Kathmandu: Cross Town To The Thamel District

November 19, 2022

My sleep is so-so and I am awake by 6:30am. It would be nice to have a leisurely morning but we need to pack up and move across town to the Thamel District. Tiger has said that he will help us move to the new hotel and we ask him to come one hour later than he first suggested at 10am. We drag ourselves out of bed for the lovely breakfast prepared at Hotel Butsugen. Then we head down to the Boudhanath Stupa for some last ‘little Tibet’ souvenir shopping. Prayer beads, tibetan bells, prayer flags, and the thing I really wanted to get, Buddhist Thangka art.

We circle around the Stupa (clockwise of course) moving from one shop to the next. Some people are pushy and some seem to be trying to sell lesser quality pieces. I’m grateful for the gallery stop during our Kathmandu City Tour where we learned about the different degrees of quality. There is student, intermediate and master and only a master can sign their work. The detail in the work is noticeable and as an artist becomes more proficient, becoming more fine and exact. Master artists will also use gold paint in their work since they possess the skills not to waste this expensive product.

We eventually end up at the World Peace Thanka Arts Center and like the feeling of this place. While there are many Thangka art choices, I want to get a Wheel of Life painting. The Wheel of Life or Bhavachakra is a symbolic representation of cyclic existence (samsara) and represents the Buddhist view of the universe. Buddhists believe in the continuous cycle of birth, life, death. They believe that you can only be liberated from this cycle of rebirth when enlightenment is reached. The Wheel is divided up into 5 or 6 realms into which a soul can be reborn. The Wheel is held by a demon, that represents impermanence, with the 12 stages of dependent origination around the outside.

At the center of the Wheel is the pig, rooster and snake. They bite each other’s tail and symbolize the three poisons of life; The rooster stands for greed, the snake for hatred and the pig stands for ignorance or delusion. These poisons are what keep us trapped in the wheel of life.

The inner circle is surrounded by two halves, shadow and light. This circle depicts karma. Humans descend into the shadows, where they are tied and tortured by demons. Or they ascend to their Buddha-like nature.

At the top of the Wheel is the REALM OF GODS. This is a nice place with wealth, happiness, power and long, pleasurable lives. With all this greatness, a person does not have the awareness of suffering. Thus, there is no motivation to seek liberation from the Wheel.

The REALM OF DEMIGODS or ASURAS is marked by paranoia and competitiveness. Ferocious jealousy keeps people constantly at war with the God Realm as they will do anything to scratch their way to the top of power. They have enough resources that sometimes they do actually accomplish good things. There is a tree growing between the two realms with the roots and trunk in the Asuras Realm and the branches and fruit in the God Realm.

The REALM OF HUMANS is marked by passion and curiosity. Human beings (Manushyas) want to strive, consume, acquire, enjoy, and explore. Liberation from the Wheel is only possible from the Human Realm but most are too consumed and miss the opportunity.

In the REALM OF ANIMALS the animals are regular and predictable and cling to what is familiar. They are ignorant and complacent and avoid discomfort. Animals may find contentment but become fearful when placed in a new situation. They are subject to oppression because animals eat each other.

In the REALM OF GHOSTS the Hungry Ghosts are wasted creatures with huge, empty stomachs. Food can’t pass through their tiny necks and turns to fire and ash in their mouths. Greed and jealousy lead to rebirth as a Hungry Ghost.

At the bottom of the Wheel is the REALM OF HELL. The Hell Realm is depicted by fire and ice. In the fiery part of the realm, the Hell Beings are subjected to pain and torment while those in the icy part are frozen. Fiery Hell beings are recognized by their acute aggression. They are angry and abusive, and drive away anyone who would befriend or love them. Icy Hell Beings shove others away with their unfeeling coldness. Then, in the torment of their isolation, their aggression increasingly turns inward, and they become self-destructive.

The ring around the six realms depicts the 12 links of dependent origination. This principal says that all things happen through cause and effect and that they are interdependent. Escaping samsara and achieving enlightenment is the result of breaking these links.

Starting at the top and moving clockwise, the 12 dependent originations are:
Six Senses
Ageing and Death

Holding the whole Wheel of Life is YAMA, Lord of the Underworld. Yama is the wrathful dharmapala who is Lord of the Hell Realm. Yama, who represents impermanence, peers over the top of the Wheel and despite his appearance, is not evil. Yama is devoted to protecting Buddhism and Buddhists.

We walk back to Hotel Butsugen and immediately see Tiger. Even though we asked him to arrive later apparently he’s been sitting there waiting for us. Tiger has also kindly arranged a cab for us to take us across town to the Thamel district. We rush to get all our bags together and hauled downstairs. I pay the hotel bill as the seemingly impossible task of loading the cab starts. By some miracle, the four of us and all our luggage are maneuvered into the car. I sit in the middle of the back seat squeezed against luggage to my right with a bag on top of my lap too. I had told Jeremy and Silke that they could get a ride with us but I had no idea the car was going to be so small. I apologize profusely as we pull away. I barely have a view of the road and I’m so bummed that we didn’t get a picture of this incredible feat!

Luckily it’s a pretty short drive across town since I’m literally being crushed by the luggage and Caspar to my left. We are warmly welcomed at our new stay, Hotel Moonlight. We enjoy a coffee in the outdoor courtyard before being taken to our room. We had requested a balcony but opted for a larger room instead of having a balcony facing the main road. The roof is the floor above us and it’s a great place to hang out. We’re content to hang out and relax until Jeremy and Silke join us at the hotel for an early dinner.

November 20, 2022

We sleep well and then enjoy the buffet breakfast. The hiker hunger is real and I go back for seconds on a plain omelet and fruit and potatoes. We laze around and then do a little exploring. The streets are mostly empty and virtually every business is closed due to the national election. It’s so quiet that it’s almost like a ghost town.