Our Final Day in Kathmandu: The Stupa, Shree Pashupatinath Cremation Site, and Blessings from a Monk – 4/10/23

The best place to stay in Kathmandu is @Aloft Thamel Hotel, which offers a fantastic breakfast buffet from pastries and porridge, to sushi and salad, lentils and chickpea dishes, meats, juices, pancakes, and so much more (this variety is true at every meal actually). This is the preferred respite in the city for trekkers of all levels and I highly recommend. You can meet some fascinating people here.

Our retreat group did some sightseeing for our last day together, stopping first at the Kopan Monastery and school. We were able to meditate in the beautiful temple while the monks and nuns waited departure of the local Lama Zopa Rinpoche (head monk and esteemed Tibetan Buddhist master at this monastery) who was heading to the mountains. Little did we know at the time that this would be the Lama’s last trip as he passed from altitude sickness mere days later at age 77.

Kopan Monastery
Stupa at Kopan Monastery

The Great Stupa or Buddhanath Stupa, one of the largest stupas in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ranks among the most important and holiest Tibetan Buddhist sites outside of Tibet. Built 1500 years ago, the white dome with painted Buddha eyes watching the four directions is said to house a bone from the Buddha’s body, found when the site was excavated around 1400AD. Worshippers come here to circumambulate the stupa while spinning prayer wheels and praying to the 108 small images of the Buddha that surround the structure (prayer wheels are said to free you from karma and bring compassion to the world). We walked around the stupa, which acts like a village center, and stopped at the ornate Gumba Monastery to meditate and receive with reverence a blessing by the monks with chants, prayer, and a thread bracelet as a reminder. This was a highlight for me personally.

Buddhanath Stupa with many prayer flags. The small fires in the front were on the second floor balcony of the Gumba Monastery. No cameras allowed inside but it was gorgeous
Giant prayer wheel

Our tour guide proudly shared that Nepal lacks discrimination among religions. Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims can visit temples of the other. Why not share? Exactly.

After a tour of a mandala painting school where intricate paintings can take months or years to make, we made our way to the famous funeral site in Kathmandu: Shree Pashupatinath, another UNESCO Heritage Site, and the oldest Hindu temple complex in Nepal. This brought all the emotions. From poverty-stricken small hungry children lining the tourist path and adults begging for food or for you to purchase something to watching families carry their dead to the platforms for cremation at the river, it was a somber experience. In Nepal, the dead are cremated quickly after passing. This site has cremations 24/7 and is by the river because the ritual of passing requires addressing all five elements and here they begin with: fire and water, followed by wind, earth, and ether (space/emptiness). For more details on cremation at this site, visit this nicely done blog post by Tyler Roney.

Student at the Mandala School
I have mixed feelings about sharing this. I want to normalize death and share some sacred rituals that may differ from your own in an effort to expand awareness around the world while holding reverence for something that is deeply personal. What would you do?
The sun sets as a funeral service is completed and the body is prepared for the pyre at Pashupatinath cremation site and temple complex
Across the river at the Monkey Temple

One of the things I love about this country is the sense of personal responsibility, especially in the streets. Driving is not for the faint of heart nor is crossing the street on foot but if you have an incident you don’t get to sue anyone else. Society assumes you will be mindful of your own being and if you twist your ankle on an uneven sidewalk, well, it’s not the city’s fault…you should’ve been more careful. When the onus is put on individuals to mind their wellbeing, they ARE more careful and mindful. The U.S. has it all wrong making everyone else responsible for our mistakes and carelessness.

On our return to the city, we noted the difference between our arrival 11 days ago versus today in the way we handle the chaos. Crossing the street no longer feels like we are risking our lives as we’ve learned to manage the traffic which, despite tight quarters and apparent lack of organization, flows in harmony and agreeableness as drivers accommodate one another. My wish is that US drivers could operate with such zen and patience and care for one another. Is it our days on the mountain? In meditation? In gratitude? In reflection of our capacity and capability? None of the above or all of it? Whatever brought it together, we were grateful for the awareness to see our progress.

We marked our last evening with a celebratory dinner and hugs, most heading back home and a half dozen staying on for the next leg. It’s amazing how quickly you bond with new friends when you go through an intense experience like we did, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Read more about Top 5 Temples in the Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu Trip Ideas | Viator.com – https://www.viator.com/blog/Top-5-Temples-in-the-Kathmandu-Valley/l8691?mcid=56757

To sum up our time together, our fellow trekker and retreat adventurer, Scott Brennan, created this. Enjoy!

Thanks for being here and sharing the love with your friends. That’s the best compliment you could give me. If you want more photos, find me on Instagram @adventureswithwen

Love, Wen

2 responses to “Our Final Day in Kathmandu: The Stupa, Shree Pashupatinath Cremation Site, and Blessings from a Monk – 4/10/23”

  1. Jeffrey Avatar

    Hey Wendy can you clarify? “At 1500 years old, the white 14th-century structure…”

    Also, I remember seeing that stupa in Little Buddha, with Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda.


    1. Wen Avatar

      Ah, I got them mixed up with something else. Thanks for catching it!


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