Holy Sites

14 Oct

It’s been a few days since I have posted.  Katherine left yesterday and I moved over to my friend Lisa’s place.  She is a good friend of mine since my freshman year at Vassar and has lived in Nepal for over 15 years.  In other words, I am in a great place!  It is so relaxing being at her house, sitting at her kitchen table now, working on her computer and listening to the birds in the garden around her house (and an occasional unknown animal sound since she lives right near the only zoo in Kathmandu).  But that is not the purpose of my post….The other day we visited Pashupatinath, which is a Hindu holy site with a temple on the Bagmati River where cremations happen (on the level of Varanasi for India).  We made an adventue out of it and took the public bus there.  We studied the map and then figured we could take one of the buses on the ring road – because worst case scenario – we would go in a BIG circle!  but people here are so nice, we knew they would help us out!

When we got there, all the non-Hindi are directed to the shores of the Bagmati – since we are not allowed in the temple.  It was quite a scene….

you cross a bridge to get to the other side, which is essentially the viewing side.  When we got there, there were several bodies burning on one side – though at that point they were in the final stages of burning – so it was mostly just wood.  But on the other side, in front of the temple, there was a large group preparing a body for cremation.  It was difficult to see what was happening exactly, but the body was being shrouded in orange coverings/scarfs, there were marigolds being placed in the water and on the body and other steps of the ritual.  Then, they carried the body to the other side (to the cremation ‘stands’ – ghats) – as only the royal family can be cremated in the front of the temple.

in front of the temple, where the body was prepared for cremation

Once the body was brought to the other side, they started to prepare it for cremation — it was set on the wood and straw was placed over the shrouded body.  The family has a specific role within this ritual and we could see different men doing different jobs.  Then, the fire is started – near the head.  Soon, the air was filled with smoke from the burning body.

you can see the raised areas, that is where the cremation happens.

It was a really interesting experience….  both because this tends to be such a private experience in the US and because of everything else that was going on!  There were people in the water looking for money/things, there were people down the way doing laundry, there were people hawking jewelery and musical instruments to the tourists, there were tourists filiming and talking pictures of the cremations (really?!), there were  sadhus wandering around.  All the while, people are going through their rituals and practices of grief and mourning and saying goodbye.  Fascinating.

From there, we walked to a holy Buddhist site – the Bodhnath – a very large stupa set in a larget courtyard with a monastery, shops, restaurants and guesthouses all around it.  This was an amazing stupa – you could walk around it spinning all the prayer wheels (I did) and you could climb the steps and walk around the first level (we did).

spinning all the prayer wheels

When we were there, we realized that they were preparing the stupa for the full moon – putting up lights and putting something on the upper part of the stupa (some sort of colored paint/dye) – and that we needed to be there when the sun set.  So – we had lunch, consulted the guide book and decided to walk to Gokarna Mahadev temple which has a wide variety of statues of Hindi deities.

Just  getting there was quite an adventure because we decided to walk there.  Following a number of directions from people, we made it there — but it involved walking on a very dusty road with taxis, motos, trucks and buses passing us and kicking up dust (I am still battling a sore throat!).  It was a long walk — and the temple was pretty small – but the statues were pretty cool.  Here are a few of them:

I wish i knew which deity this was….

After spending some time at the Hindi holy site, we decided to head back to Buddhism – so we made the long walk back to the stupa.  We got there about an hour before twilight – as people had started to walk around the stupa (as they do every evening and morning).  We found a rooftop cafe with a beautiful view and had some snakes and a beer and were rewarded with these views:

sunset on the Bodhnath

Full moon rising (very faint)


In the moonlight, we came down to a full courtyard of people walking around the stupa (always clockwise).  When we reached the monastery, there were monks chanting with drums and conch shells and horns (not sure if they are actually called horns) and there were huge piles of offerings — crackers, popcorn, bisquits, cookies that the monks were putting into plastic bags for other monks.  It was a pretty amazing scene.

Not sure where I will be headed next — some possibilities include volunteering at a farm near Pokhara, trekking in the Annapurna area again (different trek), traveling to Chitwan on my way to India, hanging here in Kathmandu and/or some combination of all of those things.  I am sure I will have it figured out soon enough.

Hope everyone is well — keep commenting and sending me emails — i love hearing from you!

Take care – love – aurora

3 Responses to “Holy Sites”

  1. molly at 11:42 am #

    Aurora! So glad you’re having a “home” experience far far away. If your Lisa is also the one I know from Vassar, tell her hi! Take care of yourself and whatever you choose as your next adventure, I’m sure you’ll soak in every piece of it. 🙂

  2. jamie at 3:58 pm #

    snakes with beer?

    • planetaurora at 9:53 am #

      opps — i think that should read SNACKS with beers…. snakes with beers would be strange — especially since I don’t even like snakes….

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