Home > Himalayas, Meditation, Nepal, Travel > Burning Bodies and a Prepubescent Goddess

Burning Bodies and a Prepubescent Goddess

It was with reluctance that we left the Kopan monastery and made our way back into day to day Nepalese life. As we packed our things and said goodbye to the friends we had made, we both commented that we were rather jealous of the people staying on for the next course. We did return a couple of days later, though the incentive was rather less spiritual; I had left my jacket behind. We decided to ease ourselves back into ’normality’ with a few days in Boudhanath, a pleasant community in the Kathmandu Valley, and home to one of the world’s most famous Buddhist stupas. We felt comfortable in the predominantly Tibetan community, and we happened to reconvene with our previous travel partner Erik. It was particularly pleasing to see Tibetan culture flourishing in Boudhanath; it is home to a number of Buddhist institutes and many people study the Tibetan language in the area.

During this time we spent an afternoon visiting the magnificent Hindu, Pashupatinath complex; a rambling area of temples, woodland, and cremation ghats. The heavy rain didn’t detract from the impact of our surroundings, nor did it prevent the ongoing cremations. It took us some time to find the ghats where this was taking place; not for the first time, we had inadvertently wandered off into a wooded area rather than following the main path. The ornate monuments and temples of the grounds create a maze and around every corner the face of a new shrine generates a shift in atmosphere. I’m ashamed to admit that I did feel like an extra in ’Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, looking over my shoulder for rolling boulders and the like. (Incidentally, I recently discovered that this film was shot in Kandy, Sri Lanka, an area we have already visited and will return to; more Indy impersonations to come I feel!)

The rain pelted down as the bodies of the deceased were prepared for cremation. The corpse is first wrapped in a shroud and the family say their final goodbyes. The body is then placed on a carefully prepared wooden pyre, which is set alight and left to burn to ashes. As you can imagine, it is an extremely emotive event to witness, and Hazell and I both felt rather voyeuristic as our minds tried to process the event. As the flames rose higher the smell of burning flesh floated across the water and lodged itself in our nostrils. On reflection, I find this tradition a rather natural way of returning a body to nature, much like the sky burials of Tibet. Perhaps it is a distressing practice to many, but is it any more perverse than placing a corpse in a box and burying it?

On leaving Boudhanath we returned for a second spell in Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. This was a rather large shock to the system after a week or so of tranquillity, but the city has an energy that is irresistible at times. It was our first encounter with the sensory assault that is Hindu culture, all crammed into wonderfully intricate streets adorned with fascinating Newari architecture. The famous Durbar square is a magical place to spend time wandering through the myriad of shrines, temples and wooden architecture. One building of particular interest is the home of the Royal Kumari, a young girl who is recognised as an incarnation of the goddess Durga and worshipped by many. She holds this position until she begins to menstruate or loses blood from injury, upon which the goddess is believed to leave her body and she returns to regular society. A glimpse of her is said to bring good fortune, but alas as I stared up at her window she remained illusive. She was probably busy watching Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Throughout Kathmandu reverberations from the ’hippie’ era leave traces of a past long lost. I listened hard and was pretty sure I could hear ’All Along the Watchtower’ drifting out of the drains, mumbled by a red eyed wanderer who became a relic of the city long ago. Those days are a romantic fantasy to current travellers, and at famed spots such as Pie Alley and Freak Street there remain only a few stragglers with tall tales and acid flashbacks. We too moved on to Pokhara, but getting away from Kathmandu was a challenge, not due to any emotional ties but my inability to contend with the weight of my backpack. The Thamel area had flooded on the morning that we left so we had to wade to the bus. At one particular juncture, I tried to avoid getting any wetter by jumping over a puddle in the road. In hindsight, attempting this manoeuvre while carrying at least 15kg on my back and a bag full of electronics on my front, was a foolish decision. My leading leg gave way and I fell flat on my face, in a puddle, in the middle of the road. Our water bottles went flying and I lay spread eagle on my front like an upturned turtle unable to right itself. Onlookers laughed as Hazell turned around and pleaded with me to ’hurry up, we’re going to miss the bus’. Those blissful mornings at the Kopan seemed a distant memory.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: