Polls

How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Like a Virgin

In a down economy, most countries fall back on their primary commodities. While the US ‘Buys American’, Nepal has cornered the market in pre-pubescent Virgins. One such pure soul, the Kumari, is a living goddess believed to be a manifestation of the Hindu goddess Durga. She is selected by a committee of royal priests and lives in the Kumari Ghar, a centrally located palace in Kathmandu. She is now 3 years old.

Not wanting to miss a goddess who just learned to chew solid food, Kristin and I decided to see the spritely Rapunzel for ourselves. Taking a bicycle rickshaw driven by a charming old man who greeted us with a “Namaste”, we journeyed twenty minutes through narrow pothole-ridden alleys, and temple-laden squares. As we rode our driver cocked his head as if on a swivel, whistling into the crowd to magically part the throngs in front of us.

The kumari

The kumari

Seeing the Kumari is not a sure thing; she only appears twice a day, and only then for approximately ten seconds. The selection process for the Kumari is rigorous. She must possess 32 different features, including such notables as:

  • Eyelashes like a cow
  • A small, delicate tongue
  • A chest like a lion
  • She must also be fearless, which is proven by exposing her to 108 decapitated goats and buffalos, while men wearing masks dance around her. All this for a very limited reign; the Kumari lives in the palace until she menstruates, at which point she is booted out, and a new Kumari-selection process takes place.

    Once we had properly digested the Kumari backstory, we found a tour guide to take us to see the goddess in the flesh. Toya, our guide, had an in with the Kumari’s keepers, and got her to come out on cue. She appeared at the front window, peeking her head out, and gesturing to the crowd like a minature Pope. Then, just as suddenly, she was gone, perhaps to don her scarlet brocade sari, receive her devout subjects, or play with some blocks.

    No photographs were allowed in the Kumari’s presence so the picture below is post-Kumari. I may photoshop in a Virgin at a later-date.

    The Kumari's window

    The Kumari's window

    After leaving the Kumari’s lair, Toya whisked us through temple after temple, often times getting past armed guards because he ‘knew’ someone on the inside. Inside one such temple, there was a surreal Vanilla Skyesque scene, with not a Nepali or foreigner in sight. Only a single armed guard stood watch over all the empty space as if it was, and probably is, the most valuable commodity in Kathmandu.

    After an anecdote-filled tour, we sat down for tea with our driver and Toya, who launched into a tale of his past life. Years ago Toya, who is also a trekking guide, went on a Himalayan tour with a British businessman. Toya made such an impression on the Brit that the man sent him 100 pounds a month for three years to fund his graduate studies. After three years, the man disappeared, never to be heard from again. He only lives on in the stories that Toya tells to everyone he meets, in a not so subtle attempt to repeat history.

    /

    Temple greeting committe

    Temple greeting committe

    Hanging out in Durbar Square

    Hanging out in Durbar Square

    Toya and our driver

    Toya and our driver

    We finished our tea, and were directed to a restaurant overlooking Durbar Square, but not before paying off the bicycle rickshaw man. As I handed him a crisp 1000 Rupee note (around $15) - for a couple of hours of service (including waiting around for us while we toured), he looked at me sternly and demanded 500 more. The man, who we had thought we had made a personal connection to, was asking for more money, after an already generous tip (rickshaw drivers typically make anywhere 20 – 50 Rupees a trip). His overzealous demand made me want to rip the money from his hand.

    Therein lies the dilemma of making a personal connection to anyone in a poor country. Money is king first and foremost. Some people get ‘saved’ in different ways, and if you’re not lucky enough to be chosen for your virtue and placed in an ivory tower, or sent mysterious money packages from a stranger, scrounging from the tourist money-train is a pretty attractive alternative. If they only knew that while the well is deep over here, back home it’s another hole altogether.

    300 comments to Like a Virgin

    Leave a Reply

     

     

     

    You can use these HTML tags

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>