A day of holy sites

I’m back at this construction site we currently call home for a bit of a rest prior to the evening’s activities. Following standard Kathmandu breakfast (bread-based and purchased from Pumpernickel), the three of us met up with Raj and visited Pashupatinath and Boudhanath.

Pashupati is the biggest Hindu site in the city, and it was the center of yesterday’s Shivaratri festival. As Emily put it, Lollapalooza has nothing on Shivaratri for depth of refuse left behind by the crowd. Crews were working on cleaning it up. The holy men (“holy babas” — “fathers”) in town for Shivaratri are still camped out in large groups scattered around the grounds, dozens of them or more. Beyond the cleanup and these camps (which resembled groups of American youth at a protest for their smoking, clothing and drum circles), life and death went on. The platforms along the river were filled with funeral pyres, more so than on my previous visits, and as we arrived one sobbing family was leaving that area. We had Tikka applied to our foreheads and paid a few rupees for that privilege, and Emily and Tim took pictures of the holy babas, the monkeys and the rest of the huge grounds with its dozens of temples to Shiva.

From there, exiting on the far side of the river, we took a second cab, this one to Boudhanath Stupa. I forgot how huge it was until I got a glimpse between buildings as we arrived. We walked part of the way around on the ground level, visited one of the monasteries during their noon-time puja (chanting, big old horns, the whole bit), then stopped for lunch at the very nice restaurant where Raj had done the practical portion of his training in hospitality. The food was great, and we actually had a few traditional Newari dishes that I had not seen before, including something resembling an egg-and-chicken quesadilla, dried chicken meat, hot chunks of chicken in a sauce, etc. It all was excellent, and I need to figure out what each item was called. We had a shot of some rice wine, too, complimentary with the Newari meal and much stronger than raksi.

After lunch, we continued our circuit around the stupa, stopping at one point to climb up the stairs to the first elevated level, making a complete circuit up there, then descending to the ground to finish that circuit. Spun a few prayer wheels, stopped in another monastery and took a lot of pictures.

From Boudhanath, we walked ten minutes back the way we came to visit Bhat Bhateni, the supermarket here that most resembles ours in the US. This one, though, was more like a Costco or something, with groceries on the bottom level but additional floors above for home goods, clothing and electronics. We hit the first two levels, bought some spices, then headed back to Thamel passing in the taxi a fire that seemed to have started in an apartment above the street-level commercial space and that had attracted quite a crowd.

The crowd did not yet include any fire-fighting professionals. Apparently, there are only a few fire-fighting vehicles in the whole of Kathmandu, and they’re made necessarily small to fit the narrow streets. Even diminutive trucks have a hard time getting through unmovable traffic, though, which causes a delay of ten or more minutes for any fire response. This should explain some of why Pilgrim’s is now an empty lot.

So, that’s the day gone now. The night will involve a live band after dinner, I hope. There’s no sense attempting to sleep early around here — may as well go hear them in person. Tomorrow we relax, shop, and visit Raj and his wife for dinner.

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