shrine”.

They unearthed a 6th Century BC timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal.

The shrine appears to have housed a tree. This links to the Buddha nativity story – his mother gave birth to him while holding on to a tree branch.

Its discovery may settle the dispute over the birth date of the Buddha, the team reports in the journal Antiquity.

Radiocarbon

Every year thousands of Buddhists make a holy pilgrimage to Lumbini – long identified as the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha.

Yet despite the many texts chronicling his life and teachings, it is still uncertain when he lived.

Estimates for his birth stretch as far back as 623 BC, but many scholars believed 390-340 BC a more realistic timeframe.

Until now, the earliest evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the 3rd Century BC, in the era of the emperor Ashoka.

To investigate, archaeologists began excavating at the heart of the temple – alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.

They unearthed a wooden structure with a central void which had no roof. Brick temples built later above the timber were also arranged around this central space.

To date the buildings, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.

“Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the 6th century BC,” said archaeologist Prof Robin Coningham of Durham University, who co-led the international team, supported by the National Geographic Society.

The holy site remained open for meditation while archaeologists excavated

“This is the earliest evidence of a Buddhist shrine anywhere in the world.

“It sheds light on a very long debate, which has led to differences in teachings and traditions of Buddhism.

“The narrative of Lumbini’s establishment as a pilgrimage site under Ashokan patronage must be modified since it is clear that the site had already undergone embellishment for centuries.”

The dig also detected signs of ancient tree roots in the wooden building’s central void – suggesting it was a tree shrine.

Tradition records that Queen Maya Devi gave birth to the Buddha while grasping the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden.

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Scary Airports

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Next week Quito’s infamous airport will move, offering an easier place for pilots. Kai Tak, in Hong Kong, the most precarious of landings where you could see washing hanging on lines, no longer exists. But thrill seekers can still fly to Cusco, Innsbruck, Kathmandu or St Barts, to name a few. Look away if you are scared of flying

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Paro, Bhutan: a Drukair-Royal Bhutan airlines airbus A319-114 passenger jet prepares to land at the international airport Photograph: Singye Wangchuk /Reuters

See slid show of 15 scary airports

See slide show of 15 scary airports

Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal, probably No1. scary airport…
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In the next clip landing, you can see what’s at the end of that runway… NOTHING!

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You miss on the final approach, there’s no going round for another shot.

Attacks prompt Nepal to cap wildlife growth

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Attacks by wild animals have caused lives and property to be lost

Officials in Nepal have said they will now have to put a cap on the growth of wildlife including endangered species like tigers and rhinos.

They say it is a result of significant increase in loss of human lives from attacks by wild animals.

The problem is especially acute in buffer zones between human settlements and national parks.

In recent years, Nepal has developed a successful protection programme for many endangered species.

The Bardiya National Park in the west now has more than 80 elephants, almost 10 times as many as there were in the 1990s.

In the Himalayas, the numbers of endangered species like snow leopards and red pandas have been growing as well.

And the country has nearly 24% of its land area as protected areas, including national parks, conservation areas and wildlife reserves.

With all these achievements in nature conservation, however, Nepal has also witnessed a rising number of human deaths and property losses because of wildlife.

In the last five years, more than 80 people have been killed by wild elephants while 17 of the animals died in retaliatory killings, according to forest ministry officials.

Elephant protest

Last month, local people in Chitwan, southern Nepal, staged a strike and demanded that a rogue elephant be killed after it had taken the lives of three people.

A few months ago, a leopard in western Nepal caused terror as it killed more than a dozen people within a matter of weeks.

In eastern Nepal, herds of wild elephants continue to rampage, demolishing human settlements and raiding crops.

National park boundaries are no barrier to animal movement

Meanwhile, common leopards are increasingly attacking children and livestock in the hilly region.

Further north, in the trans-Himalayan region, locals continue to complain about snow leopards preying on their livestock.

Although forest ministry officials are yet to compile the latest data on these losses, they do admit that such incidents have gone up remarkably.

“Before, we used to record about 30 human deaths because of wildlife attacks annually but in the past few years the figure appears to have risen significantly,” said Forest Ministry spokesman Krishna Acharya who, until recently, headed Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

He added: “The time has now come for us to determine how many such wildlife species we can have in our protected areas.”

WWF’s Nepal country director, Anil Manandhar, said the problem had become quite serious.

“This is now something that could become the biggest threat and setback for Nepal’s success in wildlife conservation,” he explained.

Buffer zones

Wildlife experts say human settlements known as buffer zones around national parks have become flashpoints for human-wildlife encounters.

“The numbers of rhinos and tigers are increasing in the national park and they are moving out in search of food and space. Meanwhile, the increasing human population needs more of the natural resources available, and that competition creates conflict,” said Mr Acharya.

Most of Nepal’s national parks and protected areas are either in the Himalayan region or in the Tarai area, the southern plain land that border India.

Yet, wildlife-related loss of lives and properties are also increasingly being seen in the mid-hill region, geographically located between the Himalayas and Tarai plain land.

Rhino numbers in Chitwan National Park have shot up in recent years

Conservationists point at the growing number of attacks on children and livestock by common leopards because this region has seen huge success in community forestry.

“We have been hearing complaints from farmers that community forests have more wildlife than in some national parks and therefore they are suffering losses of lives and properties,” said Yam Bahadur Malla, country director for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Nepal.

He also suggested it was necessary to scientifically demarcate the boundaries of national parks, as some species involved in the attacks were sometimes found outside the existing boundaries.

Forest ministry officials, however, said the chances of expanding existing protected areas were very slim because Nepal had already made huge swathes of land available for nature conservation.

Mr Acharya said the details of plans to limit wildlife growth were yet to be worked out but he added that one of the ideas would be to relocate some of the wildlife species.

“We have listed nine such species that can be trans-located from where there are quite many of them to where there are very few and such species include animals involved in conflicts with humans,” he said.

Mr Acharya also hinted that Nepal will now not commit to protect more wildlife than the amount its protected areas could sustain.

“For instance, we have said we will double the number of tigers to 250. But as we cannot expand our protected areas, we will not be able to commit more than that,” he said.

“Nor can we add new conservation areas.”

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Nepal’s Notorious Airports

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Plane crash in northern Nepal kills 21 people

Agni Air Dornier Do228 similar to the crashed plane

A plane carrying 21 people has crashed while trying to land at an airport in the north of Nepal, leaving 15 dead.

Police say that six survivors are being treated at a hospital in the city of Pokhara. Many of the dead and injured are Indian nationals.

The Agni Air plane hit a hillside as it tried to land at Jomsom airport, a hub for trekkers and religious pilgrims.

Aviation accidents involving small aircraft are not uncommon in mountainous Nepal.

The Dornier aircraft was carrying 18 passengers and three crew members, and had been travelling to Jomsom from the city of Pokhara.

Officials say they are investigating the cause of the crash, which happened soon after the pilot abandoned efforts to land at Jomsom because of strong winds and was about to fly back to Pokhara.

Thirteen Indian passengers and two Nepali pilots were killed in the crash, Jomsom police official Basanta Ranjit said.

Source: BBC News Read more

Taking off from Jomsom Airport (JOM)

If you think that is hair raising…

Try doing it from Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport (LUA)

That’s a 700 metre drop into the valley below at the end of the runway. LUA is considered the No. 1 extreme airport in the world.

Busy little place, isn’t it?

Nepal’s mystery language on the verge of extinction

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Ms Sen has been described by experts as a linguistic treasure

Gyani Maiya Sen, a 75-year-old woman from western Nepal, can perhaps be forgiven for feeling that the weight of the world rests on her shoulders.

She is the only person still alive in Nepal who fluently speaks the Kusunda language. The unknown origins and mysterious sentence structures of Kusunda have long baffled linguists.

As such, she has become a star attraction for campaigners eager to preserve her dying tongue.

Madhav Prasad Pokharel, a professor of linguistics at Nepal’s Tribhuwan University, has spent a decade researching the vanishing Kusunda tribe.

Professor Pokharel describes Kusunda as a “language isolate”, not related to any common language of the world.

“There are about 20 language families in the world,” he said, “among them are the Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan and Austro-Asiatic group of languages.

“Kusunda stands out because it is not phonologically, morphologically, syntactically and lexically related to any other languages of the world.

‘Very sad’ He warns that if the Kusunda language becomes extinct, “a unique and important part of our human heritage will be lost forever”

‘Very sad’

He warns that if the Kusunda language becomes extinct, “a unique and important part of our human heritage will be lost forever”.

Prof Pokharel with Gyani Maiya Sen The entire Kusunda tribe is on the verge of disappearing along with its last fluent speaker

Even if some of the lofty intellectual arguments for preserving the Kusunda language are lost on Ms Sen, she is acutely aware of how its demise affects her personally.

“Fortunately I can also speak Nepali, but I feel very sad for not being able to speak my own language with people from my own community,” she said.

“Although there are still other people from the Kusunda tribe still alive, they neither understand nor speak the language.

“Other Kusunda people… can only speak a few Kusunda words, but can’t communicate [fully] in the language.”

Source: BBC News Read more

Himalayan Viagra

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Cordyceps sinesis

Yarsagumba (Cordyceps sinesis) in Tibetan literally means summer plant and winter insect. Before the rainy season begins, spores of the cordyceps mushroom settle on the heads of caterpillars that lives underground. The fungus eats into the body of the caterpillars so that it grows out of its head and draining all the energy from the insect which in the end dies.

Yarsagumba, Yarshagumba or Yarchagumba is a rare and unique herb that grows in the meadows above 3,500 meters (11,483 feet) in the Himalayan region of Nepal. There are various types of famous medicinal plants found in Nepal but the popularity of yarsagumba is simply overwhelming.

The specific fungus which is also known as the “Caterpillar fungus” is traditionally added to soups or tea to improve vigor and vitality since long.

Yarsagumba

They believe that the soup of the fungus improves stamina, endurance, lung capacity, kidney functions, and sexual performance. The medicinal importance of the fungus, especially that it improves sexual performance was already documented in 14th century.

A large number of elderly men in New York are forking out more than $800 for a fungus covered dead body of a caterpillar known as Yarsagumba, which is being marketed as Himalayan Viagra.

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