The man with the coconut and the GoPro
By Navesh Chitrakar
Rato Machhindranath is the god of rain, so huge crowds gather in Lalitpur around a 32-meter (104 foot) high tower mounted on a chariot during the chariot festival in an effort to ensure good rains and prevent drought.
The highlight of the day is when someone climbs to the top of the chariot and throws a coconut to devotees below. This is an ancient ritual thought to guarantee the catcher of the coconut the birth of a son. Few people believe this nowadays and I think participation is more about enjoying and preserving the tradition.
Every year I saw the same man climb atop the chariot. Every year he threw the coconut down towards the devotees. I really wanted to show in pictures what the perspective of this man looked like.
This year I started searching for him as soon as I reached the chariot and there he was in his favorite spot, up at the top. I could not call him down, as he was sitting so high and the sound of the drums was too loud. I waited for him to come down.
Finally, the man I was waiting for came down. I was very happy to see him descending. He reached me and I introduced myself to him and asked for his name. I was shocked to learn that this man who I had been shooting pictures of for years could not speak. I wanted his help to shoot the picture I had planned and even though my challenge was growing tougher I didn’t give up. I smiled and grabbed his hand to get his attention. He smiled back at me. Once again I tried to ask for his name and he led me to another person who knew him and they told me his name. It was Chakala Dangol and he was 75-years-old.
After spending some time with him I took out the GoPro camera that I had borrowed from a friend and asked if he was willing to take it with him as he climbed the chariot. He gave me a ‘loud’ smile and gestured trying to inform me that he didn’t know how to use the camera. I told him that he did not need to worry or do anything I would arrange everything and he just needed to keep the camera attached to a headband I gave him.
After I explained everything to him he nodded his head “Yes”. I quickly set the camera to shoot a picture every five seconds. As I was adjusting the camera on his head and explaining to him the camera position my eyes fell on the word “Hero” that was written on the camera. He was definitely my Hero. He started to climb back up the chariot and I felt excited and looked on anxiously as he ascended. I went back to shooting pictures of the festival.
After the festival was over we met and I took the camera from him. I had doubts that my plan would have worked and captured the picture I was trying to make, but more than the pictures I was very happy to have met Dangol. He was such a nice and happy person, whose face always had a big smile. I thanked him then took a picture of us together. It was not at all easy to climb the chariot, especially when you are 75. I salute Dangol who left a mark on me with his courage and love for the festival. He also helped me make one of the most remarkable pictures of this event I have taken.