Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kathmandu World Heritage Sites

Yesterday Ann and I visited several of the Kathamandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  These are primarily ancient Buddhist or Hindu religious sites.  The first place we went was the Swayambhu Stupa.  A stupa is a mound-like structure containing  Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha, that are used by Buddhists as a place of worship.  The Swayambhu Stupa dates back to the 5th Century where legend says a Buddhist follower planted a magic lotus that grew into a hill upon which the stupa was placed at the top. 

Swayambhu Stupa
Another popular name for the Swayambhu Stupa is the Monkey Temple. This is because monkeys are seen loitering all around the temple and are considered to be holy.  The holy man raising the hill was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and got head lice. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.

Monkey at Swayambhu
The next place we went to was the Patan Durbar Square which was the town square for the ancient city of Patan that has now been swallowed up by the larger municipality of Kathmandu.  Most of the temples in the Durbar Square are Hindu.
Patan Durbar Square
 The most entertaining part of our trip to Patan Durbar Square was being guided by Shalu, Naren, and his brother Ruben.  Shalu was 11 and Naren about 9 and Ruben maybe 7.  Shalu and Naren's English was very good and they were very sure about all the history of the site and the names of the various Hindu gods. We kept having to fend off a series of adults who tried to exert their authority over the kids by replacing them as our guides.  But we enjoyed giving them a chance to practice their English, and being kids they had a way of describing their world that was pretty funny.

Ann with out tour guides
 The last temple we visited was the Boudhanath Stupa.  At over 130 feet high and 120 feet in diameter - it's size, the ambiance of its surroundings, and the care with which it has been maintained, made it our favorite of the day.  We sat on a balcony having a beer watching the scene below as pilgrims made repeated journeys clockwise around the stupa turning the prayer wheels with their hands as they walked by and counting the number of mantras they had recited with the prayer beads they were carrying.  Several monks stood at the end of small wooden platforms that they used to prostrate themselves before the shrine, and they never stopped the whole time we were there - it looked like an endless set of situps.

Boudhanath Stupa
 The final stop of the day was a trip to the barber.  For about $10 he gave me a nice haircut and head and back massage.

Edward Scissorhands at work
Ann is spending time tomorrow sorting the books that have been donated and shipped to the Asia Foundation office in Kathmandu.  They will take these books to the Magic Yeti libraries located in several villages in the Khumbu region where she will be working while I'm teaching climbing at the Khumbu Climbing School in the village of Phortse.  We will fly to the small airstrip in the Town of Lukla on Tuesday so we can begin our trek to the villages where we will be doing our work.

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