The Pashupatinath Temple, the holy seat of Lord Shiva, located on the banks of the Bagmati river in Kathmandu, was our first stop at the commencement if our second-day tour of the Kathmandu valley. The temple is another UNESCO World Heritage site, and is an important religious location for Hindus. It is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu. The intricately-carved Pagoda style temple houses the sacred deity visited by thousands of pilgrims’ every day. Photography is strictly prohibited in the area, as in many other religious sites. Although always crowded, we found our way to the temple quite easily. It was a great experience visiting the Pashupatinath temple, and we both felt very happy to have had a chance to pray before the sacred symbol of our Lord Shiva.
|Swambhunath Stupa. Nepal|
Our next stop, the Swambhunath Stupa, was one of the most unique works of Buddhist architecture that I ever saw. It was unequivocally one of the most gorgeous structures I came across while in Nepal. The Swambhunath Stupa is located atop a hillock some 4 km west of Kathmandu. In case you are looking for a way to shed some adipose, you may want to climb the 360 steps that lead you to the top of the temple. As for us, we decided to opt for a short-cut: we ascended the hundred steps at the back of the temple that took us to the same spot. Although people are generally worried about monkey-attacks in the area, we didn’t see any out-of-the-way or wayward monkeys’ harassing tourists. Some four or five of the quiet ones were there, but they didn’t bother us. Many people give this place a miss because of the 360 steps and the stories that they hear from other travelers about the monkeys, but I thought that both these problems are highly exaggerated.
The breathtaking view of the Kathmandu valley and the surrounding snow-tipped Himalayan Mountains commanded from atop the Swambhunath temple relieved us of the slight exhaustion we experienced after climbing the hundred steps.
Many legends abound the construction of the Swambhunath Stupa. It is said that the stupa was constructed during the Licchavi period and underwent several renovations during the medieval Malla period. Various historical monuments and votive shrines surrounding the area are a testament to the significance and antiquity of the famous stupa.
The central structure looked very much like the Boudanath Stupa we visited earlier, but we learned here that the tradition followed in the stupa is Vajrayana form of Buddhism, a tantric version of the religion. The stupa is erected on a lotus mandala base. Atop the central white hemispherical dome is the customary hermika, a square golden painted structure carrying the eyes of the Vairochana Buddha. The representation of the Nepali number one forms a question-mark like nose for the Buddha. Beautifully carved torans crown this hermika. Instead of the thirteen steps that we saw in the conical structure atop the square tower in Boudanath, the pyramidal structure on top of the hermika in Swambhunath consists of thirteen gold plated spires symbolizing the thirteen stages of salvation. The structure is crowned by a circular umbrella-like structure and a golden spire.
Several other important sites surrounding the Swambhunath Stupa area are the Vajra Dhatu Madala, Harati Temple, a two-tiered Pagoda like temple dedicated to the mother-goddess Ajima, and the Panch Buddhas or five Buddha statues at the base of the stupa. Apart from these, other unique religious artifacts like prayer wheels, painted images of deities, numerous small temples and other eclectic religious objects are also located the area.
|White Gumba, Nepal|
|White Gumba, Nepal|
Our penultimate destination on the second day of our trip to Nepal was the Seto Gumba, or the White Monastery. The monastery, open to the general public only on Saturdays, is a nunnery rich with Buddhist artifacts. It is the best and the most beautiful monastery that I have been to in Nepal. Situated atop a hill, the White Gumba, or the Druk Amitabha Mountain, is a unique spiritual spot that eclipses the memory of all the previous monasteries you might visit in Kathmandu. The hike up the hill could be exhausting for travelers, especially old ones. The other option to reach the top is to take your car. Our driver was reluctant at first to take the car up the hill, but after a remonstration did as we instructed. Adjacent to the car parking area is the ticket booth where you can get your visitor badges. Entry to the Seto Gumba is free.
After having your visitor badges checked by a nun, you climb a series of stairs. A spot of ascension later, you reach a flat-topped area where you will see the first of many gorgeous golden Buddha statues that house the area. A splendid golden Buddha, his aureate features lathered with heavenly peace, gleaming under the glorious rays of the sun situated atop a beautifully painted rectangular pedestal will meet you at this juncture. Other golden statues of the Buddha of similar description are located at regular intervals on the way up the hill. The actual temple is located on the right of this first statue. We decided to visit it later.
|View from White Gumba, Nepal|
Breathless and perspiring, we reached the top of the Seto Gumba a little later. The view of the Kathmandu valley and the surrounding mountains verdant with vegetation commanded from atop the mountain will instill a sense of absolute peace in your mind. At the central area of this mountain, atop an elevated spot, are a series of gorgeous statues of the Buddha. These towering structures, gleaming in sunlight, representing the various facets of the Buddha will spellbind you with their ostentatious appeal. Underneath the cloud-flaked sapphire sky, the statues seemed to be brimming with life. They appeared to emanate a golden aura; their features, calm, composed, and perfect, were latent with divine tranquility. Their hands designed in some symbolic ritual mudra suggested some esoteric message that I couldn't decipher.
If pantheism is your religion, you’ll find yourself greeted by the divine spirit at this spot where nature and divinity commingle into a perfect concoction and paint the atmosphere with a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colors. The blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the green of the mountain vegetation, and the myriad colors of the prayer flags all stood out by themselves creating a sensational palate of colors too beautiful to forget.
The temple at the Seto Gumba was as sensational as the surrounding scenery and the golden Buddha statues in the monastery area. Since photography is strictly forbidden inside the temple, we couldn’t take any picture of its richly-decorated magnificent interior. The walls inside the temple have little glass covered showcases. Inside each of these showcases, is a gleaming brass statue of the Buddha. Electric light bulbs that are switched on in the evening are fitted inside each of these little showcases. We wondered how beautiful the temple might look with all the lights inside the showcases switched on and all the brass-golden statues gleaming in the light. We tried finding a postcard with a picture of the interior of the temple in the evening, but there weren’t any available.
The traffic as we drove down the hill being extremely slow, it took us nearly an hour to reach the base of the hill. This delay resulted in us jettisoning our plan to visit the Bhaktapur Durbar Square that day and head straight to Nagarkot where we were to stay the night. As we made our way to this little hill station around 32 kilometers east of Kathmandu, it began to rain. The rain-swept vista before our eyes as we drove up a series of serpentine hilly roads on our way to Nagarkot was beautiful; nonetheless, we were too apprehensive at the time to enjoy it. At times the downpour was so heavy as to obstruct all view. However, as we neared the hill station, the rain stopped and an un-bright sun peered from the sky.
After the rain, the surrounding mountain ranges raised their heads momentarily and offered a spectacular view. People usually go to Pokhra to see the Himalayan range at close quarters; however, time being short, we decided to visit Nagarkot instead. Also, we were apprehensive about taking any domestic flight in Nepal. Nagarkot was, therefore, a great option for us being within easy distance from Kathmandu and offering a great view of the surrounding mountain ranges. It being the middle of July, we never expected to see any breathtaking mountain scenery; nevertheless, the evening view of the mountain ranges was spectacular in every respect.
|View from Nagarkot, Nepal|
Our room at the Club Himalayas, a strategically located mountain resort, had a balcony, and from there we had a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and the valleys. We also climbed upstairs to the open terrace of the hotel and took several pictures of the breathtaking mountain ranges. The pine-covered, quaint little village of Nagarkot had beauty written all over it. The breeze that fingered my face and played with my hair was cool and refreshing. Devoid of the sooty finger marks of pollution, the air was light and invigorating. The mountains that stretched before my eyes struck me as curvy monsters sleeping with their bellies up. I stared at them with awe wondering what mighty hands had built them.
|View from Nagarkot, Nepal|
In the evening, my husband and I went out for a walk around the hotel and discovered the several little points which offered magnificent views of the mountains. The rest of the evening was spent at tour hotel-room balcony listening to the croaking of a jungle cow and watching the massive mountains before us gradually don the garb of darkness and tread into the realm of the night.