The stupefying Stupa

Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a good day to make a visit to the centerpiece of Kathmandu – Swayambhunath, a Buddhist temple and UNESCO site that overlooks the city. Also called the “Monkey Temple” because there are monkeys considered holy who live around it, it is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. It is said to have been founded about the beginning of the 5th century CE. However, the great Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BCE and built a temple on the hill, which was later destroyed.

At the entrance, there are several smaller stupas at the bottom of the long hill up to the Monkey Temple, which does offer a good overview of the city as you are catching your breath. The main stupa at the top consists of a dome at the base, above which is a cubical structure painted with eyes of Buddha looking in all four directions. The dome at the base represents the entire world. When a person awakes (represented by eyes of wisdom and compassion) from the bonds of the world, the person reaches the state of enlightenment. The thirteen pinnacles on the top symbolize the stages of spiritual realizations that a person must go through to reach enlightenment.

We were fortunate to be there on a day when they were repainting the massive stupa. This involves carefully dumping buckets of white paint down its sides, and then artfully flinging yellow paint in arches, which also drip down the sides of the dome. It’s done maybe every three or four days, we heard, so we were fortunate to see it in process.

The entire complex is a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu iconography, tourists, pilgrims and familiar commercial enterprises, who miss no opportunity to encourage tourists to shop. It’s a bouillon cube of Nepal, in other words. Exciting, congested and lively.

There is, of course, a panoramic view of Kathmandu from the top. It might look like it’s a hazy day, but alas, that’s the level of pollution that is a constant here. In fact, I thought I’d provide an insight into how most people deal with it here, by sharing our new looks.

The walk back down the hill was filled with monkeys romping, and laborers toiling up to the top. One poor man had a basket on his back, with the strap over his forehead, full of bricks for some reconstruction work on one of the temples. It’s heartbreaking to see what some people here must do to earn a living. Can’t imagine an American being willing to do the same thing.

There was a little dance festival near the entrance, but we were already in our taxi, going back to an air-conditioned hotel room, so couldn’t get close enough. Believe me, we do know how lucky we are.

Don’s Food Corner

For today’s lunch we went to another “multinational” restaurant, but this one focused on Asian nationalities. In other words, no pizza. Jo, therefore, ordered Mongolian beef, but only after we were assured that the “beef” didn’t come from a yak or a water buffalo. It was spicy, but the meat was tender and the noodles that it came with were flavorful.

I ordered the vegetarian Napali Thali. It was almost identical to yesterday’s version, which included a lentil soup, a mixed vegetable dish, chopped spinach, a crunchy appetizer that included peanuts, a little fresh chopped salad and, of course, rice. The spice mixture seemed exactly as the flavorings used in yesterday’s thali.

So I guess I’ve had the classic presentation — twice. It was fine, but nothing complex or particularly memorable. I’m moving on to sample something else from one of the many Tibetan restaurants here for our next meal.

4 thoughts on “The stupefying Stupa

  1. Don’t worry. You will soon be in the clean air of London. Duh. BTW I think this has been your most interesting trip ever.

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