Monday, December 18, 2017

Kathmandu — Washing Death out of my Hair

10-2-17 

Not a happy title I know, folks, but right now its very real.

I escaped the cacophony of the city by having  the hotel driver take me around its outskirts to three sacred sites. I read about them in the guide book as I went and thought I was prepared. Deepak filled me in on the traditions and history the best he could, being a hotel employee and not a certified guide.

There were the usual unusual sights. A cow in the street (sacred reincarnation of the goddess of prosperity, Lakshi). Apparently the owner comes at night and takes it home for food and water. In the meantime it is undisturbed. 




The only traffic light in Kathmandu, which Deepak laughingly pointed out didn’t work. And discussions of healthcare and social services in Nepal. “What do you do if you are seriously ill and can’t afford a Doctor or medicine,” I queried. “You die.” 

The first, Swayambhunth, you can see here, is both Buddhist and Hindu. 

Apparently these two religions live together with no complaint, in proportions of 80/20 %. After all, the Buddha was a Hindu prince, born in Nepal. 




 It’s also called the “monkey temple.” Monkeys climbing anywhere they chose with their own swimming pool. “Don’t touch,”  I was admonished. “They have rabies and HIV.”  Egads! I thought the plunging motorcycles through the darkness were bad!




Everything in this site was sacred. People chanting, placing marigold flowers, bowing, incense and butter lamps… constant prayer it seemed.

The second site, Bodhnath, was definitely the most lovely. 

This is the largest stupa in Asian and definitely is a place of peace in the midst of Kathmandu chaos. The impressive white stupa, several sided with Buddha eyes all around. Gaily flapping prayer flags.




 An enormous prayer wheel.




 Chants in the background. Quiet monks and nuns meditatively walking clock-wise.The usual stalls selling stuff but no one hawking wares.  Exquisite hand-painted thankas.




Definitely my favorite!





But it was the last site, Pashupatinath, that sticks in my mind, clothes and hair. 

Hindu with statues of Nandi the bull and shiva lingums of male and female aspects.




Stoned Saddhus (holy men). 




And on the path a few beggars minus hands or feet (chopped off in India, Deepak is saying here, and bused here to beg).




A murky holy river, and …the burning ghats. I wasn’t quite prepared for them and told Deepak it was quite OK if we watched from a distance. (I was planning to go to the burning ghats in Varanasi, India but now have been spared the necessity.) 

We watched as a yellow draped body was partly moistened by the river, feet in it and water poured into the mouth. 





Then it was pulled back and covered with flowers by the family and transported to a concrete ghat where wood was placed underneath. Numerous of these pyres burned, with acrid smoke billowing, infiltrating the air and me.




What was is like? Sacred. Reverent. A saying good-bye. 

(Supposedly the bodies are brought here within hours if the family can be assembled.) Lovely and final. Expensive and therefore precious. But with a smell that I was anxious to be rid of!

I couldn’t wait to wash my clothes, body and hair! Feeling purer, however, I couldn’t wash away the memory. I thought I’d done due diligence with death in my life. Medical school, cadavers, hospitals and patients. But I had never seen a body burn. 

So now I got to deal with the reality of mortality again. 

And not just the obvious, like I could fall off a mountain or get hit by a motorcycle in Nepal. More like, in the shower thinking,  “This hair will burn. This belly-roll I obsess about will burn. This poor knee replacement won’t burn! This body will be no more.”

So I’m not sure why I came to Nepal other than I like the Nepalese people and there are Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and permaculture projects here. I guess it was partly due to needing to see death again, and again, and again… until I finally learn to appreciate this body and this precious life as both holy and temporary. Thank you Nepal!