Gai Jatra: Bhaktapur’s Cow Festival

It was the first day of the dark fortnight of Gunla, according to the lunar Nepal Era calendar. And according to tradition, every family who has lost a relative this year must participate in a procession through Kathmandu leading a cow. If a cow is unavailable, then a young boy dressed as a cow is acceptable.

The festival of Gai Jatra commemorates the death of family members. The cow, a revered holy animal, will help the family member’s journey to heaven.

Bhaktapur hosts a long parade of chariots, or taha macha, made of bamboo wrapped in cloth with a photo of the deceased in the centre.

Bhaktapur Cow Festival

Bhaktapur Cow Festival

True to tradition, Bhaktapur presented the most enjoyable and exciting Gai Jatra festival in the region. The chariots just kept on coming. Some were elaborately decorated, others came adorned with red and yellow umbrellas. Each came with dancers, musicians and crowds of family members.

Visitors, like us, were packed to the rafters, jammed against walls and squished into the seating provided by temple steps.

On the rarest of occasions, we managed to find some peace and quiet. A lonely laneway, sacred temple, or just a pile of pottery.

We were lucky enough to have our own local guide (thanks Kanji!). At the end of the day, Kanji invited us to her family’s house for food, rice wine and more festivities. We arrived back home exhausted and ready for bed.