Nepali Times
High fliers


Every morning, photographer Jitendra Bajracharya wakes up to the billing and cooing of the 30 pigeons he keeps on his rooftop in Dilli Bazar. Before anything else, he checks on his "flying squad."

There are over a hundred kabutarbaaj, "pigeon players," in Kathmandu who will now enter their charges in the annual Pigeon Flying Competition that started last year. Pigeons are no more the hobby of aristocrats. "Keeping pigeons is like an addiction," says Bajracharya, who in May organised this year's competition. The first competition was organised last October by the 84 members of the Nepal Pigeon Keeper's Association.

Pigeon keepers serious about their birds normally have at least 10 pairs of good fliers. Special birds need a special diet, so instead of the standard pigeon fare of mustard, rice, wheat and corn, the contestants get peas and gram. Bajracharya says that before contest time even their sex life is controlled, with competing birds isolated to stop them from mating, "to conserve their stamina." They are allowed to have their way at other times though, to breed pigeons that fly better, faster, higher. A young pigeon is ready to fly after it is about 45 days old, when it has moulted and sprouted new feathers.

It was a hazy day when we saw Bajracharya's pigeons soar across the sky. There were chances of a drizzle, but he picked them out of their compartments, one by one, and released them anyway. They quickly gather momentum, and flutter in space. They start looping around in circles, higher, and soon they are making their best moves-tumbling (kawa khane) and rolling (baji khane). "I don't usually fly them in rain, but it is good exercise to do it occasionally," he says, settling down for the two-hour wait. "At times," he says, "they're having such a good time that they take ages to come back."

And that is when he starts to get worried. Because there are lethal; enemies in the skies above Kathmandu-hungry baaj (hawks), or the jamal (falcons) who live in the heights of Dharahara. Piegons have a 15-degree blind zone at the back, and this is where the cunning predators strike. Gopal Singh, owner of 300 pigeons and winner of second place in the flying contest in May, loses two good fliers a week on average.

His birds are hard to replace because they have been bred over the years in his home. Singh is proudest of his female black-eyed kasni, one of which flew for 8 hours 31 minutes in May, contributing significantly to his win. Competitors fly five pigeons, their collective timing determines the overall winner. The Best Pigeon Award also went to a home-bred black-eyed kasni, a male owned by Ratna Kaji Maharjan of Jyatha, which flew for 8 hours 40 minutes.

If you are now inspired to breed pigeons rather than curse their nesting habits, it is surprisingly cheap to do so-Rs 1,000 a month to feed 200 or so birds. The expensive part is buying your starters-a pair of common varieties like hanse, bhujra, kagaji, kasni, chini, tauke, lalsa, jaag-costs upwards of Rs 2,000. They're relatively maintenance fee, the only thing to watch out for is a disease of the spine that hits without warning which some believe is caused by pesticides in the pigeons' feed. And, of course, you have to clean up their abundant guano.

In return, you get the thrill of seeing these elegant creatures in skilful flight with their air of quiet watchfulness.

To learn more about the pigeon flying competition, visit

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)