Spirituality defines the Nepalis. Regardless of faith, we observed they have inspiring respect for others. During our 5-day-visit to their country, my family and I were drawn to a harmonious blend of Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Hinduism. We’re in awe of how Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal continuously make religion their way of life. Our brief but meaningful experiences with them made our journey the most memorable one to date.
August 08, 2013. Thursday. Our third day in Nepal. As soon as we exited Patan Durbar Square, the main plaza within Nepal’s City of Fine Arts, a curly-haired-taxi cab driver approached me and asked where we’re heading next. I told him I plan to bring my family to Boudhanath and back to our hotel in Thamel. At that moment, I disregarded my other plans of going to Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath, depite all are inscripted as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu Valley.
The soft-spoken taxi cab driver, whose name we learned later as Buddha Lama (sounds so religious to be true!), said he charges 600 Nepalese Rupees from Patan to Boudhanath (or Boudha). Reluctantly, I told him I only paid 400 Rupees from Thamel to Patan that morning but he explained without a hint of arrogance that the route going to Boudha is different and quite far from Patan. Logical to me, I agreed.
Inside his Suzuki hatchback taxi cab, he asked again our itineraries for the remaining hours of the day. I repeated, we’d like to see Boudhanath only and will return to Thamel for dinner and retire to our hotel.
“Aren’t you going to Monkey Temple after Boudha?” he inquired.
“Swayambunath? No more. We just want Boudhanath.” I replied.
“What about Pashupatinath?” he asked again.
“There are cremations there daily, right? No, thanks.”
In my mind, I didn’t want Tina, particularly Gabby, to inhale air infused with smoke from cremations done in public at Pashupatinath. That decision made us miss to visit the holiest Hindu shrine in Nepal and see sadhus, or wandering Hindu holy men, often with painted faces and dreadlocks.
Then Mr. Buddha made a clever suggestion. “What if I take you to Boudha, then to Swayambhu, and back to Thamel before evening so you will not have a problem taking another taxi after?”
“For how much?”
“Will you wait for us? What about your lunch? Have you taken your lunch?”
“Yes, I will wait for you. You may take 1-2 hours in Boudha, then I will wait near the gate while I eat my lunch. I’ll take you to Monkey Temple and to Thamel after.”
As I sealed the deal, we arrived at Boudha. We paid NPR 150 each for admission tickets; Gabby’s entrance was waived as usual.
BOUDHANATH STUPA : A World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley
One of the largest and regarded as most significant place of pilgrimage for the Buddhists, Boudhanath’s a sacred place of worship where traders, travelers and pilgrims sought blessing at the stupa as they pass Kathmandu Valley. We’re definitely not Buddhists, but my family and I were honored to set foot on this holy ground. Such a humbling experience!
“The Bodhnath Stupa. Highly symbolic serving as three-dimensional reminder of the Buddha’s path towards enlightenment. The plinth represents earth, the kumbha (dome) is water, the harmika (square tower) is fire, the spire represent the stages that a human being must pass through to achieve nirvana.” ~Sourced from Lonely Planet Nepal, 2012 edition, page 120.
Pilgrims from Tibet, mostly monks in maroon robes observe ritualistic circumnavigation clockwise around the dome called, Kora. Done during dawn and dusk, Buddhist faithfuls walk clockwise around the stupa while rotating the prayer wheels and uttering the Tibetan Buddhist mantra,
Om Mani Padme Hum,
the words written in Sanskrit on those prayer wheels that mean,
“Praise to the Jewel in the lotus”
Skies weren’t glorious blue and some clouds were grey. Such absolute signs of impending downpour during monsoon season that coincided with our visit. Nonetheless, we had a chance to walk clockwise, a quarter throughout the stupa before the heavens drizzled. Gabby also had another opportunity to chase some pigeons; a habit he did to all three World Heritage Sites we visited in Nepal.
Then the holy ground was soaked in rain.
We found refuge under the highest floor of a rooftop restaurant called, Cafe Himalayan. We needed to order and eat something, not only because we were waiting for the mild downpour to cease but we needed wifi access.
All-Cheese-Pizza, Mixed Fried Rice and Hot Banana (or what we call back home as, Banana Cue).
We took some photos of the majestic Boudhanath stupa from the rooftop restaurant, bought few pieces of postcards at 10 Nepalese Rupees each from a souvenir shop, then strolled clockwise around the stupa after the rain stopped. We left Boudha at past 4PM, I think.
The colorful gates of Boudhanath led to a vivid experience to the three of us.
Before we crossed the road and exited the gates of Boudhanath, we already saw our trusty Nepali taxi driver, whose name was amazingly followed after the enlightened one. Mr. Buddha took us to Monkey Temple or Swayambhunath; called us such because of proliferation of monkeys around the lofty hilltop.
SWAYAMBHUNATH STUPA : Another World Heritage Site in Kathmandu Valley
As I read in the Lonely Planet travel guide book, there are two entry points to Swayambhu. One via 365 steps and another via vehicular zigzag ascent around the hill, leaving only fewer steps to climb. Of course, I obviously chose the one that required less efforts. With limited time and fatigue from our whole day’s D-I-Y-tour, I didn’t want my family and me to go breathless and diaphoretic.
Immediately after Mr. Buddha dropped us off near the ticket booth at the other admission point, we purchased tickets at NPR 200 each, while Gabby enjoyed free entrance again.
The sight after the ticket booth at the entry of Swayambunath for those who opted not to climb the 365 steps.
As I was almost-enchanted with the stunning view of Kathmandu Valley framed handsomely by the twigs and leaves, Tina and Gabby were busy admiring other God’s creations (hahaha!).
Stunning! Something we don’t see on a daily basis.
Monkey temple, as mentioned isn’t called as such without those tailed primates. Like those macaques in the huge Hindu temple, Batu Caves in Selangor, Malaysia that we once visited too, these in Swayambhu are also capable of snatching whatever things they fancy. From ice cream on sticks to chips to whatnot, we saw how few little kids were robbed instantly by those naughty monkeys.
On our way up to the stupa, we saw fascinating souvenir shops.
Forgive the tourists in us, as prior giving reverence to the Swayambhunath stupa, we prioritized taking tons of once-in-a-lifetime-photos with the the visually pleasing backdrops.
Finally, we had our moment circumnavigating the Swayambhunath stupa. It might be irrelevant to some as we’re non-Buddhists but like what we felt in Boudhanath, the experience was very spiritual.
Those Buddha’s eyes gaze over Kathmandu Valley and beyond…
The breathtaking views of Kathmandu Valley from Swayambunath Stupa…
Om Mani Padme Hum ,
the words written in Sanskrit on those prayer wheels mean,
“Praise to the Jewel in the lotus”
We cannot buy and bring home all those lovely souvenirs so a photo’s always the next best thing.
Looking back, it’s not only the fish padlocks that I regret not buying but at least a Buddhist brass singing bowl that produces healing sound used in meditation, and a roll of prayer flags. Perhaps, we have reasons to revisit Nepal in the future. Who knows?
We spent several minutes admiring the view of Kathmandu Valley at the deck surrounding the stupa. We returned back to the taxi cab of Mr. Buddha with happier moods despite the long day.
Someone was envious of the little man’s Nepalese ice cream!
Not long after, we found ourselves back in Thamel, Kathmandu. We didn’t miss the chance to thank Mr. Buddha Lama for driving for us safely that afternoon. He truly displayed a friendly Nepalese hospitality.
Before we found a place for dinner, Tina spotted a man who stood out from the touristy crowd in Thamel. He physically appeared to me as a sadhu, a wandering Hindu holy man, as mentioned earlier, but I was honestly skeptic if he truly was. I read there are a lot of fake sadhus around Kathmandu, nevertheless, I didn’t pass up a photo-op with the guy and offered 300 Rupees to him after.
It was an honor standing beside someone whose life I cannot live. And you?
Back in the laterals of Thamel to hunt for dinner…
I suggested to Tina we have to try the restaurant we saw the other night, tucked in Mandala Street. We’re glad we dined at Cafe New Orleans. Service was quick and friendly. Ambiance was Nepalese chic. Choices from the menu were a wide variety from local to international cuisine. Food was heavenly! And prices? Affordable than you can imagine! I wish most restaurants in Penang and Manila would be like Cafe New Orleans. The money we paid for our dinner and the entire experience were all worth it!
From walking to Patan Durbar Square to circumnavigating Boudhanath and Swayambhunath that day, the experience was truly overwhelming! And our dinner at New Orleans was a perfect ending!
On our first 3 days of stay in Kathmandu, my family and I witnessed the unparalleled devotion of Nepalese people to their gods and their selfless dedication of their creativity and tradition to their faith. Everything was an eye-opener, not only for Tina and me, but more so for Gabby. At such a young age, we’re very grateful that he has been exposed to a volume of diversities which he will certainly not learn in any books he reads in school.
To be continued.
*A life journey of mine, an epiphany of travel for you, made possible by Malaysia Airlines.
This Nepal Blog Series includes :
- Our Unforgettable Journey From Malaysia to Nepal
- Incredibly Beautiful Bhaktapur
- Patan : The City of Fine Arts in Nepal
- Beneath Buddha’s Watchful Eyes : Boudhanath Stupa & Swayambhunath Stupa
- Nagarkot : Sleeping in Nepal’s 7000 feet
- Our Last Moments in Nepal : From Nagarkot to Kuala Lumpur International Airport