The Giant Stupa of Boudhanath

An Oasis of Tibetan Buddhism in Kathmandu

Kathmandu is chaotic.

Its old, crumpling and overflowing with humanity and disorderly traffic.

Yet right in the city proper just north of the airport tucking behind a row of low-rises lies an oasis of serenity – a large stupa ( chorten in Tibetan ) surrounded by some 50 Tibetan monasteries ( gompas in Tibetan ), most of which were established by refugees fleeing from Tibet following the Chinese invasion in the 50s.

Aerial Map of Boudhanath

In fact the village of Boudha has always been the cultural and religious centre of a sizeable population of Nepalese of Tibetan descent since ancient times as the place once lied on the important overland trade route between Tibet and the kingdom of Nepal and this is especially the case when the population there suddenly swells with the influx of exiles from modern day Tibet.

Prayer-wheels, prayer-flags, monks in red robe, prostrating Buddhists on pilgrimage etc are a common sight there. If you don’t want to visit Tibet under communist China’s rule, this place in Kathmandu is a good option indeed.

So I just followed Lonely Planet’s directions and took one of those old rickety Hyundai minibus from a corner of Ratna Park, the main city park near the tourist enclave of Thamel in Kathmandu and within 30 minutes I was ushered off and landed right on the doorstep of Boudhanath.

But it wasn’t the main gate where I was let off in fact I was dumped somewhere a few blocks away. By the time I made it through to the main square after finding my way through a maze of alleys I somehow had managed to enter the place without paying the mandatory fee for foreign visitors.

There right in the centre of the square a huge stony structure crowned with a ” minaret ” cladded in gold dominates the skyline. Suspended from its four cardinal corners are some of the largest and longest and most elaborate prayer-flags I’ve ever seen.

Fluttering in the morning breeze they seemed to response to the religious chants emanating and echoing around through the windows of the numerous gompas around.

Before I realized it I was already following the stream of people there and began my pilgrimage to the circular structure, albeit in the wrong direction anti-clockwisely which meant disrespect.

It is said amongst other holy relics inside the stupa is a piece of bone that belongs to Buddha himself.

Despite the presence of hordes of tourists the place still exudes charm and offers a glimpse into the religious devotions of many Tibetans and it certainly is worth a visit.

By early afternoon I followed Lonely Planet’s itinerary and made my way on foot to Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu temple in Nepal where many cremations are performed in the open along the banks of the holy Bagmati River by which it stands. Indeed one could see the smoke rising afar from the many burning funerary pyres as I neared the river.

As I made my way and finally climbed the small hill south on the banks of the holy river I could still see the golden top and the huge dome of Boudhanath.

As I turned my head one more time for a last glimpse of the glowing structure under the sun, I prayed for all Tibetans and hopefully one day they could roam free on their home soil again.

Footage of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal

The pictures for the 360° tour were taken before the devastating earthquake which struck Nepal in April 2015 with 9,000 fatalities. The relatively shallow hypocentre caused massive damage not only to many century-old structures made of wood, brick and mud but also modern cement ones across many districts of the country. Kathmandu Valley where most of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites are located saw many palaces, temples and monuments crumbled to smithereens in the blink of an eye. Fortunately Boudhanath escaped the worst damage with only cracks appearing in the massive dome. I suspect the largely pyramidal structure helped a bit in the tremor.

The Untold Story

Where is Golden Hill aka Monkey Hill in Hong Kong ?

Where to find monkeys in HK

Getting to Golden Hill ( Kam Shan ) Country Park is easy for most people in Hong Kong – just hop on bus 72 or 81 or drive right through the country park in the comfort of your own car along Golden Hill Road to see the mischievous monkeys that make the place synonymous with them for most Hongkongers.

Travelling to Monkey Hill like a local on bus 81 for less than 1 USD each way !

Golden Hill road also doubles as part of a section of a long hiking trail, stage 6 of MacLehose Trail named after one beloved former Governor of Hong Kong. This popular trail, about 100km long traverses Kowloon from east to west mostly following the main mountain ridge on Kowloon Peninsular. It is against such fact that I came to know this road and later this place when I began to call Hong Kong home in 2009.

Murray MacLehose, 25th Governor of Hong Kong ( 1971-1982 )

Golden Hill Road is a cul-de-sac and is normally deserted as it only serves as an access road to the police shooting range and to various reservoir facilities inside the park only. The traffic only picks up after office hours on weekdays as people come to visit but that only amounts to a dozen of vehicles at most usually and on weekends the road is banned for any traffic between 9:00am to 4:00pm.

A moving time lapse shot of Golden Hill Road

An aerial view of the country park

As a matter of fact I tried to ignore our primate kin which share almost 94% of our DNA at first as I always and still think the best way for any wildlife’s conservation is to leave them well alone so as not to draw human attention to them.

It’s better to just observe them from a distance….

However it then came the exception when I saw what human beings were capable of a few years back to inflict on these little critters.

I still remember vividly that it was a cool morning one day in November in 2011 as I hiked from stage 7 to stage 6 on the Maclehose Trail when I first bumped into a little macaque, no bigger than a small puppy with its right forelimb – if you could still call it as it’s avulsed from the shoulder and hanging limply and awkwardly down with most of the forearm element missing, leaving a red and angry open wound at its end emitting a low shrill cry, all alone by the kerb halfway along Golden Hill road.

A poor maimed macaque alone by the kerb 🙁

I guessed it was less than a year old then and normally an infant should be accompanied by its mother and so I was really curious and at the same time worried about it. Clearly at this young tender age it would still rely on its mother for milk and on its own in this shape it wouldn’t be able to forage anything meaningful to survive. There’s still a lot of skills it had yet to learn from its mother.

A baby would be wailing even if its mum is only a footstep away….

I waited at some distance away so as not to disturb the baby and hoping that its mother would somehow turn up to claim the baby miraculously.

As it began to pick off grit and other dirt from the wound I was really surprised how neat the wound appeared, in fact it’s like an amputation and I began to suspect it was the work of a trap – probably a steel-jaw type – which I later learnt from the local press that such devices were being discovered at a few other country parks at an alarming frequency. As most wildlife ( except wild boars ) is protected by law ( a legacy of its British past ) people suspected they were laid down illegally by smugglers coming from China across the border as game is highly sought for and valued medicinally in China so much so that most forms of wildlife are now extinct there. In Hong Kong however wild mammals like the Red Muntjac ( a kind of dwarfed musk deer ), pangolins, porcupines, civets, leopard cats, bats and wild boars are abundant and still roam free in large swathes of protected countryside that cover almost three quarters of all land area of Hong Kong, another legacy of its British past.

A red muntjac, this species of small deer is still seen and found in Hong Kong…

To make matters worst these mainlanders ( as opposed to Hongkongers ) seem to have de facto impunity under the new administration of Hong Kong as the authority would often not react or just let them off easily in petty crimes or even serious misdemeanours. No wonder these unscrupulous traders whether in animal or rare wood trade would come to Hong Kong to make quick money – a case in point is the protected Buddhist Pine ( Podocarpus macrophyllus ), an evergreen that is highly valued in China for its good Fengshui. Another is agarwood which fetches high price in the market for its aromatic resin. These two have almost all been cut down now by smuggling gangs coming from mainland China at night. Now they have turned their attention to less valuable but still highly profitable game trade.

illegal logging for agarwood in Hong Kong

My hope however grew thinner at each minute passed as the baby’s shrill became more desperate. It’s jittery and nervous but just when I was wondering whether I should call the appropriate authority for help ( whether it would response is another matter as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, SPCA, the R which stands for Royal had been dropped since the handover in 1997 to China is well-known for putting animals down only. Furthermore to catch an agile animal like a monkey on its home turf one would require more than just a few personnel, besides by the time they appear the animal would have been long gone into the woods ) an older female, probably its sister came to his side to comfort it. The maimed little critter huddled close and appeared to be pacified somewhat. No sooner had this happened an entire troop of monkeys appeared around this stretch of the road and the moment I tried to get closer to the maimed monkey a few became aggressive towards me. I knew then the little baby at least wasn’t abandoned by its troop.

stumpy-comfort 4 500
A female, probably his sister came to comfort him 🙂

But still there was no sign of the whereabouts of its mother. I suspected whatever was the cause of this little baby’s injury also claimed the life of its mother : if it was a steel-jaw trap the stronger bone of an adult meant that it was still immobilized by the trap and probably had died from a combination of both exhaustion and exsanguination. The small and brittle bone of an infant resulted in an instant amputation by avulsion. Whether it had scurried away in the subsequent confusion and pain or was simply ignored and pried away by the game smuggler as it still clung to its mother with its only hand left is really anybody’s guess.

stumpy-comfort 1 500
but he’s orphaned that’s for sure 🙁

The following weekend I came again specifically for the little critter – and there it was still in good health. The wound was still red and raw but at least it hadn’t deteriorated. As it climbed and jumped from tree to tree I knew the injury hadn’t incapacitated it – it’s still as playful and energetic as most other babies, a testament to our primate kin’s amazing tolerance and ability to survive. I also noticed it was receiving many treats from passers-by so obviously many kind-hearted locals were taking mercy on it. Given it was still in a troop and all the protection that came with it as long as the wound healed properly without complications this little baby should survive.

He loves goodies 🙂

He has since been known as ” Stumpy ” for those who have been following his progress on youtube.

here’s Stumpy’s story in a nutshell 🙂

As I hiked along the road and really started to see these critters properly I became horrified at the sights of many injuries these poor animals suffered : some were missing an arm, others had their legs chopped off. A few babies were blinded, others were horribly disfigured – to the lay person they might think these were natural injuries but to the trained eyes, these were the result of machetes and even corrosive agents. Clearly there was an evil at work for quite a while here besides illegal poachers – an animal abuser. Judging from the injuries the perpetrator of such heinous crime had taken advantage of these poor animals’ trust on us so as to get close enough to commit such atrocities.

A mother comforting a baby with skull exposed from the effect of some corrosives…

The mother didn’t fare any better for she’d suffered total disfigurement on the other side. This female, a matriarch has since been named as Löwina….

This was the last I’d seen of her baby …

For that this individual is even worst than the illegal poachers for he simply tortures and kills just for the pleasure and fun of such act. Clearly he’s not content with just simply drawing blood and was hell-bent on inflicting as much pain on the animals as possible hence he improvised with corrosive agents – which I suspected was some kind of chemical drain cleaners.

Poor baby 🙁

An infant blinded from some corrosives. I wouldn’t have noticed him had he not cooed for help…

Another victim of some corrosives. Notice the massive tissue loss on left forelimb..

How could anyone hurt these animals who are one of our closest kin in nature ?

Why ? What good does hurting them bring ?

I took many pictures of such instances of abuses and asked my local hiking buddy to write to the press and he duly did. It didn’t at first draw a lot of attention but soon word began to spread as people were disgusted by such cruelties. A few newspapers also picked up on the story as well as stashes of machetes, half-empty bottles of corrosives began to be found in various spots amongst the thick undergrowth inside the park.

Local press ” Apple Daily”‘s follow up on the abuses…

As more instances of abuses began to surface a demonstration against animal cruelties was called for as the public demanded actions from the government. That same year 2012 while I was away from Hong Kong news had reached me that by early summer enough momentum had been gained so much so that the administration could no longer pay a lip service to the demands of many animal lovers of the city and began to act, much like any bureaucrat – comically and ruefully inadequate by simply putting up giant banners inside the country park reminding people NOT TO HURT MONKEYS and TO REPORT ON SUCH INSTANCES and that FEEDING MONKEYS IS ILLEGAl and CARRIES A FINE OF AROUND 2,000 USD PER OFFENCE, much to the chagrin of all those concerned in the cause as the original demand to set up a dedicated squad to deal with animal abuses and to catch those responsible seemed to have fallen on deaf ears and continues to remain so till these days err …. on the laughable grounds of inadequate resources ( despite Hong Kong having the second highest ratio of police officer to citizen ratio in the world since the handover to China ) – not that the crime scene has deteriorated significantly since but that the alienating administration popped up only by China is feeling increasingly edgy as more people are displeased and disenfranchised by the political setup in Hong Kong, a case in point is the largely peaceful ” Umbrella Revolution ” in 2014 which saw tens of thousands of people, mostly students and young people who took to the street to demand China to stick to its original promise to grant people in Hong Kong at least UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE. After nearly 3 months of street occupations, the movement lost focus and petered out and everything remains status quo if not worsened since ).

call the nearest police station if you see something not right ….

The movement demanding China to stick to its promise back in 2014….

People taking to the street in Central, HK in support of the ” Umbrella Revolution

Fortunately the exposure seemed to have stopped any further spate of abuses by the middle of 2012. The perpetrator(s) of such heinous crime though is still at large.

However there is no stopping to poachers and smugglers coming to Hong kong at night as the border is increasingly porous nowadays and the administration has no intent to patrol it like it was then under the British. After all Hong Kong is now part of China and the administration is only doing its bidding. And the police force is increasingly being used to stifle oppositions only, much like its counterpart in China.

plead-1 800
I love mum… please do not hurt her…..

I fear for all the wildlife in Hong Kong : not only are they being hunted their habitat will shrink as the administration is increasingly clear with its intent to cede piecemeal the once protected countryside to urban development as the city swells with immigrants from China – indeed some 2 million New Hongkongers have settled down legally as China continues with its policy to dilute the indigenous population of Hong Kong so much so to the extent that nowadays almost every one in three Hongkongers belongs to this new category – your average Mandarin-speaking and brain-washed mainlander Chinese, hostile to many western values and not very much law – abiding and worst still all bigot-minded. I’m sure you must have met one in your own country ! To make matter worst in this small city of 7 million it has to cater to the various needs of mainlander Chinese who swarm this overcrowded city by tens of thousands everyday ( in total about 45 million mainlander Chinese visitors per year ) as some vote with their money and feet on Chinese merchandise, others just want to take advantage of various legal loopholes to make a quick buck.

Once “ mainlandization “ of Hong Kong is complete which at this rate is not far off in the future it will spell the end of Hong Kong as we have come to know it, much like what’s happening in Tibet.