Thousands cheer on Nepal bullfighting spectacle

Taruka (Nepal) (AFP) - Thousands of Nepalis gathered at an open ground in the Himalayan foothills on Friday to watch a bullfighting festival that heralds the end of winter, according to the Hindu calendar.

Unlike its Spanish counterpart, bullfighting in Nepal requires no matadors as the bulls -- usually buffalo -- fight each other in a competition to mark the Maghe Sankranti festival.

Around 5,000 people turned up at the dusty village of Taruka, 35 kilometres (22 miles) northwest of the capital Kathmandu, to watch 14 pairs of bulls butt heads, with the winner of each bout taking home 2,000 rupees ($20) in prize money.

The festival, whose popularity dates back to the 19th Century, attracts many repeat visitors, who cherish the traditional entertainment.

"I always enjoy watching this festival -- it takes me back to my childhood," said 72-year-old Chiranjibi Adhikari, who lost his home in April's massive earthquake that killed nearly 8,900 people.

"When I see the bulls, it brings a smile to my face. Everything was destroyed in the quake, but when I come here I am able to forget my problems for a little while," Adhikari told AFP.

Crowds packed the makeshift arena, sitting on surrounding hillsides and applauding every time the bulls made contact, each attempting to dominate the other.

Unlike European bullfighting, bloodshed is a rare sight as local tradition dictates that the bout ends once an animal tires of fighting.

Nevertheless, animal rights activists have attacked the festival, arguing that it causes injuries including broken bones, and have sought to have it banned.

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