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Himalaya

Day 57: Kathmandu

Michael Palin - HimalayaBefore we leave Kathmandu, I meet up once again with the redoubtable Pratima Pande, who insists that I should see one of the great sights of Kathmandu, the temple complex at Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu site outside India. Pashupati is one of the many names (around a thousand in all) of Shiva, the most revered god in the Hindu pantheon. So sacred is this site that non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple at the heart of it. If they were, they would be able to see one of its great attractions, a ten-foot-high male member, or linga, which, and I rely on my Rough Guide for this, refers to a myth whereby 'Shiva transformed his phallus into an infinite pillar of light and challenged Brahma and Vishnu the other members of the Hindu trinity to find the ends of it. Both were forced to abandon the search.'

Below the temple and flanked by the burning ghats runs the River Bagmati, which, despite carrying the effluent of 1.5 million people, is a holy river, and eventually joins the Ganges. Monkeys scuttle along the parapet ahead of us as we pause on one of two stone and brick bridges and look down on a sight I've heard about but never witnessed. A number of platforms, sort of jetties for the soul, are built on the river bank and on these the dead are cremated on wood pyres. One or two have bodies burning on them already, others are being cleared after a cremation. Attendants, brisk and businesslike in white aprons and cotton vests, are brushing the platforms clean, sending burning embers flying into the river, where they hit the water with a hiss and bob off down the Bagmati, trailing plumes of smoke like so many miniature steamships.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 57: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 129

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