Monday, April 15, 2013

Temples Of Kathmandu

A couple of the main things to see in Kathmandu are the three significant temples, being two Buddhist and one Hindu, in this city of diverse practices and harmony. I actually only managed to visit two of them, but not for a lack of trying!

The Boudhanath temple is about 5km from the centre of town, and when the taxi stopped to let me out, I was pretty confused about where I was. The entrance is a pretty nondescript gap along a strip of stores and businesses, but it opens up to a large courtyard with the grand stupa in the middle.

One of the world's largest stupas, and a World Heritage Site, it is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monuments outside of Tibet.

Circled by market stalls, cafes, restaurants and guesthouses, the courtyard is filled with tourists, people completing their prayers for the day, and pigeons.

Walking around at ground level, and then walking up to the stupa level itself and completing a lap, details such as the prayer flags, the drum rolls all the way around, and the rituals of the monks and worshippers make this a reverent visit, and a view into Tibetan exiles and their religious tasks.

The Hindu Pashpatinath temple was the one with the most impact for me. The most fascinating, and the visit which stayed with me the longest after taking it all in.

This temple is on the outskirts of Kathmandu, near the airport, and is the site of cremations on the gnats along the embankment of the river.

When I arrived I noticed that there was an abundance of men in police uniforms in the temple complex, and upon getting to the other side of the river, deducted that this presence was actually because the person being cremated was an officer. An important one, I would think, because as the pyre was lit and burning, many of these uniformed onlookers come down to the edge and saluted a goodbye.

As this cremation was in full process, another gathering was in the same area of the embankment performing a cleansing ritual on a body, in preparation for a cremation. Of the area of this body that I could see from my vantage point, the man was not older than me. As I watched, a guide showing some other Foreigners around stopped and told me not to be sad about what I was seeing, that it was all part of the cycle of life.

Sure, but it was still someone's brother! Uncle. Son.

Watching these rituals was mixed with awe at the process, some morbid curiosity, and also much respect at such open Hindu rituals. I overheard another guide tell his patrons that the gathering around each cremation process was not necessarily just family, but because it was such an important religious ritual, many people came along to the temple just to be part of it.

I sat longer and watched another gathering prepare their loved one's body for the pyre, and then place the body, garlands of flowers, and what I presume was clothing of the deceased on the gnat, and then start the lighting process. A man who I assumed to be the Western equivalent of a 'next of kin' circled the pyre several times, before lighting the mound, and letting out a pained wail. Cycle of life, yes, but still grief.

Another pyre was almost finished, with just a small pile of charred remains left, and an attendant came along and swept everything from the pyre into the river below. Soon, another attendant come along and piled on a stack of wood logs, ready for the next one.

Swayyambhu was the temple that I missed. Nicknamed the 'monkey temple', it is perched on the closest hill to the city, and I could see it from the rooftop of my guesthouse.

I had every intention of going to see it on my last morning, on my way back to the airport and onward. But when I got down to street level and walked among the laneways from Durbar Square, and strange silence struck me - there were no cars! Everyone was walking, and I soon discovered that a strike was on, and there was no transport.

I ended up getting a cycle rickshaw all the way from the city to the airport, which took over an hour, and was a real struggle up hills. I didn't have the heart to try and add a trip to the hill temple in addition to getting me to the airport to my poor driver.

I don't like monkeys anyway!


  1. So interesting that the burial process is so public. Your writing about your experience made me feel like I was there.
    And haha at not liking monkeys. My friend is in Bali now and she got bitten by a monkey last night and another friend posted a video of a 'cute little monkey' climbing on him, sitting on his head and then peeing down his face! Ewww. I see why there's a reason not to like them!

    1. Oh, thank you! Was something pretty special to observe.

      Ewww, monkeys! A temple overrun by them does not sound like an enjoyable visit to me!


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