|Kathmandu, page 3 of 4|
Today we go to visit famous temples outside Kathmandu. We start with a walk to Swayambhunath, also called the monkey temple because of all monkeys that play around on the big stairs that lead towards the temple. It is a Bhuddistic Stupa. A Stupa is a religious symbol; a kind of representation of earth and heaven, the center represents the spindle around which the earth turns. On the top of the Stupa you see a pair of eyes, this are the eyes of Buddha who is watching you. We think of course immediately of Orwell's 1984 and Big Brother Is Watching You, but Buddha means it in a quite friendly and harmless way, dont worry! The nose looks like a questions mark, the Nepali number one and a symbol of unity. The dot between the eyes is the third eye, symbol of the clairvoyant powers of Buddha.
I wont go into more details about the Stupa and Buddhism; you can read it in any guidebook or encyclopedia. Maybe I have to add that Buddhism is a very free believe, there are no specific gods and they dont use the Hindu castes system. Gompas, the monasteries of the Bhuddistic monks are scattered around the Stupa. Like the Hindi they use a lot of colors, but Bhuddists here use white for the Stupa, gold for bells and especially primary contrasting colors like red, yellow, blue, orange, for everything around the Stupa and for all the garlands with flags that are hanging everywhere. The statues and also the white Stupa are painted regularly to keep the colors fresh and shining.
The Stupa of Swayambhunath is close to Kathmandu, on a small hill to the west. It was quite a climb, first through the small village and than up an endless flight of stairs. But our destination was very clear: from far away already we saw the top of the Stupa just above the trees. Next to the stairs are a lot of statues of animals (vehicles of the Dhyani Buddha's), so if you are exhausted you can just pretend to be very interested in this pair of peacocks or that pair of elephants But you cant stay too long on the same place, because then you start to attract the attention of either beggars or people who sell souvenirs. We see monkeys playing on the stairs, one of them glides down sitting on the double barrister, he gathers a lot of speed and jumps exactly timed over the pairs of knobs that extent each ten meters from the barrister. Jacques looks a little worried when he sees how dangerous this is to the more delicate manly parts of the monkey
We walk round the Stupa, clockwise as you have to, go with the sun or something like that? It is lucky people in India and Nepal keep to the left, otherwise they would be sure to make mistakes with this rule. Behind the enormous Stupa are a lot of small black mini Stupas, they look like big chess-pieces, abandoned on the board somewhere in the middle of the game. Around the Stupa are a lot of prayer wheels, while you are walking around the Stupa you let them spin around one after the other with your hand, thereby releasing the mantra that is imprinted on the wheel. An efficient way of praying! All the flags provide an even more efficient way of praying: they pray for you while they are moving in the wind! In one of the monasteries around we saw a very big (1.5 meter high) prayer wheel, see the picture on the left!
We follow the stairs down again; this is a little easier than up! At the bottom of the stairs we find an auto-riksja that wants to bring us for a reasonable price to Pashupatinath, to the east of Kathmandu. This auto-riksja has some problems, the chauffeur uses a rope to open and close the gas inlet directly at the motor, the gas handle is broken. A bit difficult to manage, but from his experienced moves I guess that he has done this before Except this small problem, the power of the motor of the riksja seems to be very limited. It has difficulties with slopes, any time we have to take a steep slope I worry if we have to start pushing! This doesnt happen, each time Im surprised again that this old riksjas keep driving, some are more than 10 or even 15 years old and you can smell that!
In Pashupatinath we walk towards the holy Bagmati River, where the famous Pashupatinath temple is located - for pictures see the next page. This temple is the most important holy place of the Hindu people in Nepal. It is dedicated to Shiva, and not only from Nepal, but also from India many Hindi come to Pashupatinath to pay their honors to Shiva. Of course a lot of Sadhus are present everywhere you look, with and without flute and snakes to amuse tourists. Non-Hindu (or in fact non-Eastern looking people) arent allowed in this famous temple.
We take a seat between small Stupas on the other side of the river, from where you can try to look inside the temple court, which is almost impossible because large, not very beautiful buildings surround it. A Sadhu is sitting next to us and I must say it was one of the strangest creatures I ever saw. A very thin man with long dark hair twisted in long locks that stood stiff with dirt perpendicular on his head in all directions, brown naked feet full of dust, his face covered with oranges stripes, clothed in yellow and orange rags, an impressive wooden staff in his hand. He looked at us with frightening eyes that made me unsure if he happened to be on the point of definitely loosing his sanity or if it amused him to shock ridiculous tourists.
Totally ignoring this Sadhu, who appeared at least sane enough to ask an incredible amount of money when some tourists wanted to make pictures of him (and they even paid it, so much for sanity!), we watch the river, the golden roof of the temple, we hear a lot of bells ringing (brings luck as we learned in Varanasi), see the water flowing by and smell the penetrating stench of burning dead bodies.