Shangri-La…the myth becomes reality
In the book, Lost Horizons, it describes a place called Shangri-La, a mystical place beneath the mountains of the Himalayas. Those things could certainly be said of this exotic city of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Nepal has a population of 28 million, with 5 million of them living in Kathmandu. Needless to say, it is way crowded here! 80% of the population is Hindu, 11% are Buddhist. It has the distinct honor of having the largest number of UNESCO World heritage sites than anywhere else in the world…a total of seven in this city alone.
This Buddhist monument above, also known as Monkey Palace, high in the mountains, is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Over 1000 rhesus monkeys live in the trees, well fed by the tourists, scampering around our feet, and happily swimming in a pool of their own. I could have stayed there all day and taken monkey pictures; they are so adorable!
Built in the first century, the stupa consists of a white dome with a cubical structure with the all seeing eyes of Buddha painted in four directions, with prayer wheels surrounding th entire structure. Devoted followers circle clockwise, making wishes, and spinning the prayer wheels to make their desires known while the monkeys dart all around you.
We traveled down the hill to Dunbar Square, where an amazing cluster of ancient temples and palaces shows the religious and cultural life of the people. Going back to the 16th century, in this unusual ritual, the people choose a living goddess on which they focus their faith. From many, a young girl is chosen who must have 32 beauty attributes; high forehead, large eyes, no scars, nice arms and legs, slim neck, to name a few. The candidates must then spend a night in a dark room full of decapitated heads of water buffaloes and goats which have been sacrificed. The one who is not afraid becomes the Kumari, a living goddess. She is moved into the Temple of the Kumari, rarely seen by the public, but worshipped by all until she reaches puberty. She is then replaced by a new Kumari and the process begins again.
She is not allowed to be photographed, but makes rare appearances each day for a few seconds to see her subjects who come to the temple. We were lucky to see her for a few seconds…and then she disappeared. I don’t think she was much older than 5 years old.
These holy men renounce worldly life to follow a spiritual life, but they will happily take a dollar for a photo!
Our next stop finds us at the largest stupa in the world. Because of its location, it also became a sacred center for many of the 100,000 Tibetan refugees who have come to a Nepal. Built in the 6th century, and housing the remains of Kassapa Buddha, it is one of the most fascinating places for us to people watch.
The believers circle round and round, spinning the prayer wheels, and it was completely fascinating to see the myriad of interesting faces of the Nepalese and many Tibetans in their tribal costumes.
Nepal is sandwiched between China and India, so I guess that why the people look like a cross between Chinese and Indians.
What a day!