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.