On the outskirts of Kathmandu is one of the most revered temples in all of Nepal and certainly the largest stupa in Asia, Bodhnath.
Originally Boudha was a stopping point on the trade route from Lhasa (Tibet) and Kathmandu (Nepal). The Tibetan traders would stop here to pray for safe travel as they headed over the Himalayan passes with their laden yaks. In current times it is a special place in the lives of the many Tibetans living in Kathmandu and Nepal. After China invaded Tibet in 1959 many Tibetan people fled the country into neighbouring Nepal and Bodhnath temple and the surrounding town of Boudha is a place where they can practice their Tibetan brand of Buddhism without interference. I had read that on the night of the full moon the temple would be especially stunning as the devotees light thousands of yak oil lamps in prayers and it just so happened that we were there for a full moon so to Bodhnath we went.
From the street all we could see was the tip of the spire atop the stupa with flags reaching away but following the crowds took us through a large gateway into the central courtyard where the stupa holds pride of place. Actually it would be fairer to say that the stupa takes up pretty much all the room inside the courtyard. It is massive!!
It is a multi-tiered structure intended to represent all the important elements of Buddhism. The plinth base is the earth, the beautiful white kumbha dome is water, the square harmika tower with the all-seeing eyes of Buddha is fire and the spire is air with 13 tiers showing the steps to enlightenment and the top most umbrella representing the ether or the void that is space. All that said though it is a beautiful temple with prayer flags fluttering to all corners and a fresh clean look that feels so serene.
The serenity of the stupa is a strong counterpoint to the scene at the base. Literally thousands of people come daily to pay their respects. Butter lamps and prayer wheels are everywhere and everyone that enters the courtyard walks in the traditional Buddhist clockwise direction and all complete at least one circuit of the temple.
For us it was awesome. We wandered amongst the crowd, following the clockwise stream. The assortment of people was inspiring. There were maroon clad monks walking along fingering their prayer beads, average everyday Nepali folk chatting happily in family groups, robed Tibetan monks leading lines of faithful believers, the uber-devout who complete the circuit by prostrating themselves on the ground for each step and of course, the tourists. Every face seemed to be happy. And I am not kidding when I say that the feeling around the base of the stupa was one of comfort and peace. Sounds kitch but that is literally how it felt.
Everyone seemed to just cruise along with no jostling, no angst or rushing. It was a very calm and relaxed place, especially when I consider that there were hundreds of people all turning around the base of the stupa. This for me was a really cool place and one I would recommend anyone visiting Nepal go and see.
It is so easy to get ‘templed out’ in Asia. Sometimes it feels as though the only thing that a town has going for it is amazing temples, one after another, but Bodhnath was quite different. I think it was a combination of the visual spectacle that is the temple itself as well as the sheer volume and peaceful nature of those who came to visit. It was terrific.
Of course in the end Dave and I took refuge in a 3rd storey bar to watch the world below us turning and to wait for the full moon to rise. Unfortunately we should have gone one floor higher for the moonrise (I went up to check on it and voila – there it was – moon beside stupa – mad scramble to get the camera etc etc heheh). I didn’t get any decent piccys of the moon because I had chosen the wrong spot but either way we certainly had a great afternoon.
And it was a lovely way to end our trip through a country that has proven to be visually spectacular both in the mountains and the cities and towns with some of the most welcoming people we have met anywhere and traveller hospitality that was utterly fabulous. We loved Nepal so much that we had planned to spend a couple more months but the monsoon season up against the Himalayas is just a bit too much to contemplate when simple things like electricity supply and internet are an issue. So to Thailand we go bidding a sad farewell to Nepal with promises to be back. Loved it and want to do it again (but in Oct/Nov/Dec when the weather and the views are said to be spectacular 🙂 ).