THIMI, the valley’s fourth-largest town, spreads across a minor eminence 4km west of Bhaktapur. The name is said to be a corruption of chhemi, meaning “capable people”, a bit of flattery offered by Bhaktapur to make up for the fact that the town used to get mauled every time Bhaktapur picked a fight with Kathmandu or Patan. Little has changed: caught between Kathmandu’s rampant development and Bhaktapur’s careful spirit of conservation, Thimi has rather lost out. Recently the town has revived its ancient name of MADHYAPUR (“Middle Place”) – which says it all.

The town itself is grotty and oddly sullen. The main north–south lane is dotted with chortens and modest temples for its full 1km length. The only sight of note, the sixteenth-century pagoda temple of Balkumari, comes just short of its southern end. Childless couples come here to pray to the “Child Kumari” – represented by an unmistakeable, vulva-like gilt slit – presenting her with coconuts as a symbol of fertility. The temple is bespattered with pigeon droppings and has been protected by a steel cage since its precious peacock statue was stolen in 2001; the current figure, atop its tall pillar, is a reproduction. The temple is the focus of the Sindoor Jatra festival for Nepali New Year (in April), when dozens of deities are ferried around on palanquins and red powder (red being the colour of rejoicing) is thrown like confetti.

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