Kathmandu…a city of temples.

Kathmandu…a city of temples.If you’re as ill informed as I apparently am, you might think that Nepal is a country filled with Buddhist temples and monasteries while nothing could be further from the truth.  I had assumed that Tibet and Nepal were cut from the same Himalayan cloth but Nepal is a Hindu country and quite different. Only 11 percent of Nepal is Buddhist with 81 percent of the population being Hindu.  The Nepali people are extremely religious and with 2,700 shrines in the Kathmandu valley it is impossible to walk down any street in the capitol and not find offerings of flowers and food. All the while the scent of sandalwood incense fills the air.

I set out one day to see the two of the most sacred places in Nepal….Boudhanath for the Buddhist and Pashupatinath the Hindu’s.

Kathmandu…a city of temples.

View from the Stupa

Boudhanath…there is no place quite like it! This enormous stupa pulses with life as thousands of pilgrims gather there every evening to make their daily circumnavigation of the dome, beneath the watchful eyes of Buddha, which gaze out from a gilded tower.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

A Tibetan nun reading fortunes and giving blessings

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the iconic image of Nepal. It is of this stupa that the quintessential photographs, that grace every book or magazine article on Nepal, are taken.  However, it is a much more important than a mere photo op….it is one of the largest and most significant Buddhist monuments in the world. Pilgrims arrive here from all over the Himalayan region and South East Asia to pray and make the walk around the stupa.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Pilgrims walking around the sturpa

Boudhanath is also the center of a thriving Tibetan community filled with monasteries, craftsman and shops. Some of the most wonderful shops filled with jewel toned silk brocades, prayer beads, and traditional dress of Tibet line the narrow twisting streets that spin out from the stupa.  The monasteries which house hundreds of monks and novices add to the mix by allowing the monks to enter into the maelstrom of pilgrims and tourist. Every once in awhile a young novice runs by, his face lit with joy and with his maroon shawl flying in the breeze like a Buddhist kite getting ready to sail off. When I see this I too am filled with joy and perhaps a little envy.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Shops on the circle around the Stupa

The circle around the stupa is lined with buildings selling the usual…trekking supplies, religious paraphernalia, bronze Buddha’s and of course restaurants. Many of the places offer a roof top garden from which to have a drink and watch the parade of pilgrims down below. If one comes to Kathmandu it is a place to visit for sure.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

At front gate ..Non-Hindu’s keep out

Pashupatinath was a different story. This temple constructed in 1696 (although the site was used for much longer) sits on the sacred Bagmati River and is dedicated to Shiva. It is surrounded by a bustling market of religious stalls filled with marigolds, Prasad incense, Rudraksha beads, conch shells and pictures of Hindu deities. The devotees and sadhus who swarm around the temple come from all over the Indian subcontinent (I just love getting to talk about the subcontinent- it makes me feel all National Geographic) many of whom even choose to be cremated along the banks of the river.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Outside the Hindu Temple

On the day I arrived there was much activity around the temple…offerings being made, fires going, cows wandering around and music. But it was all on the outside…I could not get inside the temple enclosure or the temple proper. There was a big sign…HINDU’S ONLY! I kept moving closer to the gate thinking I could slide in unnoticed but a rather surly looking fellow kept giving me the evil eye and I didn’t chance it. But perhaps if I had put the smudge of colored paint on my forehead and a few marigold petals on my head I could have blended in….well maybe not!

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Cremation ghats along the Bagmati River

So all the way across town and walking up hundreds of steps (all these places seem to have thousands of steps) I could not get inside. There were things to see around the temple area though. The cremation ghats line the river so if your timing is right you may see a funeral, otherwise just wander around and watch the absolutely amazing scene unfold around you.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Stupas around Pashupati

It is a 400-500 rupee cab ride to each place and I booked a deal with my taxi driver for him to drive and wait. But if I had to choose between the two I would go for Boudhanath as there is more to experience. Perhaps I’m just being prejudicial but I hate when someone won’t let me in the front door…it has a tendency to put me off.

Kathmandu...a city of temples

Funeral pyre waiting for a body on the cremation ghst.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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4 Responses to Kathmandu…a city of temples.

  1. Magdalena says:

    I would imagine that by now you are totally “Stupafied”. When will you don an orange robe?
    Fabulous pictures.

  2. Claudia Hammer says:

    You must have been a monk in at least one other life if not more. It is a different world over there for sure. Your pictures are telling a story along with your words. Love it all! Thanks for sending this to enrich and inform us.

  3. dan coffey says:

    weird combo between india and thailand. hindu and buddhist. looks really cruddy, in a cruddy sort of way.

  4. ShaNoan says:

    When I trekked there in the 80s and 90s the lower elevations were Indian Hindu types and the villages in the upper elevations were Tibetan Buddhists of various sorts. Interesting that you were prohibited from the Hindu parts, that was my experience in 2009 with I went on pilgrimage with Tibetan Buddhists, a Hindu and a Muslim: we were all welcomed in the Buddhist places and felt so enlivened. I had amazing experiences. The Hindu temples and sites were so swarming with pesky Brahmin priests that it was an ordeal. My mid calf skirt was too short, my shoulders or arms weren’t covered enough, or I was female and couldn’t enter at all! They were in my face constantly, wanting to sell me this, wanting me to make an offering, take a tour, never leaving me alone to feel what was there. Sometimes none of us were not permitted to enter at all. My Buddhist friends were getting fed up with the hassles and demanded of the Brahmin priests, to be allowed to enter, saying Hindus are welcome in any Buddhist temple, why should they exclude us? Siddhartha was a Hindu before becoming the Buddha! I lost all respect for the Brahmins and wondered at the fate of Hinduism.

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