When you see a moun- tain goat climbing into a three-wheeler for the first and last taxi ride of his life you can tell Dasain is here. At the Nepal Food Corporation outlet in Thapathali, mountain goats from southern Tibet are selling like, well, mountain goats from southern Tibet. At the Ring Road, truck upon trucks crammed with water buffalo have arrived. Goats are being goaded out of the godowns, terrified sheep are dragged through the sidewalks. And some smaller bokas are being hand-carried through the streets-all being prepared for the great massacre next week. It's enough to turn even hardline carnivores into vegetarians.
But this is Dasain and animal sacrifices are a part of our culture, and the animal-buying spree is gathering steam in Kathmandu. There are four basic types of sacrificial livestock: khasi (castrated goat) tops the list, followed by boka (normal goat), chyangra (Himalayan mountain goat) and sheep. The food corporation picks up its selection of khasi and boka from three major tarai markets of Lahan, Janakpur and Nepalgunj. The chyangra and sheep are from China-an annual gift from the Peoples' Republic to the Kingdom of Nepal for the festive season. The local suppliers get their animals from all over: North India, tarai, middle hills and the high mountain areas.
There are three major khasi-selling hubs in Kathmandu-Kalanki Khasi Bazar, Tukucha Khasi Bazar and the Nepal Food Corporation godowns in Thapathali. At the moment, it is difficult to tell which are more numerous, the khasi and boka or the humans thronging to buy them. Since the early human gets the goat, there is a rush to find a healthy and plump animal since late-comers may have to be satisfied with ones that are a little under the weather, or haven't fully recovered from car-sickness. The chyangra and sheep sold at the Food Corporation have to take a two-day truck ride from the high plateau.
"The Chinese government has been very generous. We receive 2,000 chyangra for free every year," exults Murari Prasad Adhikary, Bagmati Zonal Chief of the Food Corporation. On their way to the Valley, many get sold along the Kodari Highway in Tatopani and Barabise. The sheep and chyangra are corralled in Thapathali and look distinctly homesick; it's too hot for them here. "Due to health hazard and inability to cope with the weather conditions there was a high mortality rate and the corporation has backed off from importing sheep," says Adhikary. Although the animals are free, the Food Corporation makes a packet: it keeps a quarter of the income from sales, minuses the transport cost and send the rest (which usually amounts to about Rs 3 million) to the national coffers.
There are still some in Kathmandu who prefer sheep. "It's not necessary that sheep buyers turn up only during Dasain season. The kage bheda is a popular sacrificial sheep and the demand remains stable throughout the year," says Mahendra Thapa at Tukucha Khasi Bazar. "But we only keep few of them since it's hard to take care of them." The price is determined according to the demand of the livestock. The Food Corporation for instance averages its expenditures and the local market price. "Ours is always slightly lower than the local market. This helps maintain a standard price as the private sellers are compelled to fix reasonable rates," Adhikary says. However, local sellers like Mahesh Shrestha of Kalanki Khasi Bazar believe that their prices are just as reasonable. "We give our buyers the best goats and the best deal while at the Corporation there's no such guarantee that one can get a healthy goat according to the price you pay," he says. The main issue is whether the animal you buy is healthy or is suffering from infections. The best way to find out if the animal is healthy: pick up the animal by its tail-if it lets out a bleat don't buy it. "The healthiest ones are those that run away when you approach," says Purna Dongol, a veteran khasi buyer at Kalanki.
Khasi buyers who have some space for the goats to roam at home buy early to nab the healthy ones. This way the animals also get a few last days of peace and quiet and can munch on some juicy grass before facing the guillotine. But many wait to buy till Phulpati (4 Oct), a day before the actual sacrifices start on Asthami (5 Oct) and Nawami (6 Oct). Many of the animals lay down their lives in front of cars, buses, and motorcycles. Royal Nepal Airlines has a standing order for about 150 goats, the bigger ones are sacrificed in front of the nose wheel of Boeing 757s to appease appropriate gods. This year, there will be added demand from private airlines which have bought new planes.
The Food Corporation is selling khasi and boka under the same category at Rs 113 per kg (Rs 110 last year) and chyangra at Rs 102 per kg (Rs 101 last year). Khasi bazaars at Tukucha and Kalanki have more subtle classifications: The hill pahade khasi (short ear, sharp horns) are sold at Rs 120 per kg while the tarai and Indian madhesi khasi (lean, long ears and legs, curled horns) are sold at Rs 128 per kg. The favourite scapegoat is the black boka which sell at Rs 120 per kg and the brown and white ones at Rs 110 per kg. "The black ones are very popular sacrificial goats and therefore their prices are a bit high," says Thapa. The kage bheda, also a popular sacrificial animal, has a price range upto Rs 250 per kg. A total of 10,000 khasis and bokas and 2,000 mountain goats are expected to be sold in this year's Kathmandu bazaar this Dasain. The khasi and mountain goat counter at the Food Corporation at Thapathali is open 7am-7pm. Tel: 246399,228365. The khasi bazaars in Kalanki by the Ring Road and the Tukucha in Putalisadak operate from dusk till dawn.