Buddhanilkanta - Nagi Gompa - Bodhnath
On our trip to Kathmandu we spent a lot of time in mediation at our base in Tahachal, but there were a few breaks in the program that gave us an opportunity to get out and explore. One of these came when our hall was taken over for a convention, so we took a taxi out to a village on the edge of the valley and headed into the hills for a day hike. I had Kokila with me on this occasion, so I planned the day around some sites I guessed she'd find interesting (she's not as keen as I am about just hiking for its own sake!).
First stop was the village of Buddhanilkanta - we got out of the taxi and strolled along the main drag looking for the famous temple with its statue of a reclining Vishnu. As luck would have it, the temple puja was just beginning and we were able to watch, along with a small mixed crowd of Hindus, Buddhists and a few of our Sri Chinmoy party who had arrived in a bus.To the sound of bells and chanting, two boys devotedly washed and dressed Vishnu, before making offerings of milk, oil, honey, flowers and sandalwood paste. It was a moving ritual - the devotion of the Hindus was genuine and I could see this reflected in the face of the statue that seemed to acquire a more living consciousness as the puja went on.
As the worship drew to a close we headed up the dirt road towards Shivapuri - a national park set in forested hills that rise to arund 2700m altitude. The busload of girls we had met in Buddhanilkanta met us at the park gates, having got their bus up by a longer, more winding road. They were heading for the summit, but our plan was to hike to the Buddhist nunnery at Nagi Gompa then down into the valley to return to Kathmandu via either Gokarnath temple or the stupa at Bodhnath.
After a couple of hours steady climbing on the dirt road in brilliant sunshine and a cool breeze, we found our way to Nagi Gompa (with the aid of a few signposts almost hidden in the trees). The views down into the valley were magnificent, and the nunnery itself exuded a profound peace. The nuns were inside at prayer and we could hear the bells and the trance-enducing sound of tibetan horns coming from the open doors. There were some small cells for silent retreat just downhill from the main building which Kokila was particularly drawn to - perhaps she had a lifetime of solitary contemplation at some stage? Anyway she gets lyrical over caves and any other hermit places where you meditate in seclusion. Yep, I had picked the right route:)
This view of prayer flags fluttering above the Kathmandu valley makes a monastery life seem very appealing.
After visiting the Gompa we headed further east along the dirt road, looking for the way down the ridge towards Kopan Monastery and Gokarnath. It wasn't obvious, but we did find a gap in the wall as mentioned in our old guidebook, next to a pretty big house by mountain village standards, and it led down through a lovely collection of houses past the small stupa shown above. Soon we were on a dusty trail that led on to the spur that headed south through gorgeous forested hillside towards Kopan.
Where the path forked we stayed on the eastern side of the ridge and two local lads confirmed it did end up at Gokarnath but was not an easy trail! Still it was easy enoough for us and we kept on going. The walk was very long and we had less water and food than we should have had - bad planning by me there! When we finally passed Kopan the route was not obvious and my useless map had no good answers, so we took the busier looking fork in the road and found ourselves coming down through Jagadol Martyr's Park (a new memorial park, not finished yet at time of writing Feb 2011) to a suburb on the outer edge of Kathmandu called Jorpati (here I could tell from the map where we were). We missed Gokarnath and rather than head north in search of it we decided to get a taxi into Kathmandu to see sunset at Bodhnath - wew were in need of something to eat and had walked far enough by that stage.
Wandering around Jorpati we didn't find a bus going anywhere, and there was not a single taxi, as this is not a well off or tourist area. Eventually we found a van with bench seats in that was slowly filling up with schoolkids and families heading into Kathmandu.The driver asked for 25 rupees to take us to Bodhnath - around 20p! We got in and waited while the van filled up - it had narrow bench seats facing both ways and apart from the driver and his mate there was a "conductor" hanging off the side shouting t encourage customers. A few of them came over at each stop and hesitated when they saw every seat already full - the "conductor" got behind them and literally shoved them in then closed the door - this tactic led to a total of 24 in the van! Kids were passed in and handed to total strangers by mums trying to board the bus - the locals here are very trusting.
After a long, noisy and bumpy ride into the traffic jams of Kathmandu we ended up at Bodhnath - when I tried to pay 25 rs each they handed it back - it was 25 in total for the pair of us. Much cheapness!
We were dropped on a typically noisy and fumey street in the city, and over the shops we could just see the tip of a stupa. Finding a gap in the buildings we caught our first glimpse of Bodhnath. What a sight! A throng of pilgrims were circling the Stupa as sunset approached, praying and chanting. The atmosphere was powerful and totally gripping, so much so that after paying the foreigner's tax to get in to the huge courtyard around the stupa we couldn't help joining in, walking clockwise with the buddhists and soaking up the incredible views of the immense stupa and its thirteen golden tiers.
Eventually we ended up in the Cafe du Stupa, on a rooftop overlooking the monument itself. This was our first taste of momos, the national dish of Nepal. After sunset we wandered around some more, reluctant to leave, but as it began to get dark we headed back to Tahachal. A great day, a great hike, but the most memorable sight was Bodhnath, just a short taxi ride from where we started.
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