Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fishin' For Religion

The few days in between trekking and departing for Australia were spent in the chaotic and loud Kathmandu. I figured I’d take my first day after the trek easy as my knees were pleading for mercy. My plan was to go to Swayambhunath (or Monkey Temple) to visit the stupa, museums and monasteries. But it wasn’t easy. When I arrived I was greeted with a tower of stairs, 365 to be exact, to the top. It wasn’t a difficult climb, since I had been doing nothing but for a few days and a higher altitude, but it was still a tiring day.

 At the top of the steps there were a few monasteries and shrines filled with solid gold statues, lines of fires in pots, candle offerings and other relics. The paths were lined with prayer wheels (not wind or water, these ones you spun with your hands) and filled with people circumambulating the premises. 

There was a small ensemble of musicians with drums, horns and flutes, about half an hour that ensemble turned into a parade of monks, some dressed like Trojans? And the music turned into a cacophony of noise, the drummers beat with no rhythm and the horns sounded at random. I was told this was to make sure the gods were awake because they were about to read a prayer and make an offering. I’m still not entirely clear on where the gods and offerings and worshiping comes into play in Buddhism.

 I asked a few people but no one could give me an answer. However, although he couldn’t give me an answer, Ram offered a very nice explanation of religion. He prefaced the thought with the fact that he was raised Hindu, and throughout his life has met people of all religions, and quite a few people that tried to convert him or save him. From learning about all the different religions this is how he describes his faith. Religion is like Mt Everest. The Nepali call it Everest, but the Tibetans call it something else, and the Bhutanese have another name and the Pakistani another. There are also many routes and trails that you can take up to the top of Everest. All are difficult, but some are much more so than others. But when you get to the top, it’s the same place. Just like religion. You can call it different names, and you can practice in many different ways, but the end result for everyone is the same. Pretty profound.

in 6 months. I’ve rung in 2004, 2013 and 2070. That’s a lot of time travel. For the holiday I went to the Boudha Stupa, which is the largest in the world. This is where different sects of Buddhists go to celebrate the New Years, all in their different traditional clothing, speaking different languages and worshipping in slightly different ways. Some people were in the monastery giving money, others bowing to the statues of Buddha. The younger people were mostly using the holiday to parade around in their best, brightest and most bedazzled outfits. There were a few groups of people cheering and throwing rice in a circle as an offering for the new year. I enjoyed this a bit more than the previous site because it was more natural and fewer tourists. Watching the celebrations was a unique cultural experience and a great way to end my first Nepali adventure.

Today I am writing from Western Australia, but those stories will come a bit later.

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