Having never been to a bullfight, and seeing the widespread sentiment against it in the few online outlets where articles about it appeared, I was not sure exactly what to expect in Taruka, the nepalsutra.com team’s destination on Maghe Sankranti (which this year fell on January 14).
The village of Taruka lies across the Trishuli from Taruka Ghat, about a 2 hour drive from the capital, followed by a hike. We got there a day early, and through a slightly circuitous route, getting off our vehicle at Kiurenighat, crossing a suspension bridge across the Trishuli, and making our way through the village of Mr. Janak Raj Dhungana, the head of the organizing committee of this year’s bullfight. After being properly welcomed with garlands and lunch, we walked another two hours to the venue of this 400 year old bullfighting tradition, a place called Chandani.
The community was busy organizing the next day’s festivities. Bulls strutted around in the arena, kicking dust as they readied themselves. These bulls are actually oxen mainly used for farming, and brought out one day a year for fighting, but ‘oxfight’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
We found out that the next day would see 18 pairs of bulls fight it out. However, the air was also thick with anticipation of a visit by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, scheduled to chair the festival. The community was busy discussing a list of demands to present to him - they all agreed that a motorable bridge over the river was a priority. We later found out that the motorcycles that arrived at the festival had performed quite a feat to get there, riding on the slippery suspension bridge, and the steep, narrow path leading off the bridge.
Our rowdy team of about 10 was well fed, and housed in the village’s community building. Firewood was procured for a bonfire to keep us warm, and the local brew kept coming. We were all the more grateful later when we realized the struggle that procuring water and firewood entailed.
We woke up the next day, bright and early, and were (as the knowledgeable Kathmanduites) tasked with constructing a helipad for the arriving guests of honor. This proved to be a glimpse into the unique political tussle that had been brewing in the area. Some of the members of the committee had splintered to have their own bullfight, featuring a lot less bulls. The helipad could not be located where the guests of honor could also see this bullfight.
That aside, the mood was festive as the bulls started arriving. The 36 proud owners ranged from the very young who couldn’t stop giggling in front of the cameras, to old men in their 70s who had been to the festival for as long as they can remember. Many had travelled quite long distances in order to test the mettle of their precious companions.
Every ridge above the arena was packed with vendors selling sugarcane and homemade selrotis, young girls decked up in their finest, and children peering above shoulders to get a better look. The arena itself was filled with volunteers, ready to break up the fight, should it get nasty.
The fight began. Basically two bulls would be brought onto the arena, and left to fight. Whichever ran away first would be the loser. The younger bulls were brought out at the start, and some just hung around, some locked horns and then got bored, a few actually fought. It started to get exciting once the more experienced bulls started coming out onto the arena; they went at each other with gusto. Fights were broken up when they got too violent, and every time a bull ran away, the other was declared winner and kept from chasing the loser.
Of course, you can only watch bulls lock horns for so long, and we decided it was time to say our goodbyes. But not before welcoming the guest of honor, who ended up being the Minister of Tourism instead, and not before enjoying the local band, comprised of the elders of the community who put on an energetic show.
See video below for a better feel of the festival.
Written & Produced By: Mamata Pokharel
Photos & Footage: Kumar Ale