Yesterday I came back to the city where my journey started two months ago, Kathmandu. Coming back to this hectic dusty city reminded me of a particular day I experienced here a few week ago. A day that I will always remember. At that particular day, I thought I felt like my body needed some exercise, some movement. (At this point I was actually quite sick but I did not want to admit it yet). So I decided to walk from Thamel to Pashupatinath to Boudhanath to Thamel. Just a 20 kilometer walk. Easy peasy, I can do that. However, some factors I did not take into account (or did not want to take into account) were the crazy traffic, the major air pollution and the fact that Kathmandu is one big chaotic place. Besides those minor details, I felt I was going to be fine, so I would be. After having breakfast in my new favorite restaurant I discovered the night before and where I had the most delightful conversation with the manager the whole night, I started walking. Once again maps.me was going to guide me the way (this app has proven to be my life saver so many times now that I sort of keep mentioning it). However, the downside of this app is that it can lead you to very weird places and paths. So I discovered it made more sense to sometimes just keep going as much in straight lines as you can instead of following this app. This strategy has proven to be a life saver as well, especially when in the end of the day your phone is almost empty…
Being a women in an unfamiliar city I felt a little bit unsafe at the beginning. Until I realized I had the remedy for this just around my wrist, my mala. I got my mala off my wrist and started reciting OM MANU PADME HUM, a mantra I quickly got familiarized with after the course. It seems to calm me down. And so I started walking, reciting the mantra all day.
About 1,5 hour later I find myself at the Pashupatinath temple, a hindu temple. A hindu temple were people actually get cremated. While I walk into this world heritage site I get tricked into paying an entrance fee which later on I discovered I could have easily avoided by taking another way in (which is not guarded). To be fair, this would have involved walking a lot more so I do not know whether that would have been worth it for me, but still.
Knowing where I was heading, and being warned by others, the site and situation still overwhelm me. When I look to my right I see families mourning, I see people getting burned, I see people ‘decorating’ the soon to be burning place. I see the difference in casts by the difference in burning places. Some are nicer than others. It strikes me. I did not really see it before in Kathmandu but here it is very vivid. People are not equal, they are different, according to their casts. Not really knowing what to do and how to feel I start wandering around, taking some pictures of temples and the site there. Then my eye catches a young man sitting next to a body, waiting. I stop walking and just stand there. I cannot move anymore, I have to keep watching. Intrigued by the situation, I keep looking at all the rituals. How the family baths the woman, whom I assume is the young man’s mother, with the holy water and how they go through all the rituals before her body will be carried towards the burning place. How she gets lifted from the ‘brancard’ to a bamboo ladder and how she is carried with the bamboo ladder to the wooden stack, that will literally be her body’s final resting place. The latter is quite a ritual at which the family moves from one place to another, accompanied by playing horns etc. Without noticing I keep following the family, my legs just move by themselves. I cross the bridge (on the other side than the family) and find myself sitting down across the river, right across the place at which her body will soon get burned. Wanting to see more. The man, which I by this point assumed to be her son, walks around the wooden stack, which now has her body on it, doing some last blessings and carrying a burning torch. And then he puts the torch on her head. It burns. It is really happening. For the first time in my life I am witnessing a real cremation.
After a month of contemplating on death and the impermanence of life this really puts it into practice. Death is everywhere and it actually can happen anytime, to any of us. Before you know it, you are the one on that wooden stack. Being fine with that is I guess the most important thing and enjoying this life and the moment you are in while you can.
I know it sounds quite depressive, but I actually experienced it to be something nice. There is no point in worrying about a future that might never come, a future which is always going to turn out differently than you have pictured it. Therefore, just follow your heart and be present in every moment. Feel every moment and be fine with it. Every feeling is impermanent so the negative feelings will pass and new positive ones will arise again. And those will also pass.
Once the wooden stack really catches fire I get out of my hypnotic state and suddenly realize where I am, and what I am witnessing. I start to realize it will take hours before the woman will be totally cremated and before they will push her ashes in the river. I decide to leave. While leaving the site I feel blessed. Blessed to have witnessed this, blessed that I am alive, blessed that I have been given the chance to come here and experience all of this. By now I am actually glad I have paid the entrance fee to get in and that I have contributed to continuation of this world heritage.
Then, I continue my journey to Boudhanath, where at this point I have been quite a few times since it was only a 40 minute walk from the monastery. I therefore decide to skip the touristic viewpoints and just sit down for lunch (spicy beans and eggs) and think about what I just saw. I feel peaceful being in this spiritual capital.
Then, it is time for me to go back to Thamel (the backpackers Walhalla and the neighborhood of my hostel). At this point I start to notice that my phone has less battery left than I would like it to have and I start worrying about how the hell I am going to find my way back in Kathmandu without it. Especially since it is sending me through all kinds of alleys and roads that seem to make no sense at all. However, I decide to follow it anyway. Ten minutes in, it sends me up to a road that is blocked.. Construction work.. I cannot go further. At this point I start to panic a bit. What if my phone dies and I have to take other roads? Well I can always take a taxi I guess?
And then it happens. Suddenly my phone goes from 29% to dying. What!? I am in the middle of nowhere, this cannot be true! I feel myself getting a bit sweaty, looking around where I actually am at and realizing that I have actually no clue. The people around me also seem to think it is quite weird that I am walking there and every taxi passing me asks me whether I need a ride (oké that is not so strange). Before panicking I decide to do the only I thing I really can do, I keep walking. While I do so I come to realize I can reset my phone as a last attempt, hoping there is some battery left. And so I do so. For a few seconds, it does not seem to come back to life. But then it happens, it is working again! As soon as I can I open maps.me and memorize how I can create my way back by taking as little turns as possible..
Fortunately for me, this was unnecessary and my phone sticks with me through the end. After a day of walking through the dusty Kathmandu I am glad to be back at the hostel. Whereas in the Netherlands 20 kilometers would be a nice walk, here it seemed to have taken me the whole day. I feel the pollution has gotten through to my teeth, lungs and hair. Unfortunately, this feeling will not leave until I got to Pokhara. However, despite that, I am satisfied. Another impressing day has come to an end. An enjoyable day, a day which has made me realize where I truly am and how blessed I am to be here…
Note: out of respect I decided not to include any pictures of the Pashupatinath temple.