by Yasmina Cobrinik
Pashupati Temple – I woke up today at 7:30 a.m. and was very surprised to notice I wasn’t jet lagged, despite the substantial time difference. After breakfast at the Hotel Manaslu, where we stayed the night, I was told we would see a cremation and our guide, Meet, wanted to know if anyone was offended by that. We all shook our heads “no,” as I imagined many golden urns lined up on shelves at a religious site. But after we got off the bus at Pashupati Temple and walked past several wild dogs, cows, and monkeys on the same street where people walked, I realized my expectation was extremely misguided. There, across a stream polluted with ashes and some garbage, was a burning body surrounded by orange flowers, men from the family, and the cows, dogs, and local people passing by. The bodies were not cremated, they were BEING cremated. Out in the open. With children washing their feet in the stream where the ashes would fall, Nepalese women trying to sell us necklaces, and a whole population of unrelated people and animals living their lives as they passed by. That stream, gray with ashes, was the most unusual, unexpected, and most beautiful graveyard I had ever seen.
Later we left the Hindu temple and took the bus to Bodhnath Stupa, where people were walking clockwise around the massive white structure in the middle of a circle of shops and small restaurants. The structure had several stones adorned with prayer flags and bells. At the very top, two eyes with a bindi in between them looked out at the city from four directions. We were told that people were there to pray for world peace. From the top of the white structure, I could see the whole city and the surrounding mountains. The colors that filled my sight of the city will never be forgotten.
Before lunch we entered an art school, which was two rooms adorned with paintings. We learned that these paintings took so much effort and care to make, starting from stretching the cloth to glazing it with 24k gold. We had an opportunity to appreciate and buy the paintings, and I was able to get one painted by the master of the art school of a mandala-shaped representation of lives after death.
After lunch we had the afternoon to ourselves in Kathmandu, so we split up in groups to explore the city (Thamal). I don’t know how to express how awed I was by everything. I generally spend very little money on things I don’t need, but I was completely cleared out in two or three hours. The best part, though, was not acquiring or gambling (bargaining) for my souvenirs and gifts for home. It wasn’t even the beauty I encountered along the way. It was the people. Already I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to speak and share with the genuinely kind-hearted, incredibly pleasant people of Nepal and to have bonded with all the genuinely, incredibly pleasant George School people on our trip. Though I’m reluctant to leave Kathmandu tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
(Tomorrow we fly out very early to Pokhara, then drive for an hour to a trail head where we’ll start trekking to the small village of Dhampus, where our service work project will take place. We’ll be off the grid for awhile.)