After hurriedly downing my dahl and roti breakfast at the vegetarian Indian cafe next door, I was at the Mountain Trotters office along Thamel Marga by 10am to meet my driver for my tour of Pasupatinath, Boudhanna, Koken, and Bungumati. The guy with whom I booked yesterday said my driver had the same hefty build as me, gesturing with his hands. At least he drew a square and not a circle.
Pasupatinath: Where the dead go up in smoke
Having read from my guidebook that cremations take place in the morning, I suggested that we head there first. Unfortunately, just as we drove away from Thamel Morg the milk chai (which was more milk than chai) I had with my breakfast started acting-up in my tummy. After about 30 minutes of driving, I asked the driver if we could stop for a toilet break at a restaurant. “No restaurant,” he said. Apparently, we had arrived as Pasupatinath. He did take me to a public toilet but declared it to be “not good.” It would be futile to explain to him that not only do I need a clean one, perhaps even more important, I need one with a Western toilet bowl. I figured I could still hold it for a couple of hours. We left the car at the parking lot across the entrance then proceeded on foot to the crematorium past rows and rows of stalls selling religious items.
Pasupatinath and the crematorium (ghat) sits along the sacred Bugmati River, hence people come to the river to cremate their dead in the belief it would assure it eternal life. Lining the river banks are platforms where the cremations take place.
A few fires were burning, presumably from corpses that have already been cremated. Along the cemented path, a body was wrapped in blankets and laid out on a bamboo stretcher awaiting its turn. Later, as we were exiting, a new body had just arrived surrounded by its relatives.
Walking along the crematorium, I realized the smoke we were inhaling could contain ashes of the dead! Fortunately, there wasn’t a breeze.
We headed up the stairs leading to the terraces opposite the crematorium for a good view of the entire complex. It was very peaceful here, the only sound being my driver/guide arguing with someone on the phone.
The river isn’t for the dead only, like India’s Ganges, its banks are lined with people performing holy ablutions inspite of it obviously being polluted.
The main temple itself, Pasupatinath, is only open to Hindi so all I could get was a view from the terrace.
Nearby is a cluster of buildings, presumably the monastery, that looks like it’s clinging to the cliff wall.
Many holy men come here and seeing them is the stuff of National Geographic or Living Asia dreams but I was told beforehand by my driver who turned into a guide too that photographing them comes with a fee. Because my stomach was churning, I decided it was time to move on to Boudhanna where the promise of restaurants for lunch portended toilet relief.
Boudhanna: The Mighty Stupa
Walking distance from Pasupatinath, this white washed stupa is ringed by shops, cafes, and boutique hotels. I ducked into one nice hotel and was graciously allowed use of the toilet by the front desk officer.
As one of the holiest places in Kathmandu, Boudhanna is alive eith the clacking of prayer wheels, the ringing of bells, and the spiritual energy of devout Buddhists clutching wooden prayer beads and murmuring mantras.
In a lower section of the terrace are wooden pallets where people pray and can bend over, kneel, and touch the ground.
The stupa itself is closed so we only made it to the terrace which seemed more secular as there seemed to be more people taking groupfies than praying.
Opposite the stupa is a little monastery of the Tampang people with its colorful wall murals and huge prayer wheel.
Heading back to the car park, we passed this cute cinema.
After my toilet episode, I didn’t feel like having lunch so I just let my driver/guide (I’d forgotten the name) take his.
Bungmati: Picking-up the Pieces
The drive to Newari village of Bungmati took us away from the traffic of Kathmandu City and into the district of Lalitpur. At one point, my driver/guide stopped to ask for directions. About 15 minutes later, he stopped by the roadside to ask a middle-aged guy clutching a plastic bag to his chest. A few seconds of conversation with my driver later, he got at the back of the car. From what I gathered, he offered to bring us there. We veered from the main road to narrow winding stony roads and finally emerged into the entrance to Bungmati.
The devastation from the 2015 earthquake is very much obvious as we approached the square. The main temple has been reduced to rubble and only a few surrounding structures remain.
Many houses were likewise destroyed or damaged.
A creeping feeling of sadness took over me as I went around piles and piles of fallen bricks and crumbling houses. The guy who rode with us and who happened to be a resident of the village, pointed out to us what used to be the temple as well as other structures.
At the square were a few women varnishing some wood carving, a centuries-old craft of the village.
We passed through a wooden arch and down some stone steps that led us to the rest of the village.
One can only imagine the beauty of the square based on these guardians at its entrance.
Walking the main path that cut across the village was like stepping into a village that time had forgotten.
There were very few people around and most of the wood carving shops were closed.
This greenish pond acts as a water reservoir.
Bungmati has its own kumari and like her Kathmandu counterpart, her house was spared.
Going around the village, it’s easy to imagine how quaintly beautiful it must have been. Amidst all the dust and rubble, some precious items remain such as this water trough with sculptural details.
This statue of Buddha.
This little shrine.
I really hope the village rebuilds itself. Many houses still remain and they’re distinct Newari architecture make the place unique.
It has been two years and while there’s some rebuilding going on, much needs to be done. It’s heart-breaking to see how people continue to suffer with the devastation.
These small bunk houses were built as shelters after the earthquake.
Got a glimpse of Newari culture when we passed by a house where a group of women were chanting to cure a sick person, as explained by the guy who rode with us and became our instant guide.
Leaving the village, we took a narrow road up to a small temple overlooking a valley. Lucky me, there was a wedding party having a photo shoot!
Khokana: The Village of the Goats
It was a short drive to Khokana, another Newari village where goats roam freely as offerings to the deities.
They’re everywhere and dominate the square.
Unlike nearby Bungmati, Khokana is more intact.
The center of the square is dominated by a three-tiered temple across which is a white shrine with a small stupa.
A lingam at the shrine.
Also, like its neighbor, its crumbling buildings are typical Newari style with its brick walls and intricately carved wooden window frames.
Of all four places I went to today, I enjoyed Bungmati and Khokana the most as they were villages and walking around them was like stepping centuries back in time.