In Kathmandu, I stayed in a hostel on the outskirts of the city, close to a huge stupa (reliquary) called Boudhanath. The people who live in that part of the city are mostly Tibetan refugees, including an extensive monastic community distributed in dozens of Gompas (Tibetan Buddhist temples). When darkness falls, monks and lay people form a colorful procession that goes around the stupa clockwise, walking with a rosary in one hand, and very often spinning rattles filled with mantras.
I started the day getting up early to go to one of the many gompas, where I sat to meditate listening to the chants of the monks, and finished the day circling the stupa. The intermediate hours were devoted to enjoy the atmosphere of Kathmandu, with neighborhoods for everyone, though I frequented hanged out in the old one, an open museum that exudes life.
“Durbar” is the local term for “royal court,” of which there are three in the valley, derived from the three feudal kingdoms that existed at those times: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Each “durbar” is a world in itself, full of buildings that combine masterfully stone, brick and wood, often topped with several roofs, and decorated with reliefs depicting estrange scenes. In no other city than in Bhaktapur I had the feeling of walking into someone’s dream, perhaps that of the goddess who lives in the slender pagoda Nyatapola?
Besides the three durbars, there are several stupas in Kathmandu, and two of them stand out for their visual impact: one is the already mentioned Boudhanath, and the other is Swayanbhunath. According to a legend, the second one is located on the head of a bodhisattva with long hair and head lice. The hair corresponding to the trees, and the lice to the monkeys that live in them. Legend or not, the fact is that all the buildings, sculptures and ornaments that crowd its top seem to come straight out of someone’s head, one with delirious imagination, fantastic, wise… wonderful. Symbolism in its purest form.
One day, I snuck in a beautiful building at the center of the city, attracted by a melodious song. While enjoying the music and surrounded by such magnificent architecture, I figured I had just entered some heavenly realm. How it’d be my surprise when I realized I had gotten into the yard of a madhouse! I confess that I only discovered it when the members of the unusual “choir” stopped singing. Who would have said! Their transformation was radical.
Finally, I cannot leave unmentioned the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath and its surroundings, a binge for the senses. Some of its outputs are “Sadhus,” the mendicant holy men with painted faces and body, women wrapped in colorful “sharis,” the ritual chants, the smell of “human barbecue” and incense from the cremations, posts of “chai” (boiling tea with milk) … and the mischievous monkeys, like the one who snatched an apple from my hand.