Everybody seems to know that Nepal has beautiful mountain hikes in the Himalayas. What many don’t consider, though, is that lowland Nepal is full of amazing folks and festivals as well. These two girls, in a village just outside the city of Janakpur, are all dressed up to celebrate the annual Sita Bibaha festival.
Southern Nepal is in many ways more similar to India than to the Kathmandu Valley. Very little of the Buddhist influence seen in the rest of the country is apparent in Janakpur. The Sita Bibaha festival, in fact, is a major Hindu celebration that draws thousands of pilgrims from throughout Nepal and India.
The “Sita’s Wedding” festival celebrates a scene from the Hindu epic Ramayana. As the faithful crowd into Janakpur, processions weave through the crowds bearing palanquins that carry likenesses of Sita and Rama. At the peak of the multi-day festival, a gigantic street fair sets up on the roads surrounding the Janaki Mandir temple. On the final night, a formal wedding ceremony in the temple recreates the marriage of the two epic heroes.
Outside of the Sita Bibaha festival, though, Janakpur a much quieter place. The city is an important transport hub between India and Nepal, and the terminus of Nepal’s only functional rail line. Agricultural villages surround the city, and wandering through these is a very different experience from walking the many-templed historic streets of the capital. Instead of the touts of Thamel, I found children out playing and working in the fields and their parents working in small workshops producing everything from hand-woven baskets to fire-powered irons for clothing.
Nepal has over 100 major ethnic groups, far more than just the famous Sherpas you’ll meet in the Himalaya. Places like Janakpur, so far culturally and geographically from the most popular tourist destinations in the country, are an excellent opportunity to see another of the many faces of this incredibly diverse country.