MANANG-In a dimly-lit stone-walled room in Manang village, men shake the dust out of costumes before trying on brass warrior helmets and rubber devil masks.
It's been three years since the last Badhe festival, a ritual forgotten for more than two decades as urban migration and tourism took their toll on local practices in this scenic valley behind the Annapurnas. But local leaders are keen to see a cultural revival, aimed at young Manangis as well as the 10,000 or so trekkers who pass through here every year.
Badhe is a three-day event, held this year on 25-27 October. The first two days involved outdoor performances which retold the story of a Ghale king sending his army off to battle. While the costumes had to be recreated in Kathmandu, the swords and spears carried by the warriors were authentic relics.
For the last day, the characters changed costumes and joined the head lama in a dance to drive the devil out of the village. The festival began as a B'on religious ceremony and originally involved the sacrifice of 12 virgin girls, according to oral history. Eventually, goats were sacrificed instead of humans, but these days Badhe is a bloodless affair.
"Before, we used to kill a lot of goats, not with a knife but just by banging them on the ground," remembers 83-year-old Jumgme Ghale. "We used to think we'll kill our enemies like that."
In Ghale's youth, the Badhe festival attracted huge crowds, as people came from neighbouring villages to party for a whole week. This year, about 200 locals and around 50 tourists turned out to watch.
The organizers of this year's Badhe, Manang Youth Society and Annapurna Conservation Area Project, hope the 2010 event will attract more young Manangis from the cities and help reconnect them with their cultural heritage.
Liam Cochrane in Manang
PICTURES | LIAM COCHRANE