OK so this post is rather delayed considering that we left Nepal over a month ago. But it’s never too late as they say….
Jerome was making a steady recovery so it was time to leave the house again. Our first port of call was Pashupatinath Temple in Eastern Kathmandu. The temple sits right on the bank of the Bagmati River – a holy river for Hindu’s and Buddhists. The temple itself dates back to 400 AD and is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. Only Hindus can actually enter it’s grounds, but you can get a good view of it from the other side of the river.
We took a taxi to the outskirts of the temple which is in the centre of a town called Deopatan. As you walk into Deopatan there is a home for the elderly on your right (Pashupati Briddhashram) – the only home for the elderly in Nepal with a maximum capacity of just 230 people. We hired a guide for 1,000 rupees (AU $11.00) which was way worth it – without someone telling you the history and stories behind a place you find yourself staring at a bunch of old buildings!
The first thing that the guide did was to take us to the riverbank and show us what happens there. It turns out that about 50 cremations are performed here every day on concrete plinths, and the remains are pushed into the Bagmati River. For obvious reasons we didn’t take any photos here. The air was thick with smoke and within a 10 metre radius I counted five dead bodies in various stages of cremation. There are no funeral parlors here – it’s all out in the open for the public to see. When a person dies they are either buried or cremated on the same day, and sometimes within minutes because of the religious aspects as well as for hygiene. This gives the family and friends a very narrow window of time to get to the funeral.
One body had been burning for 4 hours and the ceremony was almost over. On the plinth closest to us lay a woman on a bed of straw and wood. As per Nepalese Hindu religion her body would have been washed in the holy river (feet, hands and face) prior to being dressed and placed on the plinth. As per the guide – the eldest son lead the ceremony and was known as the chief mourner. He circled the body three times before lighting it from the mouth. The first sign of life is a breath from the mouth – therefore the last sign of life must come from the mouth too. The family members dressed in the official mourning colour of white. As the body burnt the sons heads were shaved and the chief mourner bathed himself in the river. The family stayed and watched the body burn and once finished – the remains would have been pushed into the river. I am told that the initial stage of mourning lasts 13 days. The immediate family lock themselves away for this time and fast. Once the 13 days are up the fasting and isolation ends, but the mourning continues for a year. During this time the key family members cannot attend and celebrate large occasions such as weddings.
I have to say – it was simply fascinating to watch. For some reason we felt very removed from the situation – allowing us to absorb our surroundings and truly learn about a very important part of Nepalese culture. The thick smokey air was pretty overwhelming and at one point we watched a body being ‘stoked’ to make it burn better. I found it very disturbing watching children wading through the low river beneath the plinths; searching for un-burnt wood and offerings such as money and jewelry in the murky, dead water.
After a while we moved on and learn a bit about Pashupatinath Temple and its’ history. We couldn’t enter the grounds of the temple but looking through the gates we got a good view of a very large pair of golden balls! The balls belonged to a large statue of a bull – the carrier of Lord Shiva.
We watched many Hindus take off their shoes and go to pray and then took a walk back to the taxi and on to Boudanath Stupa – one of the largest Bhuddist stupas in the world built in the 5th Century AD. The stupa is enclosed in a big circle of wall with a 150m long walkway around the perimeter (walk clockwise around it) which is lined with local shops.
There are many Tibetans and Sherpas here and it felt so peaceful and harmonic, despite the crowds of people.
We sat and watched Bhuddists walk around the the stupa and touch the rotating prayer wheels adorning the walls. It was a beautiful place.
The next day we paid a fleeting visit to Bhaktapur – a gated city in Eastern Kathmandu. In fact it was the capital of Nepal until the late 15th Century. The city is under 7 sq.km in area but is home to about 100,000 people.
The place is steeped in history (going way back to the 8th Century) and is quite rightly a World Heritage site. It is littered with old temples, statues, squares and artwork.
We sat down to lunch just across from the 15th Century Yaksheswor Temple. From a quick glance it looked like a temple for fertility judging from its’ erotic wood carvings. I took a few snaps of the intricate and very old carvings and when I looked back at them I was surprised to see just how graphic they were. I think that the young and innocent could certainly educate themselves here!!!
We then took a brief tour of Bhaktapur and its’ many, many temples. The temples varied so much and were built throughout the ages.
You could sit and watch pottery being made in Pottery Square or haggle with local traders which lined every narrow cobbled lane.
This place is a must-see for anyone with a keen interest in Temples or indeed Nepalese History. Unfortunately we left fairly quickly as we were racing to get going to Nagarkot.
Nagarkot is famed for being the best spot to watch the sun set over Kathmandu and the Himalayas. It’s around 30km North-East of Kathmandu up in the hills. Our tired taxi wound its’ way up these hills with the aim of reaching Nagarkot view tower – 2150m above sea level. We got there literally minutes before the sunset but the tower wasn’t accessible for Jerome so we had to leave. We doubled back down the hill and about 1km down there was a pull-in with the same view of the mountains but from slightly lower down. Phew! Unfortunately we had picked the wrong day for a decent view. It was incredibly hazy with Kathmandu pollution and all that you could really see and appreciate were the distant caps of the Himalayas.
Whilst waiting for the sun to set behind us – I wandered over the road and took a picture of the sun through barbed wire. I didn’t realize that I was photographing an army base and that the guy in the dark to my left behind the security gate was waving at me with his gun. Ooops. Turns out that I actually preferred that photo to the ones that we took of the mountains that night.
However I have heard that the view is generally phenomenal and well worth the trek by car or foot to see. You’ve just gotta pick the right day!