Kathmandu, Nepal: Boudhanath
When I was in my senior year of high school, I took an art class and for one of the projects our teacher had us choose one of numerous photos she had clipped from magazines over the months or years. After we chose one, we were to paint it. I chose what looked like an interesting building with a white dome and a face peering over the top and colorful flags hanging out from the top. I had no idea what it was or where it was but I was drawn to the photo with the bright blue sky in the background. Seven years later I would end up standing in front of Boudhanath wondering where I’d seen it before because it seemed so familiar for some reason. Not until I went home the next summer and was cleaning out my boxes from my mother’s house did I find that painting and realize what an omen it had been.
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There it was, my painting of Boudhanath. I couldn’t have guessed that I would travel around the world and find myself standing in front of the real thing in Kathmandu, Nepal.
From my travel journal on September 15, 2009:
…Caught another bus though this one ended up being more of a mini-van with a motorbike motor. We got to where we wanted to go though it was a bit confusing when the drivers didn’t know what we were saying and we didn’t know what they were saying.
Boudhanath is the largest stupa in Nepal [and the holiest Tibetan temple outside of Tibet]. They don’t know who laid the original foundation but the story is that Jyajima, a poor girl from a small village, gave birth to four sons by four different men (interesting that they add that aside at the end). She gained much wealth by her sons and decided to build a stupa. She died four years into the construction, but her sons completed the first level.
Another version of the story adds that she was married to each of the men she had a son with. One was a horse trader, one a pig trader, one a dog trader and one a poultry business man. Construction of the stupa ended up taking seven years and started with just soil, bricks and stones that were carried to the location atop elephants, horses and donkeys. After the stupa was completed, each son prayed. Tajibu prayed to be king and became Dharma King Trisong Detsen in Tibet in his next life. Phagjibu prayed to be a scholar and became Bodhisattva Santaraksita, a teacher in Tibet in his next life. Khyijibu became a guru in his next life and suppressed demons and protected the religion and finally Jyajibu prayed to be a minister and became one in his next life. However, though the sons prayed for themselves, they did not pray for the animals that transported the materials to make the stupa and so the animals became angry. The animals prayed as well and became demons always at odds with the sons in their next lives.
After taking in Bouddhanath, we decided to walk to Pashupati. We walked through fields and the day ended up being much hotter than we expected. Pashupati is one of the holiest temples in the world, worshiped by Hindus and Buddhists. We couldn’t enter as we’re not worshippers and instead we were ushered to an overlook where we could see the cremations taking place. Once we figured out what we were watching, it was rather awkward as it is such a holy event and a personal one.
Cremations take place here 24 hours a day. A wooden stand is built with hay and the body is laid on top wrapped in cloth. Wreaths of flowers are put atop and then the whole thing is set on fire with the family watching. We could see the shape of the heads and feet and after a few minutes we decided it was time for us to depart back to our hotel for dinner.
FSCN is a Nepalese NGO with over 20 years of experience in supporting disaster relief efforts for disasters in Nepal. They are based in Kathmandu and have about 50 volunteers. Chairperson Surya Bahadur Thapa tells TIME that since the earthquake they have been rushing money, food and tents to people in need.