We did once enjoy getting hit by a ball

28 03 2014

This photograph, which was taken at a school yard during my wanderings to Kathmandu in Nepal in April 2011, takes me back to my own days in primary school some four decades ago, when children looked forward to the opportunities for physical activity and outdoor play that presented itself during recess time as well as before and after school hours. It didn’t matter then that we would be sweaty, our uniforms often bearing the marks left by balls or through falling during play. It was pure fun and a perfect way to interact.

JeromeLim Kathmandu 2011 IMG_9271s

Many of the games we played in the expansive fields involved a good run around. Games such as “catching”, football, rounders were popular, as was the game that the photograph does remind me of, “hentam bola“, or as we did pronounce it, “hantam bola“.

Translated from Malay as “hit with (or by) a ball”, although grammatically not quite correct, the game involved a player, singled out as one who “pasang” – who initially would have drawn the short straw through a selection process that might have involved mini-games of chance (a common one used was “oh-bey-som“, similar to rock, paper, scissors).

Played in an open field, the objective of “hentam bola” for the “pasang” was to chase the other players (who would be trying to give the “pasang” a run around), and attempt to hit another player by throwing a ball with as much strength as one could muster. A successful hit would mean that the player hit would be the next to throw the ball. The ball we used was a small compressed air filled rubber ball, which could sometimes do some damage, not just to the players, but to glass panes in windows and doors.

It is sad that the outdoors feature less in children’s play in Singapore these days, not just due to the gadget age, but also with open space at a premium – many schools have sacrificed parts of their great outdoors for the greater indoors in the form of sports halls and the opportunity for such outdoor play does seem to be greatly reduced.

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Globalisation in an ancient world

23 10 2013

The colours of Globalisation as seen in an ancient world – the Nepali city of Bhaktapur which dates back to the 9th Century. The city with its old squares and buildings is one which does otherwise take one far away from the modern world. It is also where an ancient festival, that of the Bisket Jatra, is celebrated every Nepali New Year in a way it might have been celebrated centuries before.

JeromeLim IMG_1460





A living gallery of Kathmandu’s heritage: Durbar Square

16 07 2011

Kathmandu is a city that is blessed with some of the most magical of places, several of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are not just a collection of buildings that have lost their souls, but sites in which the rich cultural heritage of the city and country is very much being lived out in the present day. In additional to the two heritage sites that I have mentioned, Swayambunath and Boudhanath, there is another, Durbar Square, that serves as the heart and soul of the city. It is in the square that one finds what is said to be the oldest building in the Kathmandu Valley, the Kasthamandap or House of Wood, which in fact gives Kathmandu its name. The house which dates back to the 12th Century is where the city is said to be centred on, and is one in an amazing concentration of monuments (of which there are more than 50) packed into an area that measures no more than about 300 metres by 300 metres.

Durbar Square is a living showcase of Kathmandu's heritage.

Arriving at the square late in the afternoon, what greeted us was not just the warm glow of sunlight that reflected off the red and brown of the buildings in the square, but a quadrangle that was abuzz with the confusion of traffic on the streets in and through the square mixed with the sounds and movement of life that seemed to swirl all around me. The square indeed was alive, alive not just with the passage of life through it, but also with life as it is lived within it.

Kathmandu's Durbar Sqaure has more than 50 monuments packed into a 300 by 300 metre area.

The Bhagwati Temple - part of the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar complex that is the heart of Kathmandu's Durbar Square.

At the heart of Durbar Square is the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar – a complex that served as the seat of power of the Malla and later the Shah dynasty of Nepal that dates back to the 16th Century. It was the intricate wood work of the Bhagwati Temple of the complex that was the first building that caught my attention standing as I stood in awe at all that surrounded me. It wasn’t the last as all around as I wandered I was struck by the wealth of Newari architecture that the area was filled with, many of which are still serving the functions they were originally built to serve.

Part of the former Royal Palace complex.

Another part of the former Royal Palace complex.

Another eye-catching piece that isn’t so much a building but a colourful relief that is carved into a 3.7 metre high piece of stone – that of Kala (Black) Bhairav, a manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva in a six-armed terrifying destructive form that is seen to be stepping on top of a human form that symbolises human ignorance. The image of Kala Bhairav is said to strike down anyone who is dishonest before it, has served in the past as a place where criminals are tried and innocence was often proven by the swearing of innocence to the image.

The 3.7m relief of Kala Bhairav was used in the past to try criminals.

Beyond the masterpieces of Newari architecture, scenes of everyday life added to the wonderful experience of a visitor to the square. All around there were rows of vegetables being sold, little shops that operated from some of the old buildings themselves, and people going about their daily lives (as well as the many that seemed to be there just to soak the atmosphere in). Wandering around the square and taking in the somewhat bewildering array of what was on offer, it didn’t seem long before the fading light of the sun set told us that it was time to go. And after a final walk around, I was prepared to part taking away with not just the many images I captured with my camera, but a lasting impression of what is certainly a living gallery of Kathmandu’s heritage.

The square was filled with people going about thier daily lives.

A man watching the world pass him by.

Another man sits, watching the world pass by from under the arches of the Bhagwati Temple.

Vegetables being sold on the steps of the Maju Dega, a 17th Century shirne in Durbar Square.

A dried goods vendor.

Shops operate out of some of the old buildings.

A child that seemed to be carrying her weight over her shoulders.

Cotton candy on sale.

The image of Kala Bhairav in Durbar Square.





An early morning stroll around the streets of Kathmandu

12 07 2011

I love taking a stroll around the streets of any city that I find myself in, particularly in a city in which the streets are alive as is the case in much of Asia. Mornings are especially interesting when streets, in a matter of minutes, come to life not just with the coming and going of people going about their daily routines, but also often with street markets that add not just the array of sounds and colours, but a sense of life as it is lived on the streets. Kathmandu, where I found myself with some friend in April is one place in which the an early morning stroll offers the visitor not just an opportunity to see the streets come alive, but also to see Kathmandu as it would be, unadulterated and clear of the hoards of tourists that throng the streets later in the day and without the distractions of what is on offer at the shops that lay behind the closed shutters of the early morning.

Children getting ready to go to school.

The early morning street scene.

Nepali pastries that seem to be a popular choice for breakfast.

The scene outside the pastry shop.

Opened padlocks lined up against the window sill as a shopkeeper opens for the day.

Rickshaws riders waiting for customers.

Workers waiting for their transport to arrive.

Judokas on an early morning jog through the streets.

A delivery man on his rounds.

A milkman carries a milkcan on his shoulders.

A vegetable vendor sets up shop in an alley.

The butcher's shop.

Customers watch as a butcher carves goat meat.

A lady holding a child buying food from a mobile vendor.

Salt being sold at a sundry shop.

Sunlight streams into an abandoned shop.

A vegetable vendor transporting his goods on a bicycle.

A tailor gets down to work in a hole in the wall.

A butcher's shop.

A mobile vendor balancing his wares on his head.

Vegetables on sale on the sidewalk.

Snacks on sale.

The breakfast crowd at a bread shop.

A fishmonger.

The scene in a schoolyard.

A reluctant customer at a barbershop.





The road to Nagarkot from the backseat of a van

6 07 2011

Nagarkot, where the group of friends I was with had hoped to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the top of the world, is a hill station that lies some 32 kilometres east of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. Sitting at an elevation of some 2,195 metres, it reputedly offers the visitor a magnificent panorama, not just of the highest mountains in the world to the east, but also of the Kathmandu valley to the west. And, it was with the promise of that, that we had long before our visit, decided that we should break away from Kathmandu for a day and head up to Nagarkot for an overnight stay.

Nagarkot, besides offering a view of the rooftop of the world, also offers a view of the surrounding foothills in and around the Kathmandu Valley.

The dusty and bumpy road to Nagarkot is one that first rises gradually from the ancient town of Bhaktapur, before there is a dramatic change in gradient further on. It is one which on the steeper part of the ascent, that provides a wonderful view of the hills around, many with terraced slopes that from which the valued long grained variety of rice is harvested from. And as I am usually inclined to do when seated in the back seat of a car or in this case a van, I tried to capture the scenes on the road to the top as best I could, managing a photograph whenever the van slowed to negotiate a bend. And so, through the series of photographs that I managed on the bumpy road … I am now able to share that the long, winding and dusty road to Nagarkot seen from the backseat of a van with anyone that is willing to take the road with me …

The road to Nagarkot begins from Bhaktapur east of Kathmandu ...

The landscape changes with the gradual rising of the bumpy and dusty road to Nagarkot.

Still on the initial part of the climb which is marked by the lush greenery that lines the road.

The road starts to rise more steeply and provides a wonderful view of the slopes below.

Terraces come into view as the road rises further.

Another view downslope.

Negotiating a sharp bend.

Houses perched on the slope.

Looking down at the road we taken.

A shack by the roadside.

Women with loads that are supported by their heads and necks struggling up the steep gradient.

The landscape changes dramatically as we climb higher ...

Another van and a car following the van we were in up the narrow and winding road.

The changing landscape.

The approach into Nagarkot.

The view from Nagarkot Village.

The best view on the bus.

And 45 minutes after we started the ascent ... our destination ...

but, not before a little bit of work that needed to be done ...

An out of the backseat view of the Peaceful Cottage and the Cafe do Mont ... there was apparently more work to be done!





Sunrise over the top of the world

14 06 2011

Getting up at 5 in the morning probably isn’t one’s idea of a holiday, but it is something that I regularly do just so as to revel in my favourite time of the day. It is the sunrise of the new world that I often seek, a time which always brings a sense of calmness, freshness and hope to me. Sunrises anywhere have a unique flavour, some accompanied by a brilliant show of colours, some less so … the sight of that red or orange ball or light rising over the horizon or the distant landscape is truly remarkable and one that I never fail to marvel at. It is something that I have done, since the carefree days of childhood when I first watched that red ball of fire rise over the distant horizon as I listened to the sound of the South China Sea lapping up the same fine white sand that was stuck in between my toes as I sat seated in between my parents.

I have always been one for the sunrise – the sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal near Corinto, Nicaragua, 1985.

A magical sunrise that I recently had the good fortune to see whilst on holiday was one that I watched in the company of friends with whom I go back to a time that would have been the time of that first sunrise that I watched. It was on the trip to Kathmandu that we found ourselves perched, at 5 in the morning, up on the roof of the Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot, a hill station just out of Kathmandu which on clear days, provides a wonderful vantage from which the majesty of the world highest peaks rising in the distance, can be admired. The sunrise wasn’t so much one that was magical in its display of colours with the morning’s mist filtering out any attempts the sun made to paint the canvas that was the sky, but one that was magical just for the view of the mist shrouded hills below us that extended across to the magical looking mountain range rising high above the hills.

The anticipation of a brand new day over the Himalayas roused many from their slumber including this couple on the roof of another building across from the Peaceful Cottage.

I guess it would be hard to describe in words the magical spectacle that started with the surreal glow over the still invisible snow capped peaks, the glow eventually reflecting off and revealing the snow capped southern faces of the world highest peaks, turning blue to grey and then to orange, culminating in the majesty of the orange ball of fire rising in between two peaks … it is I guess for the pictures that should paint a thousand words to describe the spectacle … one that will always be remembered as that first sunrise that I watched some forty years ago.

From a surreal glow, the strengthening light from the rising of the sun illuminates and reveals the southern faces of some of the highest peaks in the world.

First rays over the peaks.

The moment of anticipation.

The sun peeks out between two peaks.

The progress of the sunrise over the top of the world:





In the eye of the frenzied storm of the Bisket Jatra

22 05 2011

A third UNESCO World Heritage Site that I visited on the day of the Nepali New Year was probably the one that was the highlight, not just of the day, but also the trip. Having explored Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, the group of friends I was with were left with the latter half of an afternoon with which to catch the action of a Nepali festival, the Bisket Jatra, being lived out on the streets of Bhaktapur, an ancient town 13 km east of Kathmandu.

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site 13km east of Kathmandu.

It was quite a pleasant ride in once the van took a turn off from the highway from Kathmandu, this in spite of the somewhat dusty and bumpy approach we were given. Even with being on the outskirts of the city, it gave us a feeling that we were in a world far removed from the madding streets of the Nepali capital and even further away from the incessant honking on the busy streets of Kathmandu. The view we were afforded by the windows of the moving van were quite refreshing ones at that – padi fields dominated either side of the road against the backdrop of what would be the green foothills of the world’s highest peaks, interspersed with the red-brown piles of brick that lay in the yards of what must have been brick making kilns. It was the warm colour of the piles of bricks we passed that radiated from the buildings and cobblestone streets of Bhaktapur that greeted our arrival into the ancient town.

Piles of red brown bricks mark the passage into Bhaktapur, an ancient town founded in the 9th Century that once served as the capital of the Kathmandu Valley. The bricks used in bulk of the buildings and cobblestones now colour much of the town.

The point at which we alighted was at the bottom of a street that rose steadily uphill, either side of which was lined with a row of tall and narrow brick houses that in a strange sort of way perhaps resembled a scene one might associate with Tuscan hill town. The streets were strangely quiet for a town that was in celebration – just a few children could be seen playing up the street. My attention was quickly turned towards the blue of a rectangle that framed an aperture within which the colourful display of what literally was a hole-in-a-wall shop manned by an elderly lady set into the dusty sand coloured plastered wall of a building at the corner that seemed to break the orange-brown light that the earthen bricks and cobblestones reflected in the mid-afternoon sun. It was only the cry of the lady behind another aperture that alerted us to the window of the bureau which collected the equivalent of US$15 (NRs 1100) from the tourist as an entrance fee to the town.

Set against the dusty sand coloured plaster of a building that was in contrast to the rest of the town, the blue frame of the hole-in-a-wall shop caught my eye.

With the entrance fee out of the way, we sought the help of a guide to lead us to the heart of the festival of which we had found no evidence of where we were. Making our way up a dusty road that did well to obscure what we were to discover at the summit of the climb. At the top, we found ourselves making our way past the first sight of the heart of the old capital of the Kathmandu Valley, the white tower of the Fasidega temple (one that is dedicated to Shiva) that rose on the left of an alley into the eastern edge of Durbar Square. Beyond that, two stone lions seemed to guard the square within Durbar Square where the Tadhunchen Bahal stood. The Tadhunchen Bahal dates from 1491 and is where the origins of the Kumari, the living goddesses of Nepal, is said to have started from. Turning left past the magnificent wooden structured Tadhunchen Bahal, and then right through a narrow street lined with the dwellings of the town folk on the right and tourist shops on the left, we soon found ourselves with the first signs of the Bisket Jatra in full swing, with the amazing sight of the huge gathering of townsfolk and curious tourists colouring the steps of the towering 30 metre high Nyatapola temple, the tallest temple in Nepal, built in 1702 and said to be one of the best examples of traditional temple architecture in Nepal.

Part of the Tadhunchen Bahal, where the Nepali living goddessess, the Kumari, had their origins.

Townsfolk seated beneath the wooden arches of the Tadhunchen Bahal.

The crowd gathered on the steps of the Nyatapola temple in Taumadhi Square.

The scene around the Nyatapola temple and Taumadhi Square.

Continuing our way through the crowded Taumadhi Square in which the Nyatapola stands, we wound our way through yet another cobbled street in which we encountered the steady flow of townsfolk, before arriving at the entrance to Khalna Tol at which we had to squeeze our way past a wall of people before we were able to survey the square at the heart of the Bisket Jatra celebrations. The scene that greeted us was an amazing one. From where we had stood, the Khalna Tol fanned out downwards, every inch of which was filled by the gaudy colours of the sea of people decked out in their New Year’s finery. At the end of the square, a tall pole seemed to rise, as if it were a mast of a ship in the colourful sea of people. The 25 metre pole, representative of the lingam, is set into a mound of stone, representative of the yoni, and is part of the ancient festival which is celebrated in Bhaktapur over a nine day period that straddles the Nepali New Year. The festival is said to have preceded the establishment of Bhaktapur in the 9th Century and has been celebrated from the time of the Lichhavi period (5th to 8th Century A.D.) to commemorate the defeat of a snake demon that was believed to possess a princess who according to legend, was made a widow when the man who married her died of a snake bite. After that, no one would marry her out of fear of death and it was only with the arrival of a merchant who married the princess that the snake demon was defeated.

The crowd seen from the top of Khalna Tol, where the main festivities were taking place on the fourth day of the Bisket Jatra which coincides with the Nepali New Year.

The lingam pole erected in Khulna Sqaure with one of the two chariots that are pulled through the streets of the town over the nine day festival.

The highlight of the festival, which culminates in a tongue piercing festival during which participants carry a Mahadeep (similar in some respects to the practice of the carrying of the Kavadi still practiced by southern Indian communities of South-East Asia during Thaipusam and Panguni Uthiram), is the pulling of two chariots, the Bhairavnath and Bhadrakali chariots, containing the idols of the god Lord Bhairavnath and his consort, the goddess Bhadrakali respectively. The chariots with huge crude wooden wheels, are traditionally made of a mix of wood and cane and coated with gold at the top. Iron nails and bronze rods have now been introduced to strengthen the chariots which undergo quite a fair bit of punishment as they are pulled from Taumadhi Square in a slow parade around the streets of the town. It seems that on the last day of the festival, the copulation of the god and goddess is enacted by the ramming of the smaller chariot carrying the goddess Bhadrakali against the chariot carrying Lord Bhairavnath.

The chariot carrying the idol of Lord Bhairavnath seen in Khalna Tol.

The highlight of the festival is the pulling of two chariots through the streets of the town.

While we did not have the opportunity to see all of that happening, we did weave our way through the sea of people towards the lingam and the Bhairavnath chariot which was being pulled through Khalna Tol near where the lingam was located. The chariot up-close was a lot bigger that it had seemed from a distance floating in the sea of people. The wheels were huge, the diameter of which was certainly larger than the height of a person. The chariot itself was mounted by many young boys, perhaps seeking a good vantage as well as hitching a ride on the chariot, oblivious to the dangers of doing so (the wheels do sometimes give way during the drawing of the chariots). A pause in the pulling saw even more children attempting to climb on, as well as giving a chance for parents of the very young to seek blessings for their children from the bells that hung from the front of the chariot. That also allowed us to get right up to the chariots to see the feathers and blood of chickens on the wheels – evidence of a sacrifice that would have taken place at the start of the festival.

A closer inspection of the chariot reveals the scale of the crude wooden wheels.

Evidence of the sacrifice of a chicken could be seen on the wheels which had feathers and streaks of blood on them.

A pause allowed children to scramble up the chariot - one seen having his share of an ice lolly ...

Sights and sounds at the heart of the festivities in Khalna Tol.

It wasn’t very long before the cries of men perched on the curved front of the chariot that extended much like the bowsprit of a sail ship rang out, urging on the two lines of boys who held two lines used to draw the wooden structure as if they were participating in a tug-of-war against the chariot. It was with that that some of us were drawn towards the heavy looking ropes – something that one is probably ill advised to do, as an attempt to turn the chariot resulted in the lines sweeping swiftly across the crowd that had gathered, causing a few including a woman carrying a baby to fall … the thought that immediately crossed my mind was “stampede” – as bodies swept by the rope pressed me hard against the wall of people that stood behind me. Fortunately nothing worse than what happened to the woman who fell resulted from this and a pause in the drawing of the chariot allowed order to be restored, giving me an opportunity to quickly make my way out of the eye of the storm. We were to learn later from two Israeli travellers with whom we had the pleasure of sharing a bottle of whisky with on the terrace of the Peaceful Inn in Nagarkot that the festival has in the past proven to be a deadly one … they how they had witnessed the lingam pole being pulled down and breaking in the process and whilst on this occasion no one had been hurt, it was common knowledge that a few deaths are not uncommon as a result of the pole falling on the crowd or from a runaway chariot.

Trying to get close to the action during the pulling of the chariot proved to be not just an exhilarating, but also quite a terrifying experience.

One of the two lines being tugged at by children to the cries of men perched at an extension at the front end of the chariot.

Short clip of the chariot being pulled in Khalna Square.

Being caught up in the frenzy of the ancient Bisket Jatra close to the action probably counts as one of my most exciting experiences. If you were to ask if I would do it again, I would definitely want to … but knowing what I know now, chances are that I would keep a safer distance from all the action – as did many of the better informed tourists in the square. Leaving the excitement of the festival behind, we made our way back to Taumadhi Square and then to Durbar Square – that was enjoyable in many ways as we were able to take in some fine examples of traditional Newari religious architecture for the first time on the trip … but what probably remains etched most in our memories were the events of Khalna Tol that we had moments before, been caught up in.








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