The festival was in full swing on Wednesday night at the Kali Debi temple on the eve of the full moon. Up to 300 revellers and pilgrims were offering prayers, others were dancing to blaring pop music nearby.
It was ten at night and Soni Gurung was selling fruits in her small shop. Sujan Shrestha, staff from the Club Himalaya resort, was there with his friends. Tsiring Lama was watching the people from a terrace.
Suddenly, young men from the feared Pipalbot gang and Sgt Basudeb Thapa from the nearby Nagarkot barrack got into a fight. They had a history of enmity and both were drunk. Tsiring, who was once beaten up by 'Basay' (as Sgt Thapa was known) knew things would turn nasty.
The ruffians from Pipalbot village were notorious for bullying and extorting villagers. They started beating up Sgt Thapa, who took out a knife and slashed one of them. The soldier was in rage and screamed, "I'll come back and kill you all" and drove off in his motorcycle.
When Soni Gurung saw Sgt Thapa return, he had a gun but she didn't think much of it. By this time, the Pipalbot gang had fled. But Sgt Thapa walked up to the temple's wall and started firing with his INSAS assault rifle.
Soni saw Sujan Shrestha get a bullet in his stomach and fall. Bullets were whizzing in all directions, some people were killed on the spot, others lay wounded. Those who could run were hurt when they jumped off windows and slid down a cliff at the back.
When the shooting stopped, Basudeb was dead. Some eyewitnesses said he shot himself, while some think other must have shot him. Of the 11 dead, three were women-one of them a middle-aged woman hit in the head as she was kneeling to make an offering at the temple. At least 20 people were injured, three of them women and five children.
Sita Nagarkoti, was sitting at home when she heard the gunfire. She ran to the temple where her husband Ram Lal Nagarkoti had gone to pour mustard oil on the lamps. When she found him he was already dead with three bullet wounds, next to him was her elder daughter, also dead.
Twelve hours after the incident, when we reached the temple the flagstones were still caked with dried blood, bullet holes riddled the prayer flags, there was a red cap with a bullet hole. Altogether 33 rounds were fired from the automatic rifle.
The army was cleaning up the temple, and one unit had gone off in search of the Pipalbot gang. Most villagers were sick of the ruffians and wanted the gang caught.
But at Bhaktapur hospital where the 12 dead bodies were lined up in the courtyard, the mood was angry. Villagers who had come down to claim bodies of relatives shouted slogans calling the soldiers 'terrorists'. Some of the anger was also directed at the tv cameramen.
The army, for once, reacted swiftly and went into damage control mode promptly providing a detailed description of the event to media, getting the Home Ministry to set up a civilian investigation led by a former chief justice and announcing a Rs 150,000 compensation to the next of kin. The RNA also took a busload of reporters to the Chhauni military hospital where 16 wounded were being treated. Members of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the NHRC were also at the site Thursday to investigate.
Contrary to first reports, the Nagarkot incident did not involve Maoists. It was also not triggered by soldiers teasing women, but bad blood between an unpopular soldier and notorious local hooligans. It was a gang-fight that went tragically wrong.
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Agitated masses burnt tyres on Thursday outside Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital where the bodies of those who died at Nagarkot massacre was brought for post-mortem.
The Kali Debi temple in Nagarkot
Inside of the Kali Debi temple in Nagarkot where the killings took place.
A cap with a bullet hole lying on a sack soaked with blood of those who died Wednesday night.
The body of those who died on Wednesday night masscre, including Sgt Basudeb Thapa's, lay outside the Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital after post-mortem on Thursday.