Monday, March 1, 2010


Sunday 28 Feb was the biggest day of celebrating the holiday Holi in the Kathmandu Valley. Even though the story of Holi is pretty disturbing, it seems to be a holiday about fun and color and impish mischief. The story of Holi is this: One king of demons, Hiranyakashipu, tried to kill his son Prahlada, but he could not be killed because of his intense devotion to Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu’s daughter Holika had a special shawl that kept her safe from fire; Hiranyakashipu thought that if he wrapped Holika in the shawl, put Prahlada on Holika’s lap and put both children on a pyre, Prahlada would die and Holika would live. Actually, Prahlada’s devotion to Vishnu caused the shawl to fly from Holika to him, and ultimately Holika died and Prahlada lived. Later Vishnu came and killed Hiranayakashipu. (For this information, thank you to the guy on the Pharping bus and Wikipedia.) Maybe the link between Holika dying and women getting water thrown at them is because Holika's faith in Vishnu wasn't strong enough to keep her protected from the fire, and Vishnu is associated with water, or maybe it's because water extinguishes fire. I am not sure. In any case, people of many religions celebrate Holi. This article from the Himalayan Times tells about members of Nepal's Constituent Assembly celebrating Holi.

The whole valley, from Bouddha to my village of Pharping, was full of people throwing water at each other for the past three days. Groups of kids stood around and waited for passersby they could attack with lolas, or water ammo, like balloons and squirt guns or just buckets of water. Some of the water is very dirty or colored with powder or dyes. The colors are actually quite toxic, yet all around town people were covered with powder residue and painted their faces with toxic metallic paints to celebrate. On Friday ago I rode 20km to KTM on a motorbike with my co-worker Phurba and we were pelted with three water balloons. Then Sunday morning in Bouddha, I had litres and litres of water dumped on me, many water balloons thrown, lots of water squirted at me from makeshift plastic water bottle guns, and was freezing and miserable on the 90-minute ride back to Pharping. It was like I had taken a shower. I had wet hair, was soaked through to the skin, wet underneath long underwear and my chuba and my sweater.

I guess Holi is fun--I'd feel like a spoilsport saying it wasn't fun--but actually I was uncomfortable and dirty and then anxious and irritated. Plus, mainly girls are targeted with lolas. In Holi-focused newspaper interviews, people said extreme things, like The government should regulate the selling of water guns or Boys throwing lolas should go to jail. But this type of communal neighborhood raucous activity is endemic to Nepal, and I can't imagine it will change any time soon.

Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers: the thing of the future! Or the past. According to my mom: “It was the Big Technology of the 50’s & came to represent a Betty Crocker life, so was despised in the 60’s.” Well, they’re easy to use and efficient with resources like gas or an outdoor fire and cook really quickly and I love them.

In Nepal, a 5-ltr. pressure cooker will cook enough dal for eight people for two-three days, in under thirty minutes. First fry tomatoes and onions with masala, then add rinsed dal and fill it up with water halfway. Let it ffffssssst three times and then open it and taste—may need some more time or water or salt.

Some tips: if you’re cooking outside over a fire, smear the pot with mud—a very good insulator. Sealing the lid is tricky; realize that it’s elliptical and must be inserted with the lid handle at 90ยบ to the pot handle. Make sure all the steam is out before you remove the lid, and if the lid still sticks, hold the steamhole open (with a piece of cloth or cardboard because it’s kind of hot) until all the steam is released and then bang the lid in.

In addition to dal, pressure cookers boil potatoes and cassava/yam-type roots so fast, bake cakes supposedly, and cook especially delicious rice (even better if you have Bhutanese or Sikkim red rice). Plus they make this fantastic loud ffffssssst sound when the steam comes out.