A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Squares and Temples of Kathmandu

Walking out of the tourist district of Thamel, we finally start to see the real Kathmandu. The little shops and buildings give way to unexpected ancient temples and squares. Women carrying bursting baskets of brick with nothing but a thin forehead strap. Butchers chopping meat on what must be unsanitary tables. Motorcycles zipping past buses with mutli-toned horns that sound like the bionic man. Rickshaw drivers napping on the job.

We walked the 2 kilometers to Swayambhunath Stupa, a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. Sorry, but I’m going to use the metric system from now on because, duh, it makes sense. It’s what the world uses outside of America and, like, the entire fields of Mathematics and Applied Science. But I won’t be adopting the universal clock, it still takes too much brain power to compute what 16:45 means.

Often called the Monkey temple, because there are just a ton of sacred monkeys running amok. Below is a short video of migrating monkey families in front of a contemplative gold Buddha.

We walked up the 365 steep stairs a little out of breath and at the top, guess what? The temple was under construction! What great luck we’ve had with all the sites being repaired when we show up, or maybe Ron just can’t escape restoration work no matter how hard he tries.

Around the stupa were a bazillion prayer wheels that we circumnavigated clockwise with a gaggle of school children straining on their tippy toes to reach the spinning the wheels. Om Mani Padme Hum. Ah! The jewel is indeed in the lotus.

Rainbow colored prayer flags hung from the spires of every stupa, their inscribed mantras fluttering in the wind up to the heavens. They are never removed so some are tattered and faded from the weather strung next to new brightly colored ones in dense masses that recall circus tents and used car lots for the pious and faithful.

We lit candles as offerings and received elaborate red, yellow, and gold marks on our forehead from an old woman for a small donation. The red clump started to slide off our sweaty faces (and regrettably into my bangs) so we removed it and reverently touched it to the third eye of Buddhist statues we passed.

We ventured to the famous Durbar Square, even after an unhelpful local told us it was closed because it was Saturday (which is like our Sunday, the most likely day off for businesses and religious observances).

It was most certainly open, bustling as I imagine it always is with locals and tourists alike. We watched as a man dutifully and painstakingly scrubbed a Buddha statue with a brush.

In continuing with our training program for the trek, we opted to walk to the Boudha Stupa and back. It definitely had distance, at nearly 16km roundtrip, but it was flatter than flat. It is very difficult for us to find appropriate inclines on the road, so I’m confident we’ll be under trained and ill prepared for what lies ahead.

You are allowed to walk inside and around the stupa, under the serene and watchful Buddha eyes. Even prostrate yourself on wooden slabs provided for your praying pleasure. The air felt light and pure, even surrounded by the congestion of urban Kathmandu only steps away. A respite in the middle of chaos.

I finally got a National Geographic shot (it took only 50 cities and 10000 tries!) of an old Buddhist monk relaxing near the entrance.

See more of our photos of Kathmandu on Flickr.


Anonymous December 7, 2009 at 2:08 PM  

Great descriptions in these Nepal blogs!!! It is bringing back memories of my trek 15 years ago and actually seems unchanged. With the exception of internet and skype! Be safe. Love, Mom

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