Pashupatinath, Bodhnath, Kathmandu and back to the UK

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October 15th 2012
Published: October 25th 2012
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15th Oct ’12 Pashupatinath and Bodhnath

So our final full day in Kathmandu and today we jumped in another taxi and headed to Pashupatinath. Although it wasn’t far it took ages to get there once again due to the traffic, our driver took loads of turns up tiny alleys which no one at home would have considered trying to get down, but he squeezed his way through, missing people and stalls by millimetres. We rattled and jottled along down rough broken up streets with potholes and half bricks everywhere, inched our way out the wrong way across main roads with nose to tail traffic and no one wanting to give an inch but some how we made it and pulled up near one of the entrances to Pashupatinath.

The temple here is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal and only Hindus are allowed to go inside the compound. It stands on the banks of the sacred Bagmati river, which looks pretty murky and is where the cremation ghats are – for open air cremations. Only royalty can be cremated in front of the temple and it is where the 10 members of the royal family who were massacred were cremated in 2001.

The steps lining the river were full of people carrying out rituals, making offerings, bathings, chatting and getting blessings. There were Sadhus in their orange robes with red and yellow markings on their faces and others who were covered in a greyish white ashes, all of whom were more than happy to pose for photos (for a price!), ladies with armfuls of necklaces weaved through the masses, targeting the tourists and giving them the hard sell and the large tour groups all hung around in clumps, pointing their cameras everywhere and taking photos whether they were intrusive or not.

As I looked across the river I saw a group of men carrying a wooden coffin towards the cremation area and decided that I was not going to hang around to watch. It just feels intrusive and wrong.

So we walked along the river banks, looked around the long line of small Shiva shrines, which also used to be used to house travelling Sadhus and then started up the steep steps leading away from the river and up to the top of the hillside.

On our way up we noticed a gaggle of tourists coming out from a side temple so stepped in for a look and found four Sadhus sat out in front of it. They were really friendly and said hello and waved us over. Howard asked how much for a photo and they said 200 rupees (which seemed a lot but in reality is only about £1.50), I wanted to take a picture and the next thing I knew they were shuffling up and told me to come and sit down with them!! Get in! So I sat with them as they all posed and then one of them told Howard to join in and he would take the pictures! They kept telling us how we would have good luck and long life for this, so let’s hope they are right.

They were such a friendly, jolly group it was totally not what I was expecting, so we paid up and thanked them and set off again with their blessings and I was so chuffed we had had that opportunity!

After a quick stop for a drink, a breather and the use of a tiny squat situated right next to the kitchen we continued walking through the trees which were littered with more shrines and temples.

We were following a path which would take us down the hill, skirting a Hindus only temple, over a narrow bridge across the river and on through villages to reach Bodhnath.

As we walked through the streets we came across small fields being cultivated in the middle of housing areas, swampy wetlands lined by housing blocks that you would have thought would have sank and an enormous school which looked like an ancient apartment block but chock full of school children all talking at the tops of their voices.

The feel of the villages began to change as gradually more and more strings of prayer flags appeared, across streets and from buildings and we neared the very Buddhist area of Bodhnath.

Walking up a quiet side street we suddenly emerged into the normal hectic noisy traffic roads and on the other side spotted the gateway that led to the Bodhnath Stupa.

Taking our lives in our hands we dashed across the road and found the ticket booth, paid our fees and got our first glimpse of the incredible stupa. It is huge! And beautiful! This is the world famous stupa that appears on all the photos of Nepal, white washed dome, gilded tower and the giant Buddha eyes.

There were prayer flags everywhere! Around the base are prayer wheels and pilgrims spinning them as they make their circuits around it. There are lots of Tibetan monasteries in Boudnath and you can hear the long horn trumpets, clashing cymbals and chanting coming from them and see monks in their maroon robes everywhere – marvellous!

We did a circuit of the stupa and then climbed up a flight of stairs to get onto the first level and walked around that too. Some men were right up just beneath the gilded tower and were throwing bowls of whitewash over the dome. There was a giant incense burner up on this level and the smell of incense filled the whole square. As in many places in Nepal you could hear cds playing the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum everywhere and it really just added to the atmosphere and the spirituality of the place. It was gorgeous.

As our camera battery sadly ran out on us while we were there we decided to head back to the hotel for the spare before carrying on to visit the Durbar Square in Kathmandu itself.

It was late afternoon by the time we were headed to the Durbar Square which is only a five minute walk from our hotel and Howard got this sudden mad urge to go by cycle rickshaw! This lovely old guy wanted to take us so we climbed up and off we went, turned out of our square onto the next road and found ourselves stuck in a long line of non-moving traffic! He tried squeezing down the side of it but after running over the foot of a guy on a motorbike (and he couldn’t stop laughing about it!) he gave up and then tried to turn the rickshaw around. This might have been easier if it wasn’t for all the pedestrians streaming up and down the edges of the gutters of the road. At this point we decided it was going to be far quicker just to get off and walk, so we paid him and joined the others in the gutters.

It was the walk from hell, the traffic does not give way to anyone or anything and they just all try and squeeze into any little gap that appears, regardless of wether anyone on foot is just about to step into it!

Anyway we made it (with lots of leaping into shop doorways) and entered the Durbar Square. Once again the temples and structures were beautiful, we climbed up the steps of one particularly high one and just sat gazing at the views and watching all the bustling life going on around them.

A young lad carrying a large wooden pole with bags of candy floss hanging from it walked around the temple top trying to sell his wares, small boys were flying home made kites from the steps, around the base people were selling garlands, flowers and all the fixings for making offerings at the temples, a fruit and veg market was in full swing and people were lounging around just taking it all in.

We walked around the whole square and got shouted at by someone who wanted us to hire him as a guide and we politely said no, so he launched into this speech about how people only come to take drugs and dance and don’t care about the culture – I thought it was a bit unfair to accuse us of this! Anyway we found the Kumari’s courtyard – she is a young girl who is a living goddess and occasionally appears up in one of the tiny windows in her courtyard. When we were in Kathmandu the first time I distinctly remember seeing her, a heavily painted and made up young girl gazing out, this time she did not appear but we did look around and for the first time I actually recognised something from our first visit.

Walking along the side of the palace I also remembered doing that before but apart from those two flash backs that was it, Kathmandu has just changed and become so much more built up now and the flavours and character of the place just are not what I remember being captivated by.

We fought our way back down the side streets and came across our rickshaw driver who asked us if we had made it ok and then back to the hotel, which was having a power cut again.

We had our final meal back at Rama’s Kitchen and that was the end of our Nepalese adventure.

16th Oct ’12 Kathmandu to Delhi to London

5.30am start urrrrggghhh! Got to the airport with no hassles, joined a massive queue for the first check before getting into the airport, checked in fine and after about another five checks got to the departure lounge.

The flight was fine although about one hour late leaving, got to Delhi and stood in yet more queues to go through yet more security where they have one person checking everyone!! So by the time all that was over we only had an hour before our flight was ready to board.

The flight was fine, watched The Help – fantastic and so moving, particularly after having been in the deep south in the USA and The Cabin in the Wood which I thoroughly enjoyed as it was a very different take on the usual group of friends horror movie.

Back to London, back to Neils and some much needed sleep.

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Incense Burner

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