Day 71 – Location: Budhanilkantha; Nepal
After a late breakfast I considered my options. As the Hindu Tihar festival was starting I didn’t want to leave Kathmandu completely, but the options for sights to visit in the area were becoming limited. I decided to check out Budhanilkantha, a holy site near to the city where there’s a big reclining statue of Narayan, the creator.
I walked to the bus station through the chaos of the streets, it was a national holiday for Tihar and the place was heaving (even compared to usual!). Along one of the main shopping streets were endless vendors selling coloured paints for tikkas, marigold garlands, pictures of the gods, nut parcels, cakes and so on. At the bus park I asked around in vain for a bus to Budhanilkantha, eventually bring directed out the station to the bus stops on the main road. I walked up and down asking people and mini-bus conductors where to go. Finally someone got me to the right bus stop and I had to interrogate each bus that stopped to see if they were going there. As bus signs are in Nepali and there are no bus numbers it’s the only way to check. I was about to give up when finally someone said yes, and I got in for a 40 minute ride through Kathmandu traffic to the outskirts town of Budhanilkantha, passing the garish and well-guarded presidential palace on the way.
Around the small temple the streets were lined with shops selling snacks and holy offerings, and stalls for the festival. Inside the temple complex the main attraction was a fenced low pool in which lay the big black stone statue of Narayan (the creator of the universe in Hindu legend), who was lying on his back and wreathed in marigold garlands. Covering the statue was a red cloth roof. Only Hindus could descend the steps to make offerings to the statue and I watched people doing their prayers there.
In the courtyard alongside a lot of burning was going on. Stone plinths were covered in incense sticks and flowers and people were walking around sticking big clumps of incense sticks into them. Next to the plinths were four raised pots arranged in a square, which were filled with burning ash. People were going around each pot stoking them with a dowel in some kind of ritual.
In a corner I found a man reading prayers from a book, with a group of women putting petals and plant parts into a pile as he incanted a long prayer and added his own petals to the pile.
A kid here insisted I take a photo of him, and a girl practiced her English, asking me where I was from.
On the other side of the pool were some small temple buildings. At one of them a family were getting a bollocking from an old Baba (holy man), because they’d taken their shoes off one step too far up towards the temple. He was shouting at them and kicked their shoes off the step in a rage! It was quite funny and the girls of the family ran off laughing as their mum got an earful.
I noticed a boy monk with a shaved head and “rat’s tail” as we call it doing some ritual with pouring bowls of water into the pool. With my little exploration finished I caught a mini bus back, inside a guy in his twenties chatted to me. He works in a call center servicing IT companies in the UK and the States, and was happy to meet a British person in the flesh instead of on the other end of the phone. They get paid well as the foreign companies stump up a standard rate for services, which converted to Nepali Rupees means big bucks. He said after the festival I should get in touch and he’d come with me to anywhere I wanted in the valley, and also invited me to an upcoming fashion show his company was attending in Kathmandu. Another example of fine Nepali hospitality!
Back in Kathmandu I walked back to Freak Street where my hotel was and popped out to Kurami’s for lunch. After lunch it started to rain heavily, with thunder and lightning. It was the first rain I’d seen since trekking in Nepal! I was trapped inside. I got chatting to a Nepali man who owns a trekking company in Thamel and had some useful advice about the Tihar festival and ideas for treks, I repaid him with advice about websites and expanded his knowledge of our culture.
After an hour the rain subsided a bit so I jogged back to the hotel and napped for a few hours. I woke up at 7pm and spent the evening actually managing to update the photo blog in the bar nearby. Back at the hotel I got chatting to my neighbour, an aging German guy who has been coming for years. I’d seen him in shops around Freak Street chatting to the locals and drinking tea. He says some days it takes him all morning to work his way along the street as his friends keep inviting him in! Try as I might, that night I couldn’t get to sleep, and I gave up and watched some TV episodes on my computer.