What would Dasain be without meat? Whether it is for sacrifice, eating or just as a ritual, goats are bought, weighed and beheaded in the backyard every year.
This weighing and buying process is already in full swing at the khasi bajars of Kalanki and Tukucha and the wholesale godown of Nepal Food Corporation in Thapathali. Khasis can even be sent by the Nepali diaspora to their relatives back home through munchahouse.com. Yes, the carnivorous season is here and in full swing.
Kathmandu has the country's largest per capita consumption of meat. Each resident consumes 18kg of meat a year, whereas the average Nepali eats only 10kg-way below the worldwide average of 40kg per person per year. Five years ago, 1,037 tons of meat would be transported into Kathmandu every week. Today, that figure has nearly tripled. Ten years from now, per capita consumption of meat is expected to reach 26kg a year.
Dinesh Khadgi, member of the central committee of the Nepal Meat Traders Association says 140 truckloads of live buffalos are transported to the Valley from the tarai and India every week, and each truck is packed with up to 20 buffalos. A truck can carry up to 200 goats, and 42 tonnes of goat meat is consumed in Kathmandu every day. In the last fiscal year, Nepalis ate 20,399 metric tonnes of meat worth Rs 140 million, of which 64 percent was buffalo, 21 percent was goats meat and 15 percent came from poultry, pigs and wild boar.
Besides this, Rs 20 million worth of frozen and canned meat is imported from overseas each year. Customs records only show Rs 800,000 worth of meat coming in from Tibet, but there is obviously much more meat that hoofs it over the high passes of which there is no record. Kathmandu's main buffalo and goat market, Balambu, gets 150 buffalos every day, but this number quadruples during Dasain time. Up to 30,000 goats and 12,000 sheep and mountain goats are brought into the khasi bajar.
With fears of bird flu and foot-and-mouth disease, what about inspections? There is an Animal Slaughter and Meat Inspection Act, but as with much else, it has never been implemented. Dalram Pradhan, director of the Animal Service Department says, "We are slowly spreading our inspections to border points." The operative word here is "slowly".
The Nepal Meat Traders Association says it now pays special attention to hygiene, with guidelines on aprons, packaging and refrigeration. Animal slaughter is not centralised and it happens at every neighbourhood butcher shop. Now, eight businessmen from the Khadgi family are getting together to build an abattoir in Thankot called Quality Meat Products Limited to process up to 150 buffalos and 300 goats a day. But the Nepal Meat Traders Association says this would put the small butchers out of business, and say hygiene can easily be ensured by small shops as well.
Projected per capita meat consumption in the capital in kg/year and Kathmandu's urban population
But managing director at the Thankot abattoir, Balkrishna Khadgi, says centralising slaughterhouses will actually benefit everyone as the supply chain will be more hygienic, sales will be standardised, and international quality norms can be met. "It is an idea whose time has come," Khadgi adds.
Herded like sheep
Nima Sherpa has been shuttling between the mountain meadows near Dudh Kunda in Solukhumbu and the tarai in Udaypur every year with 400 sheep, two sheep dogs and four other relatives and friends.
It is a three-week roundtrip every season, up in the spring and down in the autumn. One morning last week we caught up with Nima near Junbesi (see pic) as he got his sheep ready for the long march. Farmers welcome the sheep into their fallow fields so that the animals fertilise the soil overnight. "The sheep enrich the soil, so the farmers even feed us while we stay," says Nima, who is originally from Okhaldhunga.
It is his ancestral calling, and Nima is quite content doing what he does. There is a rhythm and predictability to his life. "Maybe in a year or so I'll get married," he says, "and then I'll do something else." Nima and his friends, Nara Bahadur and Som Pakhrin, go home only once a year after the sheep are sheared for wool in spring. The animals are also milked and in Dasain some are sold for sacrifices along the trails.
The salary for shepherds like Nima is six sheep a year, no cash changes hands. That is why when Maoists stop them from time to time demanding a 'tax', there is really no money to give. Usually they have to part with a sheep or two. The insurgency and the arrival of mountain highways has reduced the numbers of sheep herds. "There used to be five or six herds every season, now there are just one or two," says Hari Rajbhandari of Dorpu. (Ngima Pakhrin/Solukhumbu)