The clamour of bells, drums and resonating vocals drowned the entire Taumadhi Square (City Square). Flickering oil lamps, lit during the evening prayers, devoured the darkness created by the daily power outage – well the headlights of the two-wheelers passing through the square were of some help too. The singing group was in front of Bhairawa temple, that stood next to the big pyramidal Nyatapola Temple, which was also my vantage point for the duel that was about to begin.
They were in the middle of their song, when I saw the other group gathering right next to them. In no time, the second group started singing, not the same verse but something entirely different. I was not sure if it was a sing off. I wondered what the prize was, maybe an extended package in heaven… I wished I had earplugs!
People sat on the foot-high dance platform that lay in front of the temple. They were deep in trance. It dawned on me. The cacophony of conflicting songs was like radio channels caught in static, you just focussed on your choice of music. I found calm in chaos.
Like a relaxed Roman senator, in the Amphitheatre, I closed my eyes and thought of the evening.
Earlier, I was in Dattetreya Square, which had a market of fresh produce, day-to-day items and street snacks. Like any other South Asian City, it buzzed with coaxing calls of the vendors, and hissing of kerosene lamps that singed your nostrils, if you went too close.
Suddenly, the sight of crispy-fried-hollow puffs of flour or panipuri beckoned me. Perhaps, that was what I had come to Bhaktapur for?
“Hujoor”, greeted a woman, flashing her tobacco stained teeth, she offered me lava-filled panipuris that burned a gaping hole in my anatomy. Well they did warn me that Nepalese eat spicy food!
Not far from there, at several places in the street, were wooden platforms with grass-mats on them. These were the points where local old men gathered and discussed varied topics like politics or the day’s gossip like “how much milk my Buffalo produced!” Life can be mundane when interactions are face-to-face and not via social media.
Silence settled in. Both the groups had finished their prayers.
I descended from my perch. By then, the sooty, oil lamps at Bhairawa Temple were the only beacon in the Taumadhi Square. I could imagine the city during Diwali, the festival of lights.
I sauntered towards my guesthouse through the unlit alleyways. I was not apprehensive of being mugged; in fact, I was more scared of possible paranormal encounter.
Later that night, when I tried to sleep, I thought I heard drums. It was a dull thumping. I pictured medieval Malla rulers in a street procession. May be, the city was haunted. I could not blame the dead. After all, Bhaktapur is poetry in form of terracotta bricks, stone masonry and wooden carvings; it is of a time when faith was enough to build a city!