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Published: January 13th 2008
Back to Kathmandu for the start of my group trip overland to Delhi - it is going to be strange traveling with a group and to a schedule. Arrived back in Kathmandu after the usual bumpy bus journey from Pokhara and was just in time of the first meeting. Our team leader, Chandra, was there to welcome us all with a necklace of orange marigolds. With the introductions completed and overall a really nice group we headed for a group meal at the famous Kathmandu Guest House in central Thamel. The time was spent getting to know each other and trying to remember the other 11 group members names. And if any ice needed to be broken it was definately done with discussions about whether we had had one too many to drink when the wine arrived in bendy glasses!!
The next day started with sight seeing of Kathmandu. Even though I had already spent much time in Kathmandu I had avoided the places to be on the itinerary so as to be able share the experience with my fellow travellers. So as per schedule we all loaded ourselves into the bus to head off for a day of sight
First stop was Pashupathinath
, which is an important Hindu Temple on holy Bagmati River. The most important Shiva Temple is for devotes and sadhus and is closed to non Hindus who have to be satisfied with looking down from East which I was glad about as cremations at burning (arya) ghats occur daily and constantly and choking smoke drifts heavily at the river edge. The ghats are segregated with the south end being reserved for the for the common people and are heavily in use, the quieter North end only had a single cremation about to take place.
This was my first experience of seeing a cremation, in England it all happens behind the scenes but in Nepal where death seems to be a part of living and every days life it is very much in your face. Strangely it wasn't the gruesome as I thought it would be and from our vantage point it was little more than a burning pile of timber and the body waiting for cremation looked nothing more than a pile of material.
Apart from the burning ghats c has 11 stone chaityas (small stupas) with lingams - phallic symbols of
shivas power which can be lined up to give a great view. Additionally also found here is the Bachhareshwari Temple with Tantric figures adorning the stonework.
Around the area many Sadhus
gather in groups pooling resources to receive donation from eager tourists wanting a photo opportunity. Pashupathinath Sadhus are some of the most decorative I have seen to date in Nepal - with elaborate body paint and wild hair and so i joined the line of tourists taking photos. It was worth visiting this area just of see the Sadhus though the sight itself it definately worth an hour or two of time to explore the architecture , statues and wall paintings. Swayambhunath
is a Buddhist temple or more correctly a group of temples on a hilltop overlooking Kathmandu Valley. Often affectionately referred to as the Monkey Temple because of the troups of monkeys that swagger around the area amusing tourists with there antics - amusing that is until they notice you have food somewhere on your person and then it is not so amusing as you become the focus of there slightly aggressive behaviour which often ends in you "donating" your food to them.
was visited by Ashoka over 2000 years ago and is believed to have once have been an island in middle of lake that was Kathmandu Valley. Nowadays it At the offers some great views across Kathmandu city.
The central focus point is the spectacular white3 washed domed Stupa with its watchful eyes of Buddha, prayer wheels and statues of Dhyabu Buddhas and shaktis (consorts) encircling. The stupa is full of symbollic meaning with the lowest level the plinth representing Earth, the dome (Kumbha) representing Water. Above this is a square (harmika) with the watchful eyes of Buddha and then upwards is graceful tapering section with 13 stages representing the thiriteen stages to perfection on the way to Nirvana. The whole structure is topped by protective umbrella, with the spire being fire and umbrella air and finally the pinnacle of the stupa represents the fifth element - ether.
As so often seen through out Nepal and seen again at the Harati Temple at Swayambhunath the interweaving of Hindu and Buddhist religions. If only all religions could be interwoven like this without conflict.....
Swayambhunath has two statues of my favourite Tibetan Buddhist image - the beautiful imagery of Tara
Stalls are everywhere at Durbar Square
The night and light acts a magic quality the the square
who watches over the many tourists wandering around below their lofty platforms. Maybe even amused by those like me who go on a elementals treasure hunt. Swayambhunath also has imagery representing the five elements located around the site though you have to search for them, hence the treasure hunt comment. Water was a bit disappointing being a pool sadly spoilt with rubbish but Fire and Air were definately worth a look.
I let the others head back by taxi as I wanted to spend more time exploring Swayambhunath and also wanted to have one last walk back through the streets of Kathmandu and with a detour via Durbar Square as if I wasn't templed out enough! The light had faded when I arrived and square took on a new dimension with the still bustle market stalls lit by small lights casting interesting shadows across the faces of passers by. As the only tourist now remaining I once again became the focus of attention mainly from a group of children who revelled in seeing their image on my digital camera and practicing their English.
Night is I think the best way to enjoy Kathmandu streets they take on a
magical quality with the dirt and rubbish disappearing into the long shadows cast by the many small lights glowing out of the shop openings lining the narrow streets. This walk back was a lovely ending to my time in Kathmandu.
So it leaves me only to bid farewell to Kathmandu and start overlanding to India.
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