The bowl of the Kathmandu Valley was filled to the brim with water until Bodhisattva Manjushri stepped up with his massive sword of wisdom and sliced through the walls to drain the valley dry thus paving the way for our sightseeing several thousand years later.
Our day in the Valley started with us renting a car/driver with a couple of Canadians who have immigrated to China (fact: Canadians are excellent at renting things. Even if they live in China). We headed out to the biggest Stupa in Nepal and one of the largest in the world, Boudhanath.
Boudhanath is extremely impressive. I don't know what it is about Buddhist holy sites compared to other religions, but they always seem to ooze a sort of timeless tranquility- like spiritual Valium.
It doesn't hurt that the place is beautiful: a colorful bustle of rippling flags, incense clouds, and shuffling pilgrims. The slightly creepy Buddha eyes painted on all four sides of the tower stare at you unblinkingly to make sure you're appreciating it.
Every so often the monks anoint the dome with saffron water that pours down the sides leaving marks meant to be reminiscent of an oversized lotus flower. It's a nice touch.
Prayer wheels are everywhere. Small ones line the outside of the Stupa and you can spin them as you circle clockwise (always clockwise- the other way leads to bad things apparently.)
A few huge ones are housed in nearby buildings and if you're feeling your oats you can step up and give them a whirl too. I know it has a deep religious significance but it felt a little like a really cool carnival game.
The area around the Stupa is lined with all the usual tourist trinket stalls and bad restaurants but that stuff is easy to overlook. Boudhanath is so rich with layered and unfamiliar culture that it demands quite a bit of attention just to take it all in. Our time there went by in a flash.
We left Boudhanath for the ghats of Pashupatinath. These ghats are similar to ones in Varanasi but on a much smaller scale. They also felt much more intimate and lacked the face-exploding chaos of their Indian counterparts.
Ten small platforms served the people and another two a bit further upstream were set aside for dignitaries and military heroes.
Monkeys and dogs were in abundance, braving the water to retrieve the food offerings that had been set afloat.
If you're not paying close enough attention, a rouge Sadhu will sneak up on you and before you know it you'll end up looking like poor Rachel here. You gots to stays on your toeses!
Our next stop brought us to Durbar Square in the town of Patan. The square is an impressive mishmash of buildings and temples spanning multiple religions and several centuries.
To celebrate our arrival, the crowd sacrificed a medium sized water buffalo.
"Holy shit! Holy shit! Are they seriously fucking sacrificing that buffalo?!," you may say. Oh wait. That was totally me.
And of course they didn't kill it for us- we apparently arrived during Makar Sankranti, a Hindu spring harvest festival.
The whole scene was graphic, fascinating, disturbing, surreal, and utterly entrancing. I'd never seen anything like it. After the animal was beheaded, ropes were tied to its feet and a group of young men spent several minutes heaving and chanting to pull the body up some stairs and out the temple's narrow doorway.
Children ran through the blood leaving tiny foot prints in their wake and dogs followed along skittishly licking up the remains. The whole event was intense and very unexpected.
We spent some more time wandering around the square but the somehow the architecture paled a bit in comparison.
Eventually we made our way back to the car and headed over to the opposite side of the Valley and up a large hill to the Monkey Temple, otherwise known as Swayambhunath.
They views were lovely of course, but the shrines seemed less impressive after our time spent at Boudhanath earlier in the day.
The Stupa here is striking with its gold plate,
and the prominent prayer wheels polished by countless thousands of hands spoke to a timelessness and a unifying connectivity.
As a bonus on our drive home, we got this fabulous object lesson in confidence. Way to be, bold biking egg guy!
Next up we head to the Far East and tackle the mysterious Red Wonderland. China here we come!