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Incredible Bouddhanath Stupa

Overshadowing the skyline, Bouddhanath stupa is a sight to behold. This serene and magical place brings solitary and comfort like nowhere else. Stationed about 11 km from the centre of Kathmandu, stands a mellow UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bouddhanath Stupa. It definitely plays a part of a gem being one of the grandest stupas in the world.

Bouddhanath stupa is recognized as a living monument for its devotees, pilgrims, tourists and locals. Being a spiritual area, it is the finest place to sit and ease off from the day to day hustle. Alluring atmosphere around the shrine, with all the devotees circling the stupa while praying & chanting hymn of ‘om mane padme hum’, there is so much to see that it truly feels like a cultural mecca you can’t miss.

Stupa is believed to be founded by King Vrisadeva in (590-640 CE) whereas some acclaimed that later king Manadev is related to its foundation. Tibetan sources claim that emperor Trisong Detsen of the Tibetan

Empire is associated in the construction of bouddhanath stupa. However, there is no such evidence that confirm its origin. According to legends, the king decided it to be an act of sorrow after slaughtering his own father. Though the first built stupa was wrecked by Mughal invaders in the 14th century, it still stood strong after the reconstruction. April 2015 earthquake shook Nepal and Bouddha was no exception. The whole structure above the white dome was evacuated and mended again right after the earthquake hampered the entire spire. The recent version is so transparent yet so influential; it will heal your soul from within.

Passing through the busy hollow roads of Bouddha, entering small crowded alley, there is the hallway to the stupa. You cannot see the stupa from outside the road. The ticket to the stupa costs around 400-500 to preserve the area, being it the world heritage site. As you make your way inside the hallway, a glimpse of stupa will intrigue you to just look at it and nowhere else.

Make sure to navigate yourself in a clockwise direction to pay holy tribute. It is a good idea to visit early morning for even soothing ambience when the monks are seen waving around doing their morning prayers chanting the mantras and spinning the prayer wheels as a daily ritual. While in the evening with the soft lights, you’ll feel blessed by its majestic presence. Expect to spend 4-5 hours for a complete experience as you wouldn’t want to leave.

Rumour has it, beneath the stupa contains a piece of bone from the skeleton of Buddha while some acclaimed the bone to be of King Amshuvera. According to purana, stupa symbolises a meaning so deep rooted that will surely leave you spellbound.

Take notice of the gigantic white dome, it means the earth and underneath lies a mandala that is said to be Buddha’s mansion. The 13 level tower exhibits fire that expresses the steps to nirvana. Overhead lies the void, protector of three jewellery ‘Buddha, Dharma & Sangha’ sighting as an umbrella. Lotus that speaks of purity and a pinnacle representing Mt. Sumeru, the king of mountains stays on top of all. 108 small reflections of Dhyani Buddha Amitabha surround the white dome in 360 degrees. What makes it even more charming to gaze at, are the colourful eyes that follows your way and even more colourful prayer flags that flutters as the wind blows. If you’re not a spiritual person, this place will make you feel like it. 

As you wander around the square staring at the Bouddhanath stupa and taking pictures, take notice of several rooftop restaurants and cafes surrounding the stupa in 360 angles from where the view of the stupa is stunning to see. Grab a drink or have lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the stupa, it will surely give you the feeling of tranquillity. Let’s say, it is a must do when you’re in Bouddhanath. The atmosphere around the shrine is amazing with all of the devotees circling the stupa while praying, along with numerous outlookers in the surrounding restaurants and shops.

Do not mind if people approach you to view or buy their items on sale as there are plentiful of souvenir shops around. Colourful shops selling idols and Thanka paintings will catch your attention. Take souvenirs if you like, for your friends, family and yourself as a sight to remember. You can also find some bookstores along the street. If you’re fond of reading, grab one, step into a rooftop cafe and read. People tend to do that a lot here. One of the best things about the place is its Local Tibetan food. Walk around the stupa, you’ll find local streets and hidden alleys lined with colourful homes and restaurants with local food. Do not forget to try ‘Laphing’ and ‘Thakali Khana’ as it is quite popular in Bouddha.

Ajima/Hariti Shrine:

You must know that you can climb part way up the stupa and catch a glimpse closely. On the northern side of the stupa, right before the steps leading to the dome, stays a shrine dedicated to Ajima, protector of the children. Ajima, well renowned as a demon, fed on innocent children by poisoning them with small pox.

Down hearted by her deeds, Buddha’s ideation of teaching her a lesson became a success. He hid one of her hundreds beloved children to make her feel the misery of losing one’s child. Proceeding the realization phase, she was made the protector of children instead after Buddha led her way to enlightenment. Nepalese people are convinced that she protects the children from sickness.

Close upon the shrine, there are two entrances to the stupa dome. If you take the first, you’ll detect a small room with a large prayer wheel on your left. Feel free to enter, spin and make a wish. A few steps more and you are in the second platform of the stupa. Base of the stupa has three large platforms that symbolises ‘earth’. Here you can enjoy glimpse of the hills during the day and beautiful sunset in the evening. Walk along with the monks hymning the ‘padme hum’ song and soak in the spiritual energy. And take notice of structure of the stupa. Next comes two circular plinths supporting hemisphere of stupa, representing ‘water’. Above the 13 tiered triangular crown is a form of ‘fire’ element while the gilded canopy is the embodiment of ‘air’. On high is a gilded spire exemplifying ‘ether’. Surrounding the stupa, you’ll see 108 forms of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara that are depicted in sculptures around the base. Make a round, take pictures and exit from the same way you entered. 

Tamang Gompa: 

It is little difficult to photograph the stupa, but quite easy if you have wide angle lenses. Best pictures you can ever take of the resting beauty are from the rooftop of Tamang Gompa. You can step in for free. It is right across the steps you exit the dorm from. The Gompa is beautifully built inside. Pay attention to the huge prayer hall where monks are seen praying.

Looking past the statues, huge prayer wheels and golden ornaments, feel free to have them photographed but not while the monks are involved in prayers. Inside, you can spot bright coloured murals on the walls, where you can take exquisite pictures. Right aside, is a balcony with a view but the view is even better at the rooftop. 

Make way to the top to enjoy the greater angle of the stupa. Look for a place where you can light lamps of butter. Feel free to light as much, people usually light 108 for each of Avalokiteshvara.

As you passage out from the gompa, close upon your left, you’ll see a gigantic bell significantly used to address signals and meetings back in the days.

It is hard to believe that there are over 50 gompas around Bouddha. Buddhists from all around the world wish to live in the gompas situated here. If you wish to visit them all, it will make you feel like you are in mini Tibet.

You can even spend a night there to relief the exhaustion or if you wish to explore more. There are guest houses and lodges around for night stays. 

On a full moon day when Buddha was born, the great day is celebrated as Buddha Jayanti. Not just that, the day is blessed since it memorializes three important events, his birth, his enlightenment, his nirvana. Devotees gather early morning; circle around the shrine offering butter lamps, flowers, rice and coins throughout the day. It is a great festival for Buddhist. If you’re in Kathmandu on May 18, do visit Bouddhanath or Swayambhunath for a influential experience.

Another best time to visit is during the Tibetan new year ‘Losar’ when a portrait of the Dalai Lama is marched around. Thousands of pilgrims cluster the stupa and monks from the surrounding monasteries perform religious dances. 

The Taragaon Museum:

In a beautiful setting next to the grand Hyatt hotel is a futuristic architectural art museum. You can get here after a short walk from the historic stupa. Back in the days, this museum used to be a hotel named Taragaon Hotel. Now it serves as a cultural centre and contemporary art gallery where you’ll find archives filled with architectural photographs, drawings and written documents collected by the researchers of 20th century. You’ll be delighted to see the statues and artwork woven from water hyacinth.

Plus, it offers to take a breather from the bustle of crowded streets of Bouddha. There is a cafe available for visitors where you can grab some drinks and snacks. The Hyatt Platform is huge, you can explore even more around if you like. 

Kopan Monastery:

A sacred place on top of a hill overlooking Kathmandu, Kopan monastery has such deep roots in Tibetan Buddhism. It was established to provide ‘Dharma Teaching’ meaning spiritual education related to Buddhism to tourists and local people.

It offers great view of the valley and a garden appropriate for proper meditation. There is a library filled with incredible collection of religious books that will make you want to curl up a chair and dive in.

Charumati Stupa:

On your way to Bouddhanath residing on the side of a busy road of Chabahil, Charumati stupa is one of the oldest stupa of Nepal. Even older than Bouddhanath stupa, it is the fourth largest in Kathmandu and was founded by Charumati, daughter of Indian emperor Ashoka and wife of a Nepalese prince. It opens from 5 am to 9 pm. For those interested in whiling away their time and take a breather, you’ll find benches and stone seating for relaxation. The bells chiming along with the wind give off a pleasant sound. If you’re walking your way back from the Bouddhanath, catch some breathe here. A stone sculpture which is 2300 years old with the inscription of detailed history in Brahmin script is a must see. 

Suvekshya Shrestha

suvekshyashr@gmail.com

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