Why Karnali is not just Rara, it’s Nepal’s intangible heritage

In September this year, I had the opportunity to visit the Karnali region. It was a dream come true, for I would also visit Rara Although at every turn I saw nature at it best–whether it was the serene lake of Rara or the terraced fields of Mugu, or the lush, fertile valley of Sinja–the trip, however, soon became much more than just about beautiful scenery .

But the trek (combined with bumpy bus rides) also brought before my senses, many other things: a unique, yet fast-disappearing lifestyle, songs passed down through the generations, gods that pre-date any historical record, festivals celebrated by entire communities, and myths that live in songs and folklore.

In short, I witnessed intangible heritages of Karnali that are difficult to even put into words. I bring back with me the pristine beauty of the roads less-walked, and the warmth of people that made those roads such a pleasure to travel on.


 (Above) The winding road to Manma, headquarters of Kalikot district. (Opener) A man contemplates among misty fields.


A lonely bus cuts through a rocky lane.
The mesmerising beauty of the Karnali river often compensates for the rocky road.


(L-r) The festivals of the gods are important events in the calendar of Karnali. This particular festival is rounded off with a round of deuda, where groups of men, women, or mixed groups, sing songs in witty repartees to each other. Damaha players get ready to perform in their traditional dress. The damaha is played during weddings and religious festivals, and also to welcome guests.The mashtas are formless gods and their temples have no idols. Instead, they are said to manifest on the bodies of dhamis, especially when the damaha is played during Paith.
Twelve Mashtas, nine Bhawanis, and deities related to this particular pantheon are the major gods of Karnali. People come from far and wide to attend festivals called Paith, held on certain Purnimas of the year.
Saraswati Nyaupane’s husband made these silver bracelets for her twenty years ago when she gave birth to a son. Few women wear them now.
(L-r)It is normal for people to carry everything on foot or on horseback, even big logs like this. Only few people stay on at the pastures in small sheds like this. A highland shed and its wards.


People on their way to watch another Paith as the festival season draws to a close.



See also

Kathmandu’s Bouddhanath rises again to full glory

How Kathmandu’s youngsters see their relation with community

Monsoon memories: Nine photos to show you the season’s silver lining

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