The pandemic-hit Nepal is on the verge of another Dashain, and the fear is that the greatest festival of Hindus may lose some of its charm this year.
Rikesh Acharya, 30, an accountant from Sunsari currently living in a rented house in Kathmandu, is in no mood to return to his hometown this Dashain. Even in the national capital, he plans on putting Tika only in one or two places. “Social distancing and other anti-corona safety measures will take away much fun,” he says.
Laxmi Subedi, 56, a social worker who runs an orphanage home in Kathmandu, also plans to stay put in her house. But she has a bigger worry. “Alas! There will be no shopping,” she rues.
Nabin Bhandari, a 21-year-old student in Kathmandu, is a native of Gulmi district. He does plan to go back to his ancestral village, yet he too feels jaded at the prospect of a Dashain without the regular Melas and Saraya Naach.
For Shantiraj Rai, 27, a Kathmandu-based journalist from Okhaldhunga, Dashain this time will be a simple affair. He plans to travel to Okhaldhunga on his own bike. “I surely won’t take a public vehicle this year,” he says.
A native of Bhaktapur, Ritu Shrestha, 22, a lab technician, is not travelling at all. Nor does she have any plans. “How can I plan anything when the number of Covid-positive cases are increasing by the day?” she asks.
Many Nepalis living abroad return home during Dashain. But not many are coming this year.
Manisha Dulal, 26, a student in Australia, says she feels for her parents who won’t get to bless their children this Dashain. “All my brothers and sisters are here in Australia. This is not going to be a happy occasion for my parents in Nepal,” she rues. Taking chartered flights is an option. But Dulal is against chartered flights, which she says are both uncertain and expensive.
For its part, the Department of Transportation Management hopes to open bookings for long-route buses starting mid-October. The department estimates only a fourth of the normal Dashain traffic will leave for their ancestral homes this year. In the previous years, over two million people did. Nor do people plan on travelling abroad for fun.
Saroj Baral, 53, a teacher from Inaruwa, Sunsari, says this time will be ‘an economic Dashain’ as he hasn’t gotten his salary for the past six months. “In previous years, my brothers and relatives used to come visit us on the day of Fulpati and we used to celebrate together. This time I have no such plans,” he adds. He suspects that unlike in the previous years when relatives expected others to come visit them, this year they may be hoping that no one comes to spread the virus.
Mathura Dhakal, 41, a housewife and shopkeeper in Kavre, does not think the pandemic will much alter Dashain celebration in her village. What she will miss though is travelling to Kathmandu for shopping.
Tanka Prasad Naral, a 44-year-old businessman, is relieved he has his own house in Kathmandu where he can celebrate instead of having to travel to his native Kavre. “When we travel, all family members travel together, which is risky during the pandemic,” he says. Meanwhile, drastic decrease in income will make this Dashain less expensive, he adds.