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Himalaya

Day 57: Kathmandu

Pashupatinath, Nepal 
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The world’s most sociable hermits. These sadhus will do anything for you, including their Roy Wood and Wizzard impersonation.
Michael Palin - HimalayaWe walk on across the bridge, to the east bank of the river. Everything here is odd and unfamiliar. There are animals everywhere: dogs, cows and some of the 400 monkeys who scamper over roofs and walls, eyes and little pink hands out for any offering left unattended. Along the side of the hill is a series of small, stone shrines, each one containing a stone phallus, dedicated to Shiva. They were built to commemorate those women who came here to commit sati, to be burned alive beside their husbands, as was the custom before the British made it illegal. Among the temples and terraces higher up we come upon an enclosure where sadhus, flamboyant ascetics as I suppose you might describe them, gather. The holy men, who call themselves babas, are not at all averse to posing for the tourists. I rather like the idea of exhibitionist hermits and particularly enjoy the milk baba, who lives solely on milk, and an 87-year-old with six-foot-long tresses, who obligingly puts his leg behind his head for me.

Bearing in mind that I shall be in Tibet tomorrow night, it seems suitable that we end the day at the biggest Buddhist temple in Kathmandu, built for those who for thousands of years have come through here on the road to and from the lands to the north.

Boudhanath stupa is immense, some 130 feet (38 m) high, and it squats like some great white spaceship, surrounded by shops, hotels and houses, off one of the busiest streets of the city. A pair of painted eyes looks down from the wall, serenely surveying the flock of birds, spread across the dome like stubble on a huge bald head, the shopkeepers and the crowd of pilgrims walking round and round in a clockwise direction, gaining more merit for each circuit they make. A web of colourful flags flaps from the highest point of the stupa, sending their prayers out to the gods. To my classically conditioned mind, all this display seems excessive and garish, like wrapping St Paul's Cathedral in Christmas paper.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 57: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 132

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