The Shanti Stupa sits above Lake Fewa in Pokhara, Nepal. The day we were there it was overcast, but the site exudes a tranquility that was evident even in the behavior of the wandering dogs. It’s a long climb up to the stupa from the lake, or you can get a cab ride that brings you near the top. The Shanti Stupa is on of 80 World Peace Pagodas around the world, and one of two found in Nepal. It was started in 1973, but not finally dedicated until 1999.
For the Nepali holiday of Tihar, we traveled to Pokhara. Pokhara sits on a lake by the same name and like everywhere outside of Kathmandu, it is an absolutely awesome place to chill. You can take boat rides on the lake, do a little caving, visit the World Peace Pagoda, go hang-gliding, para-sailing, hiking, trekking in the Annapurna range… We didn’t get to do all that, but we will definitely be returning to Pokhara and the amazing family we stayed with who adopted us as members of their family during the Bhai Tika ceremony.
The Cataract and the Caves
Lake Pokhara is fed by mountain rivers that converge and create an underground cataract that empties into the lake. Underground in the caves there are ancient shrines but no pictures are allowed. It’s wet and humid and hot, all in all a great little caving experience.
Like any lake, Lake Fewa is relaxing, but the absence of motorboats makes it even better. The only noise that interrupts the day is the occasional ultra-light that flies overhead. It’s cheap to rent a paddle boat and spend time on the lake. You can even pay someone a couple bucks to do the paddling for you. In the morning it is an outstanding place to sit and have your coffee and breath. As an added bonus, there’s even a modest night life along the lakefront in Pokhara.
On the last day of the Tihar festival, brothers and sisters paint special 7 colored tikas on each others’ foreheads. The family that we stayed with in Pokhara invited to take part in their ceremony since their own bothers and sisters could not be there. At the end of the ceremony we were welcomed as members of the family and are now expected to return every Tihar we possibly can.
Does this tika make my nose look big?
Last week we finally visited Swayambhu, the famous monkey temple. It is another of the World Heritage Sites that Nepal boasts. The Kathmandu Valley can boast having more World Heritage Sites than any other location in the world! When people we work with learned a couple weeks ago that we had not yet been to Swayambhu, we were confronted with incredulous expressions of doubt, especially since it is so close it can be seen from our school. Apparently, it is one of the first destinations all visitors head to, but since we live here, and we don’t consider ourselves tourists, we were not in a rush to see it. That said, it was well worth the visit and we’ll be going back to visit again. The site is charged with an energy that is palpable from the moment one begins the climb up to the stupa. There are centuries of visitors and devotees that have left behind their collective impression. And, of course, there are all the simians to watch. The area is amok in monkeys, and the big difference between them and other monkeys around the city is the monkeys at Swayambhu are relatively docile. We witnessed several who have become adept at stealing food, but in other areas of the city, monkeys are to be avoided as potentially dangerous and unpredictable.
This past weekend we took the quick trip to Bhaktapur Nepal. It lies just a little way east of Kathmandu. This was the week of Dashain in Nepal which is a holiday of such importance it makes all that we are accustomed to pale in comparison. If children do not return to their families to pay their respects during this week, they run the risk of being disowned from their families. It is also punctuated with a great deal of traditional sacrificing of animals, primarily goats. When we arrived in Bhaktapur, this stage of the festival was winding down, but there was blood everywhere in the streets from the rituals and tractors, cars, trucks. motorcycles and even bikes were adorned with marigold flowers, blood and in some cases the innards of animals as blessings to bring good fortune for the coming year.
A little over a week ago we took a little retreat outside the city of Kathmandu. We stayed at a “resort” that consists of about 10 little houses on top of a beautiful hill. The lodging houses resemble cottages that leprechauns or the cousins of hobbits might dwell in. We hadn’t seen the real mountains since we arrived due to the monsoon clouds. On the Sunday we awoke, clouds began breaking, the full moon was setting in the north and we were treated to some brief view of the Himalaya through the clouds.
This past weekend we went on a little retreat away from the city to a place called Namo Buddha Resort. It is named for the famous Buddhist stupa and monastery that lies a couple kilometers away. We took the hike over to the temple a couple times. As one walks through the forest towards the stupa, you can see the monastery and the prayer flags that adorn the top of the hill it sits upon. Prayer flags also line the path along the walk so its hard to make a wrong turn. Upon arrival you enter through a gate inscribed with the words,
“HERE THE PRINCE GAVE HIS BODY TO A HUNGRY TIGER”
This is a reference to one of the Buddha’s incarnations as a female tiger who sacrificed her life and body to sustain the lives of her starving cubs. The temple is surrounded by hundreds of prayer wheels and at the stupa below is found the largest prayer wheel I have ever come across. The stupa above the monastery is adorned with hundreds of prayer flags that can be seen from miles away.
One of the many things I’ve been impressed by is the variety of insect life that is new to me here in Nepal. The abundance of butterflies has been dumbfounding at times. I came across all these particular critters within one hour in an area the size of a few acres on a walk out in the countryside a little while back
A couple weeks back we went out to the country side with some friends from the school we work at to visit a little get away “resort” in Balthali Village. We were dropped off by van and hiked in a couple miles to get to the lodging. Unfortunately, it w as still monsoon season, so we didn’t get to see any of the wondrous views of the big mountains that this end of the valley boasts, but there was still a great deal for the eyes to soak in. There were a couple of burma style bridges to cross, first there was the big one. The image can’t convey the roughly 250 meter drop that it spans. The second smaller bridge emptied out in a little valley lush with rice crops.
We also came across some beautiful elders along the way that seemed very happy to see us climbing up to the village.
The view looking down from one of the “hills” down onto the location of the lodging where we spend the weekend on top of another hill, along with an image of the paths and terracing of the rice fields below the “resort” where we stayed. Hunter and I had great fun “adventuring” on the trails around the lodge.
Last weekend we went out to the south eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley and walked through the medieval town of Punauti. The shines in this little hamlet date to the 13th century, and although it is not the same as running my hands over the stones that were placed by the Inca, the experience is equally sublime in a spiritual sense. As we descended down into the shrines, this was my focal point with Fabi and Hunter in the foreground crossing the bridge.
The town is holy because it sits at the convergence of two sacred rivers. Several shines sit within this little village and we witnessed women making offerings in front of the shrines. We also came across a Baba who gave us no particular notice and disappeared into the temple shortly after our arrival.
We finally had some time to get out into the city to do some sightseeing this past weekend. Our time has been consumed with settling in and getting started with a new school year in a new school. “Durbar Square” is a somewhat generic term for the plaza across from a palace where temples, shrines and idols are found in concentration. This Durbar Square is in the center of Kathmandu. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley which boasts the greatest concentration of recognized world heritage sites on the planet at seven total. With time, we’ll get to them all, and I’ll post images as we cross them off our list. We went on a Sunday, which is not a day of rest in Nepal. Everything closes on Saturdays here, and the week starts on Sunday. The streets (alleys) were packed with throngs of humanity in the form of tourists, merchants and devotees paying homage to the temples and their gods.