Destinations, Nepal, Spirit

Celebrating Diwali in Kathmandu

May 22, 2011

A sign in a window of a store in Kathmandu, Nepal

I arrived in Kathmandu right before Diwali, a five-day festival of light. It’s the reason I stayed in Kathmandu for ten days – public holidays during the celebrations meant the processing of my Indian visa was to take much longer than usual.

One of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar, Diwali is almost like Christmas in neighbouring India, and it’s almost as big in Nepal. It was an exciting time to be living in Kathmandu.

During Diwali, people place small lamps or candles outside their homes or businesses, creating a lighted pathway inside. Doing so invites in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, ensuring her good blessings for the year ahead.

Candles light the way during Diwali in Kathmandu

Offerings for the goddess Lakshmi to celebrate Diwali in Kathmandu

Offerings during Diwali in Kathmandu

In Nepal, Diwali is a time for visiting family.

Children get together and visit nearby homes and businesses, singing and dancing for the inhabitants, who then gift them money.

On the fifth day of Diwali, brothers and sisters meet and exchange gifts and blessings and you’re likely to see anyone with a sibling walking around with a tikka dot painted on their forehead.

Little lights invite in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, during Diwali in Kathmandu

Children perform for coins in Kathmandu during Diwali celebrations

You’ll also see mandalas painstakingly painted onto the footpath and decorated with marigold leaves and chalk.

A mandala is a focus point for aspirations and it was from these mandalas that a trail of light often led into a shop or home.

A painted mandala on the sidewalk to celebrate Diwali in Kathmandu

Mandalas on the street in Kathmandu

Stores place mandalas at their entrance to invite in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth

On the fourth evening of Diwali, a friend and I decided to splurge on dinner at the Maya Cocktail Bar in the backpacker district of Thamel, to celebrate.

The drawcard?

Mexican food, free cocktails and a safe vantage point from which to watch the procession of locals celebrating on the streets with firecrackers.

The Maya Cocktail bar - mexian food to celebrate Diwali in Kathmandu

After dinner, we wandered Thamel’s maze of streets to look at the lights before the inevitable blackout.

Kathmandu has serious power issues and blackouts thanks to “power load-shedding” that happens at different times throughout the day – often leaving the city in the dark for up to a total of 16 hours.

On this particular evening, the lights stayed on fairly late, only going off when I returned to my guesthouse room. In fact, I almost didn’t notice.

The streets of Thamel in Kathmandu were decorated with flags and banners for Diwali

The streets of Thamel during Diwali

The streets of Thamel were lit with candles to celebrate Diwali, the festival of light

Diwali is a wonderful time to travel in Nepal.

When I return (because Nepal is one of those places I know I’ll go back to many times in my life) I hope it’s again during Diwali or any other festival time. Read an overview of festivals in Nepal.

Offerings for the goddess of wealth in Thamel, Kathmandu

Note: In case you were wondering, the photos in this post were taken with my Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens, which I bought on a fun day out at Beijing’s camera market.

I’ve been really impressed with this lens, especially in low light situations like this – I highly recommend it. You can click on any image in this post to see a larger version or view more of my photos from Nepal on Flickr.


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  • Reply Romana May 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Nice post Megan. We were in Jodphur, India for the Diwali and we had a wonderful time celebrating it. We were lucky enough to be in a nice guesthouse that threw a feast for all the guests.

    • Reply MeganRTW May 22, 2011 at 11:33 am

      Thanks Romana! I think Diwali is even bigger in India than it is in Nepal – must have been amazing to be in Jodphur for it. Great that the guesthouse threw a feast – my guesthouse in Kathmandu just strung some lights up outside my window. But my burrito and cocktail was pretty tasty!

  • Reply Tijmen May 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    For some weird reason I always thought Diwali was only celebrated in India. The mandalas on the ground with the light trails look great though, definitely a good time to visit Nepal ๐Ÿ™‚ Must also be interesting to live in a city where they sometimes have blackouts for up to 16 hour. I hope they don’t have elevators there, would be a long time to be stuck in one of them ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply MeganRTW May 23, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      Hey Tijmen! Nope, not just in India! It’s an important festival for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and even Buddhists, so it’s all over the world.

      Yeah, I have so far avoided elevators in cities with uncertain power supplies…though most big, important buildings (probably the only ones that would have elevators anyway) usually have backup generators.

  • Reply Anthony May 23, 2011 at 1:40 am

    We celebrated Diwali in Kathmandu as well. We spent it with a family and it was amazing to watch all the customs that go along with the festival.

    • Reply MeganRTW May 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      Hey Anthony! Wow, that sounds like it would have been so much fun (not sure if it would have been more amazing than my burrito though… ;D) – did you meet them through your guesthouse? How did that come about?

  • Reply crazy sexy fun traveler May 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Seems interesting! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply MeganRTW May 24, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      It was! Glad you enjoyed reading about it.

  • Reply Evan May 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Wow, those Mandalas are awesome! Great photos!

    • Reply MeganRTW May 24, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks Evan! They were pretty cool – had to keep trying not to step on them though ๐Ÿ˜€ And a few mornings later they were being swept away, which was kind of sad considering how much work went into them!

  • Reply Pete | Hecktic Travels May 24, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    What a cool experience, and beautiful photographs. The mandalas are gorgeous.

    • Reply MeganRTW May 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      Thanks Pete. Made the streets even more colourful than usual!

  • Reply Mike Lenzen | Traveled Earth June 3, 2011 at 3:14 am

    I do live in a bubble. Considering how many religions celebrate Diwali and I’ve never heard of it before. I can see how the fast lens would be nice for low light. Maybe I should consider bringing my 50mm f/1.8. It’s small and light enough, not quite wide enough though…

    • Reply MeganRTW June 4, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Hey Mike. Yeah, 50mm might not be quite wide enough, especially if you’re using it on a crop body, but it could be worth it to have the faster lens with you.

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