Last up date:1999/07/13
Always Time For Kites
Always Time For Kites by Stephen C.Lowe
Any kiter would agree that the ancient Newar twon of Bhaktapur, set in the gusty Kathmandu Valley of Nepal (12 km from Kathmandu), is ideal for kites.
Bhaktapur enjoys a unique environment and architectural layout of low-storied, tightly congested houses with interconnecting clay-tiled roofs. Kites are taken seriously and informal annual competitions test the skills.
The history of kiteflying in Nepal, like so many other customs embraced there, invariably lies hidden in transcultural obscurity.
The genealogy does lead, though, to neighboring India, where the tradition has also endured for countless centuries. As a result an extremely maneuverable kite design developed.
Nepal's kites are square in shape, flown point up, one-to two-foot in size. Two split banboo sticks are shaped to form the spine and bowed spar of the kite. The spine is tail-weighted. On very breezy days, the universal use of tails, make from strips of paper or cloth, help to stabilize and beautify. Otherwise, most kites do not need tails, which can easily get you into tangle trouble.
The traditional kite skin used to be handcast rice paper, but today kites are thin, machine-pressed paper. Another recently introduced material is plastic, which bears colourful designs of advertising logos. No matter the components of the kites, all are very fast in climbing aand descending and riding the breezes and updrafts.
Successful flying in Nepal involves mastery of the line and the spool. It is a constant two-handed operation, the quick feeding out and taking in of line while swaying the spool back and forth and using sweeping arm movements. The smallest children, some barely largerthan their kites, quickly learn the motions.
Yet being a child in Nepal is not all fun and games. Most children have adult responsibilities and burdens, such as working in the rice and millet field or around the household. In addition, the daily religious rites and seemingly endless series of festivals consume many of the children's hours.
Nevertheless, there's always time for kites. I vividly remember one delighted neighboring child who used a big one-foot-diameter spool. With ample length of line and the dexterity of a mountain goat, he obtained in 15 minutes such an incredible height for his kite that it almost disappeared, seemingly higher than any of the sorrounding snow-encased Himalayas. As surely as the kites of Benjamin Franklin or Lawrence Hargrave, It regacefully embraced humankind's instinctive dream to fly.