Note: The Sacrament of the Goddess is now available at bookstores in Thamel. click here. The action in the novel mostly takes place in Beni, Nepal.
A Picture is worth a thousand words
Here is something to improve the reading experience. Quite a bit of the action in the book revolves around the attack on Beni by the Maoist forces on March 20, 2003. In the novel, I tried to avoid giving too much backstory about the geography of the town, because this slows down the reader unless they are interested in military strategy.
Want a video?
Here is a link to YouTube video in which nothing “happens” – other than a bus trip from Pokhara to Beni. It shows the vibe and the hazards of bus travel in rural Nepal.
And another that shows a festival held on the parade ground in 2012.
Beni from a high point on a nearby hill. great tune for a soundtrack.
This one has a nice soundtrack, and meanders through the town in a truck.
Here’s one that is twelve minutes long, shows a lot of mountain scenery. The music is in “Dohori” style.
Here is a five-minute video from an Australian NGO that donated new beds for the hospital. https://youtu.be/QG3mKaGJUKM
The Guerilla Trek
Here’s a three-minute video of the Guerilla Trek. This route covers the terrain crossed by the Maoists for the attack of 2004.
But here are some photos that would help you to visualize the town. I found them on the internet.
In this view, we are looking at the town facing north. If you travelled far enough north out of the picture you would reach Tatopani and the Annapurna Circuit. The KaliGandaki River is the one on the right, the Myagdi River runs along the bottom. The Hospital is at the top of the picture; in the lower right hand corner is the Parade ground known as the Tundikhel. At the junction of the rivers (to the right, just above the trees) is the temple, made of red brick. To the left of the Tundikhel is the station for the Armed Police Force. The helipad is actually within the walls of the Police Force compound.
On the top edge of the Tundikhel you can three buildings – each with a different colored roof (white, red and blue). Near them are some trees and Sushila’s mother’s house is in that neighborhood. The RNA barracks is out of the picture to the left.
To the west
This is looking to the west and gives a better view of the surrounding hills as well as the river junction. The Myagdi River valley is the main route to western Nepal. there is a spit of sand right at the point where the rivers join, behind the brick temple. The town of Beni actually includes a portion on the eastern side of the river, and the jail is located there. (the jail was also attacked during the battle, but that action did not impact the people in the book directly).
Below is a view of the rest spot at the hospital
The tree planted in the ring of stones, is a feature of every public space throughout the entire country, known as a “chautara” or rest stop. In the book, it’s Ranjit’s favorite place to smoke his pipe and contemplate life. I think every one sits there with him at one point or another (hmmm… or do they? A future trivia question will be to make a list of who does and who does not).
Another trivia question would be the type of tree. usually such chautaras will have two -a Bo and a Pipal, due to their importance among Buddhists. This place has just one, and near as I can figure out, it is a Sal tree – which I suspect is more adaptable to the climate of Beni. They do get winter snows there. Sal trees also have a connection with Buddhism.
The actual hospital of Beni is made of stone buildings. To research the book, I found a Pokhara-based photographer who took his motorcycle to Beni to capture images of the town. Note – the RNA would not allow him to photograph the Army Barracks.
Here is one taken from the river bank near the Tundikhel, looking north toward Tatopani. on the horizon is the peak of Dhaulagiri, a major peak on the Himalayas. there is a footbridge and also the automobile bridge in the back.
Above is a view of the river junction at high water level in 2013.
and another view of the tundikhel.
The reconnaissance in the book
It is a matter of historical fact that the Maoists created a model of the terrain of the town, to prepare their troops for the attack. Here is a photo of the model:
The limits and plasticity of fiction
The details of hospital layout are a bit fictionalized – I made it out to be bigger and busier than it actually is. I have been in, and worked in, many hospitals of Nepal and I wanted to portray a typical hospital. The patient situations in the book are based on my personal experiences and composite patients. That is the difference between fiction and nonfiction!
I should note that this is a work of fiction, and while it is based on an actual location, not every single detail is 100% factually correct. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is incidental.