Nepal is a culturally rich nation, and at the heart of their culture is religion. In the valley of Kathmandu, one can find elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism almost everywhere. We visited a few of the well-known religious sites in the Valley and learned so much about the Nepali people, their worldview, and culture.
First stop, Patan Durbar Square, one of the three Durbar Squares in the city, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Patan Durbar Square is a collection of temples in “town square” type environment. A little bit of everything can be found here, from restaurants & shops, idol merchants, water spouts, and of course, temples & palaces. The most famous of these is the Kumari Palace, which is the home of the current “kumari” or living goddess.
This tradition of worshiping young pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy is still prevalent in Hindu religious traditions. A Kumari is believed to be the incarnation of the goddess Taleju (the Nepalese name for Durga) until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. The selection process of the Kumari every few years is pretty controversial. Read more here.
Next, we visited the Boudhanath, a Buddhist stupa in the northern part of the Valley. It is a recognizable with the golden peak featuring the eyes of the Buddha atop a large white dome, surrounded by hundreds of prayer flags. For centuries, Boudhanath has been an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists & local Nepalis. As a daily ritual, many people walk three or more times around the stupa while repeating the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ either quietly or aloud. Many restaurants & shops surround the stupa, and many provide a rooftop view of the stupa.
Finally, we stopped by the Pashupatinath Temple , one of the most significant Shiva Hindu temples in the world. It’s also the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, dating back to 400 A.D. There are many complex theories on how the temple came to be. Perhaps the temple is most known for it’s public cremation ceremonies on the riverbank. Also, many Sadhu’s, holy Hindu men, can be spotted in and around this temple.
So that’s a glimpse into our religious journey around Kathmandu. I really love learning about cultures & cities as I travel. Why is this place important? What makes it culturally significant? How do the locals view this place? Anyone can blindly do tourism, but if we can learn about and learn from the places we go, how much richer will our travel experiences become?