Originally from 5 November 2011.
To reach the final destination at last, after two days of travel, I opted for a two-hour car ride from Kathmandu to Panauti. It was a beautiful drive, and intimidating besides…
Drivers in Nepal must have the most amazing reflexes and memories in the world, and if you asked me for recommendations, I would suggest putting them into surgery training instead of university students. Honks, hand signals, whistles, quick beeps, sharp beeps, wheedling beeps, gestures, eye movements, and probably telepathy all combine to form an elabourate system, by which drivers wend their way through traffic lanes that are more suggestions than strict requirements. I’m a good driver in my home state, but I’d last maybe two minutes on a Nepali street before being reduced to a smear on the side of a mountain.
Now, intellectually I knew that the world is a dazzlingly faceted place, that many cultures have different customs, but somehow assumed that accommodations in other countries would have the same basic designs and dimensions. So, without considering further, I’d reserved a room in a guesthouse, looking forward to a colourful space within a traditional Newari home. So we arrived in Panauti and stopped in front of the guesthouse, then entered the home, climbed some stairs, and went to see the rooms reserved.
A bit of history, first: in my birthplace New Orleans, a city at sea level, early efforts to bury people underground were met with extreme difficulty because of the water table. The city’s beautiful stone angels, the “cities of the dead” that are so admired by photographers and artists, arose out of a need for above-ground tombs. These crypts are often comprised of brick walls and, at least on the inside, resemble old-school baker’s ovens.
So when I walked into a room with bare brick walls, too short for me to stand up in, I panicked.
I tried to be brave and reasonable, and that effort lasted for twenty seconds or so, until I imagined sleeping there in pitch darkness. It was like I imagined it might be to stand in my own grave; the bed felt like an open coffin. Now, I believe in self-inquiry; I understand the need to destroy one’s demons. But I was over-traveled, under-rested, had been ill for much of the flight, and didn’t feel strong enough to confront and overcome my fear of mortality right at that moment.
Panic grew, logic lessened, and after a few phone calls, another stay was found for me on the other side of town. I went there instead, and the tall ceilings were instantly reassuring.
The best part of all was an open rooftop area adjacent to my room, a huge space with a gorgeous view of the surrounding town and hillsides. You can see one example here.
One of the rivers – I never did find out which – made a peaceful rushing sound always, right outside of my window. Two rivers converge at Panauti, the Rosi and the Punyamati. But there is another that joins with both.
There are two stories about this river, the second being more important and widely known. The first is told by the poet Mahipati and is this: Indra once asked Pārvatī how she could stand to have a husband who always wore ascetic’s garb. Pārvatī, extremely angry over this slight to Śiva, cursed Indra that he should bear a woman’s name and be transformed into water. Indra propitiated Śiva, who in turn convinced Pārvatī to mollify her curse. So the river Indrayani sprang forth from Indra, fulfilling Pārvatī’s curse in a gentle and beneficent manner.
The second story is the one known to Panauti town, that Indra came here to be purified; his loyal wife Śacī accompanied him, and both began penance there. Śiva eventually granted Indra deliverance, and Pārvatī then took pity on Śacī and graced the latter with transformation into life-giving waters, to bless the town that had sheltered her. And so, the Indrayani is the third, invisible river coursing beneath Panauti.
There is a beautiful energy in this place, the onrush of the Indrayani and the pulse of Panauti’s people. Passers-by have said namaste to us with tremendous grace; they seem to radiate the sacred word’s meaning with each syllable. Despite my mortifying behaviour – I felt awful for having committed to a stay in the guesthouse and then leaving so suddenly – no-one has been unkind. When I arrived at the new hotel, I was brimming over with mental prayers of gratitude for the solution to my difficulty, and just then, it started to drizzle, then to pour, a mighty sudden rush of rain and thunder onto the valley.
Even with the rain, a cremation fire started this afternoon continues to burn into an increasingly chilly night.
Agni and Yama are there on the grounds, with Indra above and Indrayani below.
© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.