For the past four years, Kathmandu has kind of been floating around in my subconscious. Four years ago, we were sitting in the Abu Dhabi airport waiting to board our flight for a trip to Jordan when we heard the announcement, “Now boarding for Kathmandu!” I looked at David and said that sounded so cool…..Kathmandu!!! How exotic! Two years after that event, I met Becca – who I wrote about in my previous posting – on an airplane and she was heading to Kathmandu. Then, just a few months ago, out of the blue, David said that if he died tomorrow it was good. I looked at him and asked if he was trying to tell me something? If he was planning on “checking out” anytime soon? He said no but that he wanted me to know that he was happy with all that he had done and accomplished in his life and should anything happen to him, it was alright. I chuckled and said that was good to know, that I wouldn’t mourn his passing quite so much. Then he asked me, “what about you?” I just started laughing and asked if he wanted to know the first thing that popped into my head. He said yes and I said “I haven’t been to Kathmandu yet!!!” So, there you have it…now, I have been to Kathmandu, I can die happy!
We spent two weeks in Nepal, which is located in Asia, between Tibet and India We visited Kathmandu, then went south to Chitwan National Park, the jungle region of Nepal….who knew that Nepal had a jungle!?! Chitwan is approximately where the name Narayani is on the map in the green area. From Chitwan, we traveled northwest to the Pokhara region, in purple area. In Pokhara, we did an overnight hike in the Annapurna Mountain Region of the Himalayas and enjoyed one of the seven lakes that Pokhara is known for.
Normally, we don’t book tours for places we visit but this time, we did. I contacted Friendship Nepal Tours and cannot say enough great things about this company! We had excellent drivers, tour guides and stayed in some nice hotels. I would give this company a five star rating and if you are looking for a tour company for Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan India or China, I would highly recommend them. This is their website: www.friendshipnepal.com
We had planned a couple of rest days before beginning our tour and had a couple of days at the end. Good planning on our part because what we didn’t expect is that David would come down sick with the “traveler’s trots” the second day or I would have a nasty fall at the end of the trip. Plans were changed and our schedule was adjusted accordingly. We had one day touring Kathmandu at the beginning of our trip and a day of touring at the end of our trip.
This posting is sharing all of the six of the seven Unesco World Heritage sites that we visited in those two days.
Boudhanath (Boudha) Stupa
Stupas are to Buddhism what the cross is to Christianity……
This was my first view of the largest stupa in Asia. We had just entered through the gate and it reminded me of our visit to Jordan when we had walked through the canyon or siq and was rewarded by the majestic Treasury building. At the Boudhanath, we didn’t have quite so far to walk but the effect was still the same.
This stupa has a long history. A first stupa was originally built in 600 AD, when the Tibetan king, Songster Gampo converted to Buddhism. People, on the trade route between Kathmandu and Lhasa, in Tibet would stop here and pray for a safe journey before heading with their yaks into the Himalayas. Originally, the region was inhabited by the Tamang people, indigenous to the Himalayan region but today, it is mostly Tibetan refugees that live here since fleeing China’s invasion in 1959.
There is a beautiful legend, from the Newari people who are the original people of the Kathmandu Valley, that our guide shared with about the origin of this stupa and how it got the nickname of the Dewdrop Stupa. Years ago, before the stupa was ever there, a drought plagued the land. The king went to his astrologer and asked for advice to bring much needed rain to the region. The astrologer told him that he needed to find the most virtuous man in the land and sacrifice him. The king looked and looked and finally determined that the most virtuous people were his son and himself. Not wanting to kill his son, he ordered his son to go to a spot the next morning and chop off the head of the person who would be sleeping under a shroud.
The son, obeying his father, went to the designated spot, found a person sleeping under a shroud and cut off his head. The son was mortified when he realized that he had killed his father and went to the astrologer to find out what he could do to make amends. The astrologer told him to let a roster fly and where he landed that is where he was to build a stupa.
The rooster flew and landed but there wasn’t enough water to mix the clay and sand needed to build the stupa. Each night, he laid out large pieces of cloth on the ground, to collect the dew. Each morning, he would wring them out to collect the water so that he could mix the clay and sand to build the dome shaped structure.
I don’t know how accurate this story is. I read similar versions on the internet but thought that I would share what my guide told us for the story.
Another legend, from the Himalayan buddhists, believe that a grieving widow wanted to do something nice. She went to the king and asked for permission and land. The king said that he would give her land the size of a buffalo hide. This clever woman, cut the hide into strips and spread it over the land where she built the stupa. The gods were jealous and went to the king to have him destroy it because it was much larger than the hide of a buffalo. The king said that he wouldn’t as he had given his permission and would not go back on his word. Again, there are various interpretations of this legend on the web but I went with what our guide shared with us.
Although there are many people in the stupa area, it has peaceful and reverent feeling to it. The Stupa is surrounded by shops, Tibetan monasteries, small restaurants and guest houses.
Originally, stupas were built to hold holy relics. It is believed that this stupa holds relics from the previous Buddha but some believe that it hold a piece of bone from the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. People come to pray by walking clockwise, three times around the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels and chanting a mantra. Usually it is “om mani padre hum” which is for compassion, world peace and prosperity.
Each part of the stupa is symbolic. The base represents the earth, the dome represents the universe or vase of great treasure. Where the eyes are painted, is the harmika and this represents the eight noble paths – right view, right realization, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation. The two eyes are for Buddha’s eyes, the eyes of compassion and wisdom. You cannot hide from the god who sees all. There is a dot between the eyes, which you cannot see very well. That represents the eye of knowledge and enlightenment. Between the eyes is a symbol that looks like question mark and is the nose. It is the Nepali symbol for the number 1. This symbol represents unity of the universe and the only path of enlightenment through the teachings of Buddha. Above the eyes, are the thirteen steps that you need to obtain to reach enlightenment. The umbrella is the protector of the three jewels – Buddha (enlightenment), Dharma (cosmic law and order) and Sangha (community). The pinnacle is the symbol for Mt. Meru which is the central Buddhist mountain in the Buddhist Universe. At the very top, is the “jewel” and that represents nirvana or enlightenment where there is no more suffering, birth or death….it is a good place that all Buddhist strive for. By reaching nirvana, they are not reincarnated to come back to this earth to work towards enlightenment as they are finally there! Then there are always the prayer flags that carry mantras of compassion and good will to all by the wind.
If you are fortunate to be able to look straight down on the Boudha, you would see that the shape represents a Tibetan mandala – a spiritual and ritual symbol in both the Hindu and Buddhist religions representing the Universe.
We didn’t have the opportunity or way of viewing the stupa directly downward so I took this photo of a diagram to show you exactly what I mean.
Sites around the Stupa –
The legend goes that originally, Hariti was a demon who had hundreds of children. It was difficult for her to feed her children, whom she loved very much. In order to get the energy to accomplish this task, she gave the local children smallpox, abducted them and then ate them. This gave her the energy she needed to care for and feed her children.
Buddha heard what she was doing and took and hid one of her children. She was overcome with grief and Buddha asked her if this is what the parents felt whose children had died because of the smallpox? Hariti understood and asked forgiveness and vowed never to harm children again. With this, Buddha taught Hariti enlightenment and made her the goddess of smallpox and protector of children. Many people visit this shrine and ask Hariti for protection over their children. The small brass containers on the table are candles lit as an offering to the goddess.
To the left or right is the entrance to the stupa. This is on the first level.
As I mentioned earlier, there are several Tibetan monasteries near the Boudhanath Stupa. Like the Nepali people, Tibetans love color. This was one of the monasteries that we visited.
You may take pictures of the inside but it is always best to ask. However, if the monks are praying, it is better to refrain. They were praying when we were there, so I didn’t take any photos inside the monastery.
This was another stupa that we visited in Kathmandu. It is also called the Monkey Temple because of the large population of monkeys that live on the grounds of the stupa. We were there early one chilly morning. The monkeys were so cute cuddling with each other to stay warm.
Swayambhunath means “self-arisen.” According to legend, the Kathmandu Valley used to be covered by a lake, which is supported by geological studies. The hill that the Monkey Temple is located on rose from the lake.
Around the base of the hill are smaller stupas and ancient images of Hindu and Buddhist gods. In the center of a small pond of water was a Buddha statue with a small bucket in front of it. People throw coins that are purchased from nearby vendors. If the coin goes into the bucket, it is believed that you will receive good luck.
There are two ways to get to the top of the hill, where the Swayambhunath Stupa is.
These stairs, all 365 of them, is a popular way for pilgrims to get to the large stupa. Or, you can approach on the other side of the hill by car, like we did, and walk about halfway up the hill. I would have liked to climb the stairs like the locals. I think it would have been a nice way to approach such a religious spot.
There are three types of temples in Nepal – the stupa, shikhara and the pagoda. All three of these temples can be found at this stupa area. This pagoda below is dedicated to Hariti, the Hindu goddess of smallpox and fertility. This pagoda is an excellent example of the way of how the Buddhist and Hindu culture are intertwined.
This is an example of a Shikhara.
Around the Stupa
Other Buddha statues near the Stupa.
Durbar Square – Kathmandu
Durbar means palace and Durbar Square is where the city kings were once crowned, lived and ruled their domain. There were three royal cities – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – in the Kathmandu Valley ruled by the Malla family. This is another Unesco World Heritage Site and houses a real living goddess! Unfortunately, this historical area suffered great lost from the 2015 earthquake, which the Nepali government has pledged to repair.
Since driving is not allowed in the square, we were dropped of and walked. I loved this part of the tour because we were able to see a peek into the lives of the Nepalis.
I am sharing this with you to show you the destruction that the 2015 earthquake caused. Throughout our tour of the Kathmandu Valley region, we saw pictures of what was once standing at a particular site. From what we saw, I have no doubt that they will rebuild these monuments to their full glory.
The building, in the poster, was believed to have been built out of a single tree. It had an open ground floor and was used as a public building.
The two figures peering out of the window are Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rejuvenation and his wife, Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion. Each Hindu god has an animal that they use for transportation. For Parvati, it is a lion or tiger. I initially thought that these two beautiful lion statues at the entrance of this shrine was to represent Parvati but upon further research, I have discovered that lion statues are often placed at entrances of Asian temples, gates and shrines as protectors of that building.
The largest building is the oldest structure in the square. It is most noted for the erotic carvings on the roof struts. I am sharing the least erotic photo that I took of a few of the carvings from this building. Some of the carvings are very graphic….probably taken out of the ancient Hindu text on Kama Sutra written in the 2nd century. Ramesh, our guide, explained that the Hindus are very open minded. One of the things that I love about traveling is the exposure to different belief of different cultures. Even though I grew up in the New England area where the Puritans settled, I have always felt that I was raised in one of the more liberal religions in the US…..this, however, was quite the eye-opener and left me blushing a little! 🙂 Even my guide book suggested to avoid showing a few temples to children that had erotic art….this temple was among the list!
This temple is dedicated to Shiva, which you can tell by the statue of Shiva at the top of the gate. It is one of the most famous temples in the Kathmandu Valley.
This Bodhi tree is nearby the Mahendreshwor Temple and is a sacred fig tree (Ficus Religiosa). Legend has it that Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Nepal under a Bodhi tree. Years later, after mediating under a sacred fig tree, in India, for 49 days, Siddhartha attained enlightenment where he understood the truth about life. This tree is a symbol for the important Bodhi Tree in Durbar Square.
Hanuman Dhaka – Kathmandu’s Royal Palace
Due to the damage from the earthquake, the palace is closed for repairs.
Points of interest around Durbar Square – Kathmandu
Finally, Kumari Devi in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square
Kathmandu has their own living goddess who is called Kamari Devi. This living goddess is the symbol of Devi, the Hindu concept of of female spiritual energy. She is chosen from the gold and silversmith caste of the Newar people. She is between the ages of 4 and puberty and must pass a rigorous selection process that has 32 physical requirements from the color of her eyes, shape of her teeth and sound of her voice to give you a few examples. Her horoscope must be appropriate as well.
Once the candidates are chosen they are placed in a darken room with 108 shocking buffalo heads are on display. Men with scary mask dance around while terrible noises are made in the background. The young girl who remains calm through this whole ordeal is believed to be the new Kumari.
Once chosen, the new Kumari; along with her family, move into the Kumari Bahal residence. She has private tutors throughout her reign. During major festivals in Kathmandu, she will make appearances where she is carried through the city on a chariot.
The young girl reign as Kumari ends when she has her first menses, she becomes a mere mortal and returns to her family home. Upon leaving her position, she is given a generous dowry but my guide books said that it is a very difficult transition for a young girl to make. I can only imagine. She goes from being this pampered goddess to an everyday citizen! That is asking quite a lot of a young girl. Plus, it is believed marrying an ex-Kumari is considered unlucky. The search for a new Kumari begins promptly.
Durbar Square, Patan
Patan was once independent from Kathmandu and called Lalitpur or City of Beauty. It has a long Buddhist history and is considered one of having one of the finest collection of temples and palaces in Nepal – even after the damage that the 2015 earthquake did. At one point in time, it was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley.
The Golden Temple
Just north of Durbar Square is a unique Buddhist temple that was unscathed by the earthquake. It is believed to have been founded in the 12th century and has remained the same since 1409. The temple gets its name from the golden metal plates, mostly made out of brass, that cover most of the front area.
This temple is one of the most holiest for the Hindu people all over the world and they try to visit it at least once in their lifetime to be truly blessed and cleansed of their sins. It is dedicated to the god Shiva, who is the patron of all living creatures. He creates, protects and transforms them. He is part of the Hindu trinity….Shiva, Brahma, the creator of the universe and Vishnu, god who preserves and protects the world whenever it is threaten with evil, chaos and destructive forces. Shiva is often portrayed with a third eye on his forehead, a trident, a serpent around his neck, a crescent moon, the water from the Gagna River, which is considered holy, flowing from his hair and a damaru, a two headed drum popular with Tibetans.
By visiting the temple and doing the required ritual, people believe that they will be freed from the cycle of death and rebirth. Many Hindus from Nepal and India try to come to Pashupatinath for their final days and to be cremated by the Bagmati River which is considered very sacred.
As I mentioned earlier, Shiva is the patron of all living creatures. Animals are given as offerings. I was amazed and shocked to see these animals wandering through the wave of humans. I asked my guide, Ramesh, who takes care of them? How are they fed? He said that some offerings are in food for the animals and other times, monks use some of the monetary donations to buy food to feed them. It is the monks that take care of them. Good to know……I really like the photos of the ram and sheep with the red powder on their heads. All part of the offering. Red in the Hindu religion represents purity and sensuality and is their most important color. It is often used in times of great celebrations….marriages, birth of children and festivals. Women are cremated in red shrouds and red powder is usually thrown on statues during prayers.
Ramesh, our guide, explained on the ride to the temple that Hindus have a ceremony for just about everything. On the 11th day after the birth of a child, there is a name ceremony which is given to the baby by a priest. It is determined by the date the child is born on the luna calendar. Rarely, however, does the family call their child by this name but rather by a nickname. I should have gotten Ramesh to write his “luna name” down…he told us but he said that everyone calls him by his nickname.
At 5 months for the girls and 6 months for boys, there is a feeding ceremony where they give the young child their first solid food.
Between the ages of 8 to 13 years old is the initiation ceremony for the boys to pass into adulthood. The luna calendar plays a very important role in determining the best day to have each ceremony. The day we were at the temple, was a good day for the boy’s initiation. We saw several young men, with yellow cloths wrapped around them (remember, yellow indicates seeking the light) and shaved heads, another part of the ceremony.
The Cremation Ceremony
I have never seen a cremation. What I learned from watching one is how reverent the family is towards the body of their deceased loved one.
The ghats (flight of steps leading down to a river) are located on the Bagmati River, which is considered sacred.
Once the body has burned, the ashes are thrown in the Bagmati River to be carried to the sacred Ganga River in India. It is believed the loved one’s spirit will be transported to heaven from the Ganga River.
Opposite the cremation ghats are the 12 shrines to Shiva. Most of them survived the 2015 earthquake.
Each photo I took, I gave a tip of about $2.00 each. Posing for photos is one way they earn money to support themselves.
Another point of interest is that each temple has a Shiva lingas on the inside.
This was the last royal city that we visited in the Kathmandu Valley and our favorite. Bhaktapur was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley during the 15th century.
It used to be one of better preserved medieval city until the 2015 earthquake. Sadly, this historical city suffered much damage from the earthquake. These are shelters for people who lost their homes in the earthquake. They are living near the entrance to the old city of Bhaktapur.
Unfortunately, it was in Bhaktapur that I fell and cut my head that required stitches. So, my notes are not as in-depth as I normally would take and our tour of Bhaktapur was cut short. Here is what we saw before my accident…..
These two statues are near the entrance and date back to 1700 AD. They are a manifestation of the goddess Parvati who was the wife to Shiva. Parvati is the goddess of fertility, love and devotion. I think the detail is beautiful and they are lovely. It is said that the artist, after completing these statues, had his hands cut off so he couldn’t make replicas of them. Pretty gruesome!
Another reminder of how much damage the earthquake did. Such a shame as these buildings are from around the 16th century.
One of the things that David and I really liked about Bhaktapur is how clean and relatively quiet it was compared to the streets of Kathmandu. Cars are not allowed in the historical part of the city, although, motorcycles are. This is an example of the narrow and clean streets that we wandered down.
This is a city of artisans! The major crafts are pottery and woodcarving. We went to Pottery Square which our guide said was usually filled with pottery drying in the sun. However, the day we were there, it was rainy so there were no pots in the plaza area and very few potters were at their wheel. I did get a photo of this man making a clay creation.
This was my last photo that I took before I fell. It was such a freak accident! I was standing on a porch of a building, across from the community kiln. I decided I wanted a couple more photos of the clay pots. As I was walking to step off of the porch, I stepped on an uneven brick, twisted my ankle and went flying through the air.
I was so very, very lucky!! Fortunately, I hit the ground with my shoulder first before sliding into the corner of a brick column. I got a pretty good gash in my head….
but, it could have been so much worse. I am so grateful that I broke my fall by hitting my shoulder first.
It caused quite a commotion with the locals. David later said that I had about 25 Nepalis around me. The blood was gushing out of my head….head wounds can bleed profusely. I was aware of this and didn’t panic with all of the blood. Thank goodness for Ramesh! He was able to translate. One man generously offered to take me to the clinic on his motorcycle. So, holding a wad of kleenex to my head, the driver, Ramesh and I all hopped on the motorcycle and headed for the clinic.
This was the clinic in Bhaktapur……
I felt like I was walking into the television set for the program MASH! I was hesitant to lay on the bed as the sheets were stained with blood….I didn’t know if they were actually clean with old stains or if they were recent stains. I really had no choice. For the most part, I remained relatively calm until they started pouring some kind of liquid over the cut. I kept asking Ramesh, what are they using to clean the wound? I was fearful that it was their tap water that is filled with all kinds of things that would cause an infection. I think they used a saline solution.
A lady came to me after a few minutes and said she was a doctor and she recommended that I get stitches. No….I was not getting stitches. After a little more discussion, I agreed to stitches…then she was gone. I assumed that she was going to get the equipment that she needed. Shortly after she left, a man came in saying he was the doctor and that I needed stitches. (Both could speak English.) I asked where the female doctor was, as I felt way more comfortable with her than with this man. I didn’t get good vibes from him at all….nor did David.
The male doctor said that there was no female doctor and that he would give me the stitches. I just said no and told David and Ramesh, I wanted to go back to Kathmandu which was about 10 miles away. So, that is what we did. Fortunately, we have great international insurance with Cigna and David had called them to find out hospitals in Kathmandu.
This is what I looked like when I arrived at the Ciwec (pronounced Civic) hospital which; as fate would have it, was 15 walking minutes from our hotel! That was a help, the next day when we had to return for a follow-up appointment.
Walking into the clinic, I was in familiar surroundings….clean, efficient and sterile! Plus, there were many other expats waiting to see a doctor. The doctor I saw was very nice….turns out he had studied medicine in Russia and had a nephew who is doing research at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
I received two stitches – I had more anxiety over getting the novocain to numb the area than I about getting the stitches. It all went very well. I asked for a cat scan to make certain there wasn’t bleeding on the brain.
I don’t think the doctor really wanted to order one….he didn’t feel as though I had any reason to worry. I hadn’t lost consciousness, didn’t feel sleepy, I didn’t have a headache….amazingly! I really had no concussion symptoms but where I was flying in 2 days, I wanted to make 100% certain that all was okay. Plus, whenever I hit my head, I always think of Natasha Richardson…the actress who bumped her head while learning to ski on the beginners slope, refused medical attention and three hours later, she died. So, no, I don’t fool around with any bumps to my head! If you take nothing away from this blog….take this lesson with you – if you ever bump your head, no matter how minor get medical attention immediately!!! Bumps to the head may appear harmless but it can be very serious and could possibly end in death. The cat scan showed nothing, which the Dr suspected but gave me piece of mind.
All in all, I am fine and forever grateful that my injuries were not more serious. On that note, I will sign off…..wishing you blessings.