November 2, 2022
The early start is a bit rough. We have to get up, shower, eat breakfast and get over to the Hyatt Regency by 9am. Caspar and I and fellow group member Silke are staying at Hotel Butsugen, which is only a stone’s throw away from the Hyatt. We use a very handy backgate entrance to the Hyatt and join our other group members Clearance, Jeremy, Susan and Sophie in the lobby. Susan had to taxi over from the Thamel District and it’s my first time meeting everyone. Only Caspar and Clearance know Sophie from a previous trip on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Silke and Susan have met Sophie very briefly before. Jeremy, Sophie, Susan and I are from the United States. Caspar and Clearance are from Tanzania. Silke is from the Netherlands.
Swayambhunath is a hindu word but this temple is commonly known as Monkey Temple. This ancient temple sits atop a notable forested hill in Kathmandu. It is one of the oldest religious sites in all of Nepal and is a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Although the site is considered Buddhist, it is revered by Buddhists and Hindus alike. The complex includes a stupa, shrines and temples. The sacred monkeys are everywhere and ready to snatch a snack right out of your hand. Dogs also sleep around a stupa, soaking up the sun and are seemingly oblivious to our presence. There are certain areas where photos are not allowed and shoes are not allowed inside the temples.
Durbar Square, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located in front of the old royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom. Several of the buildings collapsed during the April 25, 2015 earthquake but they have since been rebuilt. At the southern end of Durbar Square is the Kumari. This gilded cage contains the Raj Kumari, a girl chosen through an ancient and mystical selection process to become the human incarnation of the Hindu mother goddess, Durga. Kumari is only allowed to leave the building a few times a year for specific festivals. She is also not allowed to touch the ground and is carried for these festivals. The Kumari holds this distinction until her first menstruation at which point the next Kumari takes her place. Photographs of the Kumari are strictly forbidden!
Boudhanath Stupa, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world. Also called just Boudha, the stupa dates from 600AD and was built by a Tibetan King. Situated along the ancient trade route from Tibet, merchants have rested and offered prayers at the Boudhanath Stupa for centuries. Boudha is a holy pilgrimage site for Buddhists all around the world. The giant Boudhanath stupa is a gateway to heaven serving as a horizon between the earth and sky. The area surrounding Boudha is known as little Tibet. The stupa was badly damaged during the April 2015 earthquake in which its tall spire cracked. The whole structure above the dome was reconstructed.
After a rooftop lunch of Biryani, we walk in a clockwise direction around Boudhanath Stupa, as everyone does, in order to align with the natural force. The meditative walk purifies negative karma and fosters realizations of the path to enlightenment. We reach out and spin the prayer wheels, also in a clockwise direction. After removing our shoes we visit several monasteries. Pictures are allowed only in one of them. The stupa is circled by shops selling prayer beads, thangka art, mountain gear and general tourist souvenirs like t-shirts, magnets, jewelry and prayer flags. If you push beyond the main circle, the shops are more for everyday living. Fabric and textiles, butcher, fresh food market, prayer beads, flags and candles.
The photos below were taken by our group member Silka Raffel. She has quite the eye and takes beautiful pictures! I really appreciate her perspective and ability to capture these moments in life.