Featured Image: Boudhanath Stupa
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 11 March 2013
Trip: Everest Region March/April 2013 with Teresa.
Postcard from Nepal: Boudhanath Stupa
We arrived in Nepal from Thailand around lunchtime. Netra met us at Tribhuvan International Airport. Although neither the International nor the domestic airport is anything to get excited over. Today was the Maha Shivaratri festival at Pashupatinath Temple. The night of Lord Shiva, celebrating the night that Shiva transformed into the Shiva Lingam. The festival is celebrated by Yogis, naked Yogis and Hindu pilgrims with smoking and partaking of marijuana, which is taken as Prasad —holy food blessed by the gods.
This reminds me of a time in India of an unpleasant bus trip and arriving in Delhi at midnight. It was Holi and the friends of friends I did not know were having a holi party. Anyway a most welcome meal, I was offered what the host called gently crushed flowers in milk. I refused not thinking and only next day realised that it was pure bhang in milk and that they were all stoned out of their heads. My thickness I can only attribute to tiredness.
Our involvement in the festival at Pashupatinath was minimal and I am glad that it was so because really large crowds in India can be frightening and very claustrophobic. As we left the airport by taxi the crowds walking along the road thickened. Netra apologised and we turned onto a rough rutted dirt track, by which we began a tedious circling through the hills on rough roads to avoid them. When we turned off the human tide had thickened to quite alarming proportions.
Following our dusty journey we settled in to Muna’s lovely Cottage in Kapan and caught up with Nepalese friends. We used to stay near the Monkey Temple at Benchen Monastery but our guide Teresa has decided Kopan is more convenient. Both places are lovely, but the Rhesus monkeys at Benchen can be difficult and in hot weather the accommodation faces the afternoon sun.
Later, we walked to the immensely holy buddhist shrine of Boudhanath. We joined the pilgrims, many from Tibet, circling Boudhanath Stupa clockwise.
We even had a takeaway coffee and sat on the pilgrim seats watching the passing parade. How Nepal has changed in the more than ten years we’ve been coming. Thamel is crowded and much less pleasant than it used to be. (Update: In 2018 traffic has been banned from key areas of Thamel and things are much better.) The traffic has increased everywhere and one can buy takeaway coffee at Boudha. I would have liked to have come when Dervla Murphy was here in the fifties or even with the hippies in the seventies. But, I was probably too young for both, certainly the first.
Ah, well, the world has changed; backpacking is no longer the only way to travel. Remote locations are no longer remote or even hard to get to. At least I had the good fortune to visit many parts of the world when they were both remote and hard to get to. And, though that was good at the time, I can’t say that I regret the poor accommodation, the difficult food, the long tiring bus and train trips, the heat, the dust and the filth.
We were joined on our bench by old women who’d done several circuits of the stupa and needed a rest. One was amazed by Denise’s coffee and wondered what strange concoction it was.
Whilst enjoying our coffee, one pilgrim woman with wooden boards on her hands went past doing the whole prostration thing. She walked two steps clapped the boards and fell forward onto the ground and stretched full length forward and back gathered up her body and stood, repeating the process. She wore an apron of woven plastic sacking, which was wearing through quickly and she also was getting rather dirty. At least it wasn’t Mount Kailash in Tibet where the circuit is 56km at about 5000m and the prostrators take about three weeks to do it.
Some of the women wore the colourful striped front aprons of Tibet. The rest, including some western ‘Euro-buddhists’ (a term of irony coined by Teresa), walked by clutching their prayer beads and spinning the prayer wheels.
There were also many Nepal police some in full riot regalia loitering around the circuit. We had no idea why!
We ate at Nir’s Toast Bakery Restaurant a non-profit NGO that supports education in villages in one area of Eastern Tibet. It was just off Bhoudinath in Phulbari Galli and our reason for choosing it had more to do with the ambience and food than social conscience.
After our sophisticated dining in Thailand, I didn’t expect much but the chicken momos were excellent and the pizza not bad.
We’d got geographically displaced a couple of times on the 1.5 km walk on the way down from Kopan so it was with some trepidation we set off in the dark to walk back a slightly different way. We didn’t do too badly, especially as we were walking by torch light for the last half. We were told when we got back that the electricity is off for up to 10 hours per day, a bit like India —not enough power to meet demand.
Note: We were shocked and saddened at the earthquake in Kathmandu and Nepal shortly after this was posted. So far all our friends are OK, but people have died in their neighbourhoods. The situation is grim across Nepal. Bhouda is slightly damaged but other World Heritage sights much more so. We’ve given some money direct, which is always better. Nepal needs help and support in any way you can.
See the photo essay by Sami Siva and seven short articles on the earthquake from 7 May (search ‘Reportage’ for Notes from the field) in Himal Southasian Magazine.
This was my first blog post chillingly and coincidentally a few hours before the Earthquake in Nepal. The Langtang Valley where we had trekked twice was especially devastated and I have not yet brought myself to write about that wonderful part of the world.
Key words : Nepal, Kathmandu, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, Maha Shivaratri festival, Kapan