Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Getting Wood

I mentioned on Monday that the cities of the Kathmandu valley are sort of like a living museum, but I don't think that really sums up just how marvelous they truly are.  In addition to the brick and stone and metal used, they incorporate a lot of woodworking.  In fact, as you look at them, it almost seems as if someone decided it would be offensive if they just put a plain piece of wood in wherever it was needed, so they carved the hell out of everything. 
See what I mean?  Take a closer look; it really is stunning how much detail they put into everything.  Those wooden pieces coming forward are called roof struts, and help to support the weight of the roof, which if you can't tell from looking at the picture at the top of this post, is REALLY heavy.
But what you may have noticed by looking at the roof struts above (if you followed directions and looked really carefully) is that there are little erotic scenes on them.  The guy in the red shirt above is telling his nice Chinese tourists about these so-called "kama sutra" scenes, and how the one they're looking at is a good one if you have back problems.
Chances are that the carvings are not there for recreational purposes (after all, do you really need to see how cows get it on?  Assuming the artist has actually depicted them accurately...after all, he posed the elephants in missionary position, and I'm pretty sure that's not even possible).  If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it probably had something to do with the study of tantra, which is a part of Hinduism and Buddhism both - after all, they have this kind of work on the temple group at Khajuraho - but don't quote me on that. 
The famous peacock window - carved from a single piece of wood
For whatever reason they've included erotic scenes in their carvings, these are far from the artists' best work (trust me - I'm an art teacher and I had to learn all about proportion!)  Bhaktapur is the town best-known for their woodcraft, and Domestic Goddess really loved it, so there was no way I was missing out.  And what should my helpful Lonely Planet reveal but that one of the guesthouses, the Nyatapola Guesthouse, was owned by a family of woodcarvers, and they offered workshops!
I didn't have enough time to do a workshop - I was on my way to Bhutan the next day - but they invited me to visit their shop and see the tools they use, which are all traditional, hand-powered tools.  I saw the finished products in their showroom (and in my room, which had a traditionally crafted bed, which didn't look like anything special, but I really did sleep well on it!), and couldn't help but buy myself a few souvenirs.
My visit there also made me feel like an elf amongst hobbits.  The doorways are not made for tall people.  The rooms in the guesthouse are not made for tall people either, and the shower...well, only my family will get this reference, but it was like taking a shower in Great Mom's house.  I had to stretch my back some before trying that!  But the shower was hot, the family was lovely, and the room was clean and cheap, and if I can make it back to Nepal I would LOVE to come back and stay longer, doing a workshop along the way.


  1. That's pretty amazing craftsmanship. Glad you got to see some of that in action.

    1. I should have some of my older, more responsible kids do woodcarving next year...of course, I won't be showing them the great majority of the example photos since they're not exactly appropriate, but if I could get a variety of carving tools, that would be FUN. Also bloody; guess I should invest in some more band-aids first!