Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.





Thursday, June 23, 2016

8- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website as "Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A Story of Shiva and Me", for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collis shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 8.  Kathmandu First Camp,  Swayambhu Temple, Signature of Nepal / Budha Nilakanth: Bhagavan Vishnu on Serpentine Bed / Boudha Nath Stupa, World’s Biggest Buddhist Temple / Patan-Lalitpur, Home of Fine Arts / Darbar Square and Kumarika Temple / Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple / History of Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple.


Our trip begins from Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, easiest among routes to Kailash. Our group of 40 consisted of several Americans, Canadians, British and Indians, all anxious for Shiva-experience. All participants arranged to converge on Kathmandu from wherever they may be coming from. My flight was via Indian Capital New Delhi. A short hop of 90 minutes to Kathmandu. Poonam and I decided to reach one day earlier than the day of rendezvous when rest of the group. We wanted to catch up with Kathmandu and nearby areas and compare notes with our previous visit to Nepal that we had undertaken nearly two decades ago.

 

The landlocked Himalayan country of Nepal is sandwiched between Tibet and India. Northern Nepal is high mountains, Everest included. Southern Nepal, in contrast is a huge fertile plain known as ‘Terai’ fed by Himalayan Rivers. Kathmandu is among the mountains, however, more specifically, in what is known as ‘Kathmandu-valley’. It is the fertile and populated area of mountainous Nepal.

 

Neither India, nor Nepal had any rains yet, although monsoon was well in its mid-season. Sky was bereft of clouds. Predicament for the nations, but increased my joy of looking at unfolding landscape below us through the airplane window. Little I realized, what was to follow next day. Moving images below was more or less confirming my knowledge of geography. Unlimited expanse of green fields gave way to forests and mountains and then suddenly, a large populated area, presumably Kathmandu appeared on horizon. Before long we were landing at the Tribhuvan International Airport. Fancy! ‘Tribhuvan’ translated is ‘3-mansions’, Heaven-Earth-Hell. Everything, all experiences. It was name of erstwhile king of Nepal.

 

Nepal and India historically enjoys best relationship with each other due to almost similar cultural and religious heritage and constant flow of people from both areas. Nepal has special agreements with India enabling them to use Indian sea ports for import and export. Citizens of either country do not need visa for entering the country. Of late, it is China that seems to exert more influence. However Indians still do not need visa to enter Nepal so we could emerge from the airport without much fuss. We were welcomed into a waiting tourist-coach, thankfully air-conditioned to beat the heat of rainless Nepal monsoon. Kathmandu is on the banks of river Bhagamati (river is also known as Bagmati). When we crossed the River, I could barely notice it from the bridge; it was more like a pitiable tiny brook than its original wide self that I remembered from my previous trip. Delayed monsoon had almost killed her.  Presently I felt sad to see Bhagamati in this state, but story was different when we returned from Kailash. (It had rained cats and dogs while we were far away in Tibet.) From the vantage of coach-window, we could feel the pulse of the city. Occasionally, paced at snail’s speed due to traffic, it afforded a good opportunity to watch people in the street doing their daily chores, to notice hallmark wooden structures; their small doors, more like a mini French-windows, apparently suitable for shorter framed people of Nepal and to conserve heat from escaping out during winters. The city was busy and full of tourists. Our guide, a friendly Nepali girl in modern western outfit, told us that we were in the midst of a major Shiva-veneration-Shraavana-month (Hindu month of Shraavana is supposed to be most auspicious among months for Shiva-worship. Shraavana, generally falls between July-August). There were thousands of pilgrims from interior Nepal as well as from other countries; all would converge ultimately on the world famous Pashu-Pati-Nath temple. Pilgrims from Nepal could be easily identified as most donned saffron t-shirt and were found atop their hired trucks and buses, chanting aloud “Baum-Baum”. Every Hindu knows Bhagavan Shiva as Baum-Baum Bholey Shanker. Baum sound indicating Bhagavan Shiva with his patent drum instrument.

 

In the midst of the road, we saw a fast moving taxi, its daredevil driver maneuvering through traffic of narrow streets teeming with pedestrians. To our utter shock, he actually hit a European-looking man. White man, barely escaped serious injury but was hit on his wrist by side-view mirror of the taxi, was visibly furious and we expected him to shout. However, he controlled himself, either temperate by his age (he was probably in his late fifties) or felt threatened by driver’s ruffian attitude, he meekly uttered ‘take care’ and left off as if it was nothing! Crowd too dispersed soon.

 

Coach, weaving its way through traffic, brought us on a rather wider road where traffic seemed more organized. This road led us to our hotel. We were welcomed onto the spacious reception, with a welcome drink while our bags got unloaded and reservation-cards were readied. A good, clean and restful property. A 3-storey casino building was at the right side, sharing the same compound. Behind the hotel was a large green garden where possibly a wedding reception was scheduled in the late evening. A stage was being assembled among flower-beds for the occasion. Rooms were standard European style with usual facilities. Nothing to grumble.

 

Rather than settling down in the cozy hotel room, we rushed out, just barely dropping our bags and having had a quick sip at the tea, we hit the roads once again. We wished to soak-in as much Kathmandu as possible before sun set. It was not difficult to decide on our destination. First thing you do anywhere is to visit downtown to be face to face with the ground reality of the city. Downtown Kathmandu is known as ‘Thamel’, and was as busy as ever brimming with tourists of all shapes, sizes, color and nationalities. Especially notable were far-eastern tourist who were on Buddhist-circuit and many western tourists charmed by oriental intrigue or seeking adventure among Himalayas, the ultimate thrill of high-risk mountaineering or white-water rafting. Indeed there were thousands of Indian and local tourists whose focus was Bhagavan Shiva’s Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple. Also were there several foreigners who would have come as tourist but have stayed put there living on a shoe-string budget among local Nepalese.

 

We hopped out of our taxi at some point when we were in the thick of Thamel crowd. Leisurely stroll in mind and an eye on a suitable dining place, we began walking. Both sides of the road had hundreds of souvenir shops, currency-exchange shops where all currencies were welcome, Internet shops and public-telephone shops-all geared for the foreign tourists. We had on us Indian currency, bit of Nepali currency and some USD, however we soon realized that every shopkeeper took Indian currency without even a murmur and at no time we felt need to use Nepali currency. We had to, though, take care not to use Indian notes of One-Thousand Rupees; they are banned in Nepal; but rest of the notes was not a problem. We did not carry 1000 Rupees note as we knew it well in advance, thanks to notices that were posted at Delhi airport and Kathmandu airport. Nepal’s economy is predominantly tourists driven. Income from International tourists and remittances from Nepalese working abroad are the life of this land-locked and resource-short country. From crowded area and small streets, we emerged at last onto a rather calmer road that  seemed to be a home of several European, Japanese and even Korean exclusive ‘joints’. They all apparently seemed to be doing a roaring business. Road led to King’s palace; currently emptied of its royal occupant, under rule of Mao-inspired communist party who had won last election and had changed its hitherto political system. The palace now stood converted into a museum. We took that road which straight went into the palace but could not proceed further as it was well past the closing hours of the museum. In my mind, were still fresh, scenes from my earlier trip, palace was seat of the head of the state then, exuding that special air of royalty. Not any more. Several emotions cris-crossed my mind. Mainly that, kings after kings came to power in Nepal, who could have converted this mountainous country into a great nation, but none did it. None proved to be capable enough. None had foresight nor had, I thought, a Chanakya[1], that legendary smart minister. Nevertheless now that kings is removed from scene, I am keen to know how well or worse the new government will shape Nepal. Would Hindu theocracy ever return to Nepal? I do not think so. Very first thing the newly elected government did was to pass the law that removed King from palace and purged the word ‘Hindu’ from its official status as a “Hindu Kingdom”. Now Nepal is a federal republic country and King Gnyanendra an ordinary citizen in its truest form, stripped overnight of his every royal privilege. 

 

Nepal had been a proclaimed Hindu state from the days of King Mahendra. Personally, I have always disagreed to any theocracy, be it Islamic, Christian, Jew or Hindu. They end up curtailing freedom and mould citizens into intolerant discriminatory individuals, especially Islamic, Judean, Christian or even Buddhist theocracies who profess just one singular way of worship in sharp contrast with multiple choices available to a Hindu. Freedom-freak Hinduism and freedom-destroyer theocracies are non-compatible with each other. Theocracy and Hinduism just cannot go together. In thousands of years of Hindu rulers, hardly ever any king had proclaimed his kingdom to be a Hindu theocracy. Nepal became an exception when it called them so. Although I know the limitations of theocracies, and curiously yet when Maoist-communist new government came into power in 2007 and when they declared country as a democratic secular republic doing away with “Hindu theocratic kingdom” I must admit that I did feel some loss in my heart for unknown reason. Perhaps I was harboring a secret hope that Nepal would show case the real attributes of highly elitist ‘Rama-Rajya’, style non-exploitative benevolent governance professed by Bhagavan Rama as well as most predecessors and successors of His dynasty (known as Ishwaku dynasty, a.k.a. Raghu dynasty). It is remarkable that the architecture of Hinduism simply cannot and will not be made into a state religion on the lines of Islam, Christianity or Buddhism because of the innate freedom Hinduism gives. This must make Hindus proud; I guess that Hinduism does not want people to be ‘governed’. Lawmaker King Manu has decreed several thousands years ago that, the government should have only a minimum role to play, and a minimal power, just enough for providing security to its citizens so that they can fearlessly go about their chores.

 

Hinduism by its character prevents its abuse by any, be it religious clergy or a monarch. Besides the inbuilt-safeguards that disallow theocracy, there are many other factors to Hinduism saving it from being abused. Firstly, Hinduism believes in unrestricted freedom of worship in terms of deity and method, secondly it is more about ‘duties’ than about the ‘rights’, hence in the Hindu literature there is pretty little discussion on rights, unlike other kinds of governance where almost all laws are made for ‘protection’ of ‘rights’. Be it Islamic theocracy, Christian theocracy, popular democracy, or one party communism, all laws are about ‘rights’ (of individuals, of state, of business etc) and thirdly, since Hinduism trusts people’s sense of morality and sense of responsibility it most often provides logic and guidelines than actual “must-abide-hard rules”. They considered spirit of the law as more important than its words while confronting a situation. In the corrupt and decadent (moral, social, economic, political) society that we are in, I am sure minimum-governance-governments of ‘Rama-Rajya’ are perhaps untenable. However if any time at a future date, if and when the society is blessed with a system of governance that provides for un-exploitative society, a society whose members care more for others than themselves, a government which taxes its citizen in a way a bee takes nectar from the flower (Notice the Non-exploitative give-and-take of the bee-taking nectar from flowers. While taking nectar, the bee helps pollinate the flower without damaging it one bit.), and if you were to examine the constitution of that government, it would not be too far from Manu’s code meant for governance, “the Raj-Dharma”.

 

Having walked past the Royal palace, we were once again in the busy market area; our restaurant search now became an urgent priority. There were many restaurants serving variety of foods, European, American, Japanese, Chinese, Indian or indeed Nepali. And there were also many bars and pubs. Hardly have I seen places in the world, where within, say just a few square kilometers, one can find such a wide variety of cuisines and that too, suitable for variety of pockets. Rich or poor both can find something suitable to eat.  One finds many boards atop restaurants announcing ‘Mo-Mo’ It is name of a Nepali dish that is most popular and readily available throughout Nepal, even in small villages. It is generally made from Buffalo meat; however its many variants are available, either made with chicken or vegetables. Buffalo meat is consumed by original residents of Kathmandu-valley who are known as ‘Newari’ and hence their cuisine, predominantly consisting of Buffalo-meat is known as ‘Newari-cuisine’.

 

Among all those eating houses, we spotted one on a corner of a block. It became our natural choice, love at first sight! Perhaps its sterile hospital-like plainness, well-lit interior or its newness, we do not know what captured our attention. It turned out as expected, a neat vegetarian restaurant. We chose Chhole-Bhature. An Indian dish of chick-pea curry (Chhole) served with pita-bread like item (Bhature) that resembles inflated football when deep-fried. A yoghurt based dip and mango pickle were served as accompaniment. We really enjoyed our dinner and watched the world milling past us. Well dressed men, women and children. Men generally in pants and shirts and most women in red saree, sporting red dot on the forehead as well as smear of red on the central parting of the hair.

 

There was a lot of religious fervor on the streets on account of Hindu month of Shraavan[2], which generally coincide with July-August period. Month of Shraavan is considered most auspicious among all the twelve months by the Shaivaites of the world. Kathmandu being the home of Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple (Bhagavan Shiva is known as ‘Pashu-Pati-Nath’-The God of beasts; and this temple is one of the holiest of Shiva temples, of extreme antiquity, its story dating back to Mahabharat period i.e. about 3000 BC). Naturally this city exhibited more than usual fervor during that time of the year. We saw several truckloads and buses of worshippers, either going to or coming from Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple. They were all dressed in orange T-shirts and were chanting loudly “Baum Bolo” (“Let us say, Baum”—‘Baum’ being drum sound of his mini drum and therefore an appropriate phonetic symbol of Bhagavan-Shiva). Shraavan month is auspicious because it happens to be an anniversary-month of a momentous occasion when Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Devils) got together in a rare gesture of cooperation and joint venture for a common goal. They churned the sea (Known as milky-ocean) for ‘deep-water-mining’ to extract riches hidden underwater. It was like cooperation between cold-war adversaries in modern times. As an unexpected outcome, among a lot of riches, also emerged a deadly liquid, a poison potent enough to kill every living entity on earth by its vitriolic fumes. When everyone was in deep agony with the effects of poison, they, Gods and devils, both, desperately approached Bhagavan Shiva for help. He agreed to contain its power at great personal peril, by drinking vitriol up. The poison was so deadly that His throat turned blue. This occasion earned Him a special name, “God with Blue-throat” or “Nil-Kanth”.

 

Although everyday of the Shraavan month is considered auspicious but even more so are the Mondays that fall in this month. The fact that the next day was a Monday, many more devotees had poured in from neighboring districts. It was God given providence that we just happened to be in Kathmandu at that opportune moment. However we decided to skip Monday Darshan[3], not wanting to be trampled under the crowd, we scheduled it for Tuesday, consoling our guilt with the fact that still it would be done within the month of Shraavan and that in itself is considered to have a great value. Indeed, it was like bringing home a silver medal when a golden medal was just waiting there for grabs.

 

After dinner when we returned to hotel late in the evening, it was still uncomfortably warm and sultry. With the help of lobby-staff at reception, we finalized program for the next day, engaging a tourist taxi with its Nepali driver doubling as a guide.  Having lined up next day’s activity, we reached for a shop that provided Internet and telephone service. These services if taken from the hotel room would cost a bomb as compared to the ones provided on the street just 2-minutes’ walk away. Owing to a large number of tourists, there are hundreds of such shops lining the streets of Kathmandu, in the midst of thousands of souvenir shops. We checked our emails and called home to update them on our progress. After a long day which began in the wee hours, back in Delhi, at last it was now a retiring time with a nightcap in form of coffee in Kathmandu hotel room. Once in our room, we switched on TV, said to provide several hundred national and international channels to cater to every shade of tourists. We did not miss regular serials and news on TV but oddly, none of the news channels we saw, prepared us for what was in store for the next day.  We were blissfully unaware of the impending cloud burst.

 

It was incessant rain the whole night. Cats and dogs. Was it well insulated windows that filtered out noise of storm or was it our sound-sleep, we would not know but it was still raining when we woke up in the morning and all the streets of Kathmandu were flooded, water logged to about a foot high. Even as we were getting ready for the tour of ancient historical sites, we did not know of the downpour. First indication came when we ordered our morning tea from room service, which never arrived. After having waited for about 20 minutes, I lost my patience. Someone at the other end of the telephone apologetically told me that neither kitchen staff nor kitchen supply (such as fresh milk, bread and vegetables) could arrive due to rain. He added that if I was to wait a while, he would some how arrange for our breakfast and tea. I could not believe him easily that it did rain that much because we hadn’t seen even a drop of rain this season. On the other hand we were anxious about our city tour for which we had already paid. It was a trip to historical sites around Kathmandu by a tourist cab that was to come and pick us up. I looked out of the window; the streets were really flooded with knee-deep water. Now, it was 9 am, 2 hours past the appointed time, the rain had  now subsided and some brave souls were venturing out, either with their shoes in hand or wearing knee-high rubber ‘gum’ boots. Our hope rekindled that things would settle down. And that everything is not lost yet. At long last, the cab pulled up near the entrance. We received call from the reception that our taxi had showed up. Driver-cum-tour guide greeted us and invited us to take our seats in the car. He was not apologetic for the delay, and he need not be, it was not his fault that it had rained. The funny thing was, except us in sufferance, everyone else seemed cheerful, actually ecstatic. Reason?  It was almost a draught there in Nepal and everyone; especially village folks were eagerly waiting for rain God to shower mercy on them. Water is life. We couldn’t complain, could we under the circumstances? We took our camera, water bottle and marched towards the car. We had umbrellas as well as raincoats with us but were kept somewhere so deep in the luggage that we thought it better to leave them there and borrow new umbrellas from the hotel. At the last moment we found that most of the umbrellas were already taken and only one remained, not two, for us. When we came at the hotel entrance, we found that there was still a lot of water on the road, making it appear like a small river. We requested the driver to move the car so absolutely close to the steps of the hotel that we could jump over the water into his car directly. He obliged. Finally we did start, however we were not yet happy because we could see nothing from the closed windows except rain lashing on it and the fog.

 

Swayambhu Temple, Signature of Nepal


 

Our plan was; first to visit iconic Swayambhu temple on a hillock. Why? Well, firstly, it is Nepal’s identity, the way Taj Mahal is to India. Its Stupa[4] carries that unmistakable characteristic ‘face’ which shows two eyes and a peculiarly shaped nose. Secondly, as it is situated on a hillock overlooking Kathmandu valley, we can get a good sense of location of various places from the ‘aerial view’. Plan was good but still it failed thanks to Rain, low-clouds, fog and chill. Sharing one umbrella between two, Poonam and me could have been very romantic considering the climate, but there too we failed, probably our skills at walking in unison were rusted. In fact, it became a challenge in speed-learning how to walk in unison in a way that none of us get too much wet, saving camera from moisture and ensuring that we do not miss any camera-opportunity. Romance had no choice but to take backseat. Considerate cab driver, looking at heavy rain, took us way up the hill, till he could take us. From there onward we had to go marching in unison. We bought the entrance ticket and began walking up the wide steps.  We were the only tourist there today it seemed!

 

Ideally, I would have loved to be dropped off at the very foot of the hill and make our way up, leisurely looking at various things. But we were not destined to that pleasure. Once up there, temple complex becomes visible with Hindu and Buddhist temples and a Buddhist monastery. In the first temple, adjacent to the entrance, a few devotees appeared huddled up, enjoying chanting by a file of saffron robbed monks and warmth from tens of oil-burning lamps. The center piece of the complex is a square ‘Swayambhu-Stupa’ emerging from a huge semi-spherical dome sitting atop a large terraced building. The Stupa is central to most Buddhist places of worship in India and Nepal. Hindu temple is dedicated to ‘Nepal-Devi, a form of fierce Goddess Durga. A lone devotee was offering burning incense by waving it around black stone idol. In Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, Hinduism and Buddhism are inextricably interwoven, their Gods having either same names with different attributes or different names but with same characteristics or various combinations thereof. The face of Swayambhu temple has two eyes that seemed to say that God sees (everything) and that it is we (and not Him) who have to make our destiny by proper Karma. He is simply a non-interfering witness. In between the eyes, what looks like a nose is a number ‘one’ written in Nepalese language and it is indicative of the fact that there is just one truth in the world, the God, and nothing else. The word ‘Swayambhu’ has a meaning: ‘self-created’ or ‘Created by itself’ and for believers, it can also mean ‘created by God’ therefore this temple has great significance. ‘Swayambhu’ shrine is of great antiquity. As per ancient account, at one time, the Kathmandu valley was filled with water and was a huge lake. Mountains around made a natural dam like wall. There was a miraculous Lotus in this huge lake and was radiating bright light. The story is long, but in the end, a Bodhisatva, Manjushri who came from China, destroys one of the mountains on the periphery. This rupture lets all the water of the lake to drain away. In time, when the water dries, it shows that place where the Lotus was. It was a hillock and that is where we have the Swayambhu Stupa.

 

From here we were hoping to see entire city and beyond, but today how could we? Fog, clouds and rain meant that we could barely see just part of city that was close enough. A little disappointing. We took solace in that it made us one of the few tourists who can boast of having taken aerial pictures of Nepal city, when the city was enveloped in clouds. This place is also known as ‘Monkey temple’ on account of hundreds of monkeys ‘protecting’ the temple. They are revered and respected. Rain had subdued them today; all of them were huddled under trees and parapets to escape soaking. Papa monkeys just waiting idly hoping for rain to stop while mama-monkeys were taking care of their tiny babies. No mischief on card today! It was fun to watch them; role of males and females was well defined by nature it seemed. Poonam would never agree though to let me rest.

Budha Nilakanth: Bhagavan Vishnu on Serpentine Bed


 

Next stop was ‘Budha-Nilkanth’, it is an open air place of worship where one finds one of the rare Murti (consecrated statue) of Vishnu Bhagavan reclining on the serpentine bed made by great serpent Ananta Shesh. ‘floating’ in ‘ocean’. This Murti is carved from a huge smoothly polished black granite rock. Everyone is puzzled by this rock, as this type is not found in Nepal or its vicinity. The Murti, horizontally laid, was very special and ‘must see’ in terms of intricacies of carving and the style. Really beautiful. This shrine can be visited by everyone but curiously ‘out of bounds’ for Kings of Nepal. They are cursed that if ever any king of Nepal sees (takes Darshan) of this Murti, he would die.  What an irony that the kings must endure, especially when this deity is of paramount importance and means a lot to them. However, an ancestor of current king had smartly employed artists who made identical but miniature copy of this idol. This miniature idol is kept in the palace for daily worship by the king. I do not know what communists comrades would have done to that miniature.

 

A garden is built around Budha Nilkanth murti and there is a visit fee one must pay for entering the premises. However I was a bit surprised and worried too that such an important artifact just lay in open exposed to rain, sun and vandalism. It may have survived centuries but with vagaries of this century, I do not know.

Boudha Nath Stupa, World’s Biggest Buddhist Temple


 

Third place we visited was, Boudha Nath stupa, said to be world’s biggest Buddhist temple. It was made centuries ago, but was destroyed during Mogul invasion and then was rebuilt. Now with further improvements, it is more like a tourist center with cafes, souvenir stores, multi-cuisine restaurants and nicely paved walkway around the shrine. The Stupa has top structure more or less similar to ‘Swayambhu’, complete with a hugely wide dome and a square pillar atop with two eyes. Atop the pillar, is a 13-step (to enlightenment) pyramid, which looks like a crown on the head of Buddha. Now that rain had stopped momentarily, hundreds may be a thousand pigeons were perching atop that huge dome while we taking advantage of break in the rain, walked around. Indeed, an entrance fee is to be paid for this. This is a most sought after place for foreign tourists and Tibetan exiles that were forced to flee their own country in 1959 after Chinese invasion. Today thanks to the rain, there was hardly any public and most shops, though open were empty. We were the only customers in town. Can we disappoint those hopeful shopkeepers? We bought a few articles such as a Hindu-rosary[5] consisting of 108 Rudraksh[6] beads, thought to be very auspicious for using as prayer-beads. Rudraksh beads are considered favorite ornament of Bhagavan Shiva. He wears them stringed together like a necklace. We also bought a tiny Buddhist prayer-wheel that goes round an axis and produces a pleasing bell-sound at every turn. I can visualize tourists flocking this place. I must spend one evening here. May be in next trip.

Patan-Lalitpur, Home of Fine Arts


 

Fourth place on tour-table was Patan, a neighboring town, just 8 km from Kathmandu, situated on the bank of river Bhagmati. It is an ancient city, originally built well beyond 300 B.C. Patan was once, capital of Nepal. A part of the town, known as ‘Darbar-square’; is notified by UN in 1979 as a ‘world Heritage’ and as such under their protection and upkeep. ‘Word Darbar means “court of a king” or “audience of a king”. Usually it is within a palace. However, here the word ‘Darbar’ signifies an area of town which hosts royal palaces, temples, and pavilion-style town-halls which are frequented by royals. Usually a market too exists nearby with shops belonging to traders appointed by kings for supply into palace. Being in the middle of everyday action soon enough this area becomes a town centre.

 

Patan is part of Lalit-Pur metropolitan city. True to its name, (Lalit literally means ‘fine-art’ and Lalit-Pur means ‘town of fine-art’ or ‘a place where fine-arts stays’ or ‘a place where fine-arts is alive’) this district has contributed a very large number of artists to Nepal.In Patan, they have preserved this ancient town center known as Patan-Darbar Square. Patan stands out with its beautiful wood carvings, rock carvings, temple designs, pillars and palaces rendered by the artists of Lalit-Pur from time immemorial.

 

We got off the taxi and began walking towards a square which appeared to be surrounded by many heritage style old buildings. Many other people too were there as if walking on some errands. These were not tourists, but town people who too use the same road. However tourists have to buy a ticket to walk there. We were politely stopped by a government official and shown a kiosk from where one buys tickets. There were multi-storied wooden temples and monumental pillars with Murties or statues of deities. All these were covered in fantastically intricate carvings. Wood appeared dark brown or nearly black due to aging. Carvings were beautifully painted at some places and added to its charm. Across the square is a series of ancient large wooden buildings that houses among others a Kumarika temple, a mini museum with many artifacts from surrounding area and an old palace.  Patan naturally took our maximum time as it is spread over a large area however thanks to richness of artistic abundance it left a lasting impression in our minds of master craftsmen of Lalit-Pur. In time it was reinforced as we see further of Kathmandu as the city of Wooden-Pavilions rendered by wood-artists.  

Darbar Square and Kumarika Temple


 

For the fifth and last place on agenda, we drove back to Kathmandu and were taken to downtown area where the ‘Kathmandu-Darbar-Square’ is situated. Just as in Patan, Kathmandu Darbar , a part of the ancient city, preserved almost on the same lines as Patan Darbar area. However there was one major difference. Patan Darbar streets were out of bounds for automobiles, the Kathmandu’s weren’t. Vehicles plied through Darbar Square without any concern for the historic monuments they were brushing past.

 

The original name of Kathmandu was ‘Kantipur’ but due to ‘Wooden Pavillions’ it became know as “Kashta-Mandap”. (In Sanskrit language and all its derivatives such as Nepali etc, ‘Kashta’ is Wood and ‘Mandap’ is Pavilion). During colonial era, British mispronounced it as ‘Kathmandu’ and since then the corrupted name has stuck to that city. Darbar square has temples, other ancient wooden structures and a wooden pavilion. Its “Kumarika temple” (Translated: Maiden’s Temple) is most famous where a living girl is worshipped as a live deity. A girl born at a time when the planets and stars are aligned in a specific way qualifies her to become the deity. Such coincidence rarely occurs and therefore considered divine. The girl is worshipped like a Goddess until she reaches puberty. She is returned to normal social life thereafter. Even the King of Nepal is duty bound to worship Kumarika. The social activists have however denounced this old tradition as it prevents the girl from a natural childhood and normal schooling, which ultimately leads the girl-turned-Goddess-turned-ordinary woman to be eventually left to face an uncertain future on return into society. Intrigue surrounding Kumarika worship attracts many tourists and stories around it have become popular fare in books and films.

 

We went in the temples and visited pavilions, however if I had to sum up my experience of Kathmandu Darbar Square, I could say, it appeared more attractive from outside than from inside.

 

When we returned, the rain had nearly stopped; the streets that were filled with water moments ago had become almost free of it due to its rapid rolling down the slopes. Presumably, Bhagamati River would have received first substantial installment of its water quota from Rain-God, this year. No regret if rain played spoil-sport for us because we could see happiness on the faces of Nepalese people.

 

Back in the hotel, now almost at 6 pm, when all the members of our Kailash-Manasarovar-tour group had already reached, everyone was eagerly awaiting dinner gong. It would be first opportunity for everyone of meeting with other members of the group and who would be our constant companions for next fifteen days.

 

Dinner was scheduled at 8pm. Because ours was a pilgrimage-tourism, the menu was limited to vegetarian dishes. And lo, there was a good spread of all-vegetarian dishes that won everyone’s hearts. Assortment included various curries, rice, pita-breads of different types, ice-creams and traditional Indian sweets. Dinner was our first get-together when we saw face to face all the participants of the forthcoming adventure. Everyone was excited. There were some families, some couples, some groups of friends and some individuals. None knew the other. Everyone wanted to acquaint with other. With initial hesitant, typically casual cold early conversations, everyone began their pursuit. Gradually, all new faces got names and conversations started getting warmer by the time desert was served. Before ending the evening, we were informed of the program for the next day. It was to be Pashu-Pati-Nath temple in the morning and post-lunch an all-important final briefing before the much awaited Tibet-adventure.

 

28th July was the first day; as a group of 40 pilgrims, we began our trip together. People were trying to know each other and friendships were being struck, everyone was at their best extending courtesies and greetings. Today we were to visit Pashu-Pati-Nath temple. As this was a local city trip that was to last only a few hours, we needed to carry only a water bottle and a camera, and also if felt needed, a cap, a tube of sunblock[7] and a raincoat. We took all of them and even advised our new friends to do the same; we having become wiser from our yesterday’s brush with Kathmandu monsoon. Showers kept visiting from time to time, vindicating us.

Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple


 

Pashu-Pati-Nath temple is ‘The most important’ and ‘must visit’ place, especially for those who are to embark upon Kailash-Manasarovar trip. It is natural attraction due to presence of one of the most sacred ‘pre-historic’ Shiva-Linga there. It is a stone building spread over a reasonably large plot of land on the banks of river Bhagamati. Front courtyard before the entrance of temple building is an open paved area. No structure or shop is allowed there. Our tourist coach was parked at a distance away on the public road well away from the temple campus. Just outside of the campus, on the road are lines of shops one typically finds near most temples. They sell items meant for worship such as flowers, Bilva-leaves, Bilva- fruits, flaked-sugar candies, images of Pashu-Pati-Nath, etc.

 

Due to security alert, nowadays, pilgrims are only allowed to carry bare necessities meant for worshipping into the temple and are required to leave the rest outside fearing from atheist communists or anti-Hindu elements who may bring in weapons, explosives or unholy items with a view to cause destruction, injury, death or desecration in the Hinduism’s one of the holiest shrine. Umbrellas, cameras, leather purses shoes, belts, water bottles etc are forbidden. During my last visit to this temple, there were no such restrictions and I fondly remember my carefree stroll anywhere in the temple. Leather, except that of deer or tiger is considered unholy and no temple in the world allows one to wear shoes in the temples. Thus all in all we had to deposit almost everything in a rented locker before proceeding on to the temple that is about 100 m ahead. There are many shops that sell souvenirs for tourists also rent lockers. We had on us just our garments, some cash and documents in our pockets, offerings (Bilva-Leaves and sugar-candy) in our hands, excitement in our heart and smile on our face. Auspicious month of Shraavan meant busy Shiva temples all over the world. Pashu-Pati-Nath temple can not be an exception; it too was very busy with hundreds of devotees. We still had good Darshan and felt happy. Flaked-Sugar-candy (‘Sakaria’) and Bilva-Patras (Leaves of Bilva) that we had bought from shop outside were offered to Bhagavan Pashu-Pati-Nath. After touching them to the Shiva-Linga, priest returned those to us as ‘consecrated’ meaning Prasad[8] in Indian languages. Main priests of this temple are traditionally derived from South India as per an ancient edict. (The communist-Maoist new government of Nepal wants to do away with this tradition of centuries and appoint local priests. Maoists have beaten up innocent priests in past in order to press for changes. They want to indigenize or Nepalize the religious practice and stop import)

 

Shiva-Linga of Pashu-Pati Nath is of unique design with four faces, one on each of the four sides. Therefore it is known as Chatur-Mukhi (Four-Headed) Linga. We spent a lot of time here taking ‘Darshan’ of various deities, pilgrims, decorations, carvings and various sections of the temple. In the rear flows river Bhagmati. A flight of steps can take one to the river and to the adjoining cremation ground and to the mischievous monkeys on the trees. Last time around, at that very place, many years back, monkeys had snatched away packet of Prasad from unsuspecting me. I recalled my ashen face and jubilantly running that lone monkey, but now I was wiser. Monkeys did not have any chance; Prasad was safely in my pocket.

 

Having fully satisfied with the Darshan, in the end, I was searching for the office of the temple where we can chat with officers to get to know the temple better and also to make some donations on behalf of our several friends and relatives who had entrusted us with their offerings (money) that they had saved for this purpose. The office was nowhere to be found in the temple, however when enquired with a security officer at, I was guided outside the temple. Office was just outside the entrance gate. Here a lone officer, presumably a cashier, was present and was busily preparing donation-receipts for tourists like me who would like to receive an official receipt for the donation made. Most pilgrims just drop their contribution into drop boxes kept in the temple for the purpose, because they do not need receipts. I generally prefer to receive receipts. However today, that meant a very long wait. I mean really long. A person before me too had a long list of absentee donors, on whose behalf he was donating there. When it was my turn, the receipt book got exhausted and I had to wait for a new one to arrive from their stationary store. After not-so-patiently-waiting nearly half an hour, the new receipt-book arrived letting me complete my task. I did not appreciate administrative inefficiency and made it known to them.

 

I was late. I delayed departure of the coach. Everyone had long since returned to bus after claiming their belongings from the lockers; we were the only ones who had not. I felt embarrassed when search parties came to get us back.

History of Pashu-Pati-Nath Temple


 

Pashu-Pati-Nath is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and its roots are described in the “Skanda-Purana”, an ancient Hindu text that is related to the history of Bhagavan Shiva’s elder son, Skanda, the commander of God’s army. In it, a full section known as “Himavat-Khanda” describes the ice-covered Himalayan region, wherein chapter, “Nepal-Mahatmya”, is devoted to the ‘Importance of Nepal’. According to this text Bhagavan Shiva came here from Mount Kailash and began living in the Kathmandu Valley and became known as “protector of animals” (Pashu-Pati). Bhagavan Vishnu Himself then had established Pashu-Pati-Nath temple. This made it one of the most sacred sites. As time went by, the temple came to be buried by the forces of nature and was forgotten. Apparently a cow-herder noticed that milk oozed out of the udders of his cows, when it passed above a mound that was on the bank of the river Bhagamati. It is said that when the cow herders dug around the spot, they found the lost temple and the Shiva-Linga. They restored the temple and began worshipping it devotedly. Subsequently it was rebuilt by Supus-Padava a king of Lichchhavi dynasty. This was deciphered from the inscription found on a broken pillar in the courtyard of Pashu-Pati-Nath and dates back to 459 AD.

 

During Islamic incursions, Sultan Shamsuddin, who marched from Bengal, destroyed the temple, robbed its Gold in 1349 A.D. and broke the Shiva-Linga. A few years later Shiva-Linga was reinstalled by the prime minister in the court of Nepal king Arjun Deva. Since then the temple stands there in its current, grand form.

 

As soon as we reached our hotel, we made bee line for Lunch as the important most briefing for the tour ahead was to commence thereafter in the afternoon. Everyone of us were eager to learn about the trip; the cold, the heat, the wind, the temperatures, the hazards, the precautions, the ‘must carry’ things, the medicines, the emergencies, the accommodations, the heights, the altitude sickness etc. Our group leader, Gautam, who seemed well experienced despite his young look, made a nice presentation and satisfied everyone’s queries by with suitable answers. No wonder, he had all the answers, he was veteran of many tours to Kailash. That he was a friendly and by nature a helpful person, made all of us to seek his assistance and guidance without any hesitation, not only during the briefing but throughout the tour.

 

At the end of the briefing, all participants were provided a collapsible soft duffel bag to put all our belongings in and a backpack for things that one needs while on move. Also those of us who preferred to change their money into Chinese currency ‘Yuans’ were helped into doing that. Critical part seemed our passports, which were in the possession of Gautam and for some reason he seemed to avoid returning them to us.  It became an issue about which a lot of miffed grumbling began. Indians too were concerned but were a few shades less restless than others from the overseas group. Probably Indians were at ease because they do not need visas to go in or out of Nepal. As per the terms of contract, the tour company was responsible to obtain Chinese visa for our travel into Tibet where Kailash and Manasarovar are situated. The tour fees included Visa charges and processing fees. During briefing many enquired about the fate of their passports. Especially the Canadians, Americans, British and NRI[9] pilgrims were more concerned. Passport meant a lot to them; its loss can spell more severe consequences as compared to what it could to other pilgrims. However, later next day when we arrived at Tibet border we realized why Gutam had avoided returning passports to us. All Passports were pre-arranged in the order as required by Chinese immigration officers to correspond with the list they receive from their New Delhi based embassy. Once Tibet border was crossed, passports were handed over to the owners.

 

Next day was to be the D-day, but our hectic activities began from the moment briefing was over. Everyone was busy in their rooms, arranging their stuff in the new bags that were just provided by the tour company. Emptied bags or any bag other than the given two bags had to be left behind, as left-luggage in care of the hotel, to be reclaimed upon return. Logistics and space constraints do not permit taking our routine bags up there into high Himalayas. Outside, it was still raining on and off, adding to added risk factor of water-logging en-route or deadly landslides and mudslides driving at the edge of mountain slopes.

 

On the day of departure everyone in the group was exuberant, filled with schoolboy-excitement and were in the hotel lobby at sharp 7 am as asked to the previous night. Perhaps the tour organizers were unprepared for the time-discipline that we demonstrated; our group-leader, arrived after a good 60 minutes. Indeed rest of the crew consisting of four Sherpas[10] was already at hand helping with our incessant queries. This time of one hour was hard to spend. Some finished their unfinished Yoga, some their jogging, some spent time filling their water bags, some in praying but most in the animated chit chatting and rest in speculating as to when would the group-leader arrive and what kept him. Duffel-bags lay neatly arranged on the floor in front of the vast reception counter, Haversacks, water bottles, thermos flasks, woolens, rain-coats and overcoats were variously kept, either on shoulders, hands and floor, awaiting arrival of the buses that would take us to the Nepal-Tibet Border. Two buses entered hotel campus and stopped in parking slot a few meters from the portico. The mob, now, highly animated seeing the buses, rushed there. Although excited, none misbehaved, offered courtesies to other members of the group and ascended on the bus in a fairly decent manner. After all the courtesies, what was left in our fate were last seats on the last bench, so designed, with just enough head-space that would provide safety to your skulls, if and only if you were to travel on a silky-smooth road. No guarantees if pot-hole or hump is encountered better fend for you against any vertical undulation.

 

Sherpas had started to load our Duffel bags and other necessities such as tents, gas cylinders, etc on the bus-roof, in the luggage-holds that were behind as well as underneath the bus. It had rained rather heavily the previous night and the sky still had some vestigial clouds that promised some more rain during the day. In any case, it was important to cover the roof-top bags with water-proof tarpaulin sheets for protection against rain as no one could guarantee climate in mountains of Himalaya. While all these were happening in and around the bus, the Group-leader did arrive.

 

We seemed very fortunate as Nepali Sherpas who formed our contingent were exceptionally good. One of them, their leader, was a veteran of Mount Everest. And he happened to share our SUV in Tibet for the entire duration of the trip. He knew all about altitude sickness and did actually administer Oxygen to one of our co-tourists who fell severely ill. Despite his distinguished Everest credentials and numerous visits to Europe, he was unassuming, even to a fault; ever helpful and unmindful of some callous comment by some members of the trip. There was one more remarkable Sherpa who was small built but was very high on courage. He risked his life to save us when our camp was on fire during Kailash Parikrama. Rest of the Sherpas too were outstandingly helpful.

 

Indian army has thousands of Gorakha soldiers. Gorkhas also form a very important part of British Army. Even though the colonial era has ended, UK has maintained Gorakha soldiers. Their bravery and faithfulness is exemplary. The reason lies in the fact that they are Shakt worshippers of Goddess Durga and her incarnations. They venerate and worship courage, bravery and physical strength. Goddess Durga is a form of Mata-Parvati-in-rage against demons. Thousands of years ago, Gorakhas became followers of Goraksh-Nath, who was a great worshipper of Mata Parvati in her fierce form and Bhagavan Shiva. Nepalese got their name as “Gorakha” from their inspirer.

 

In Nepal, the names of Shakti-Goddesses and Shakti-Gods are common and very widely prevalent - almost every where, as names of people, as names of shops, as names of areas etc. To give a few instances, check following names, considered as much too aggressive elsewhere in the world, ‘Chandi’, ‘Ugra-Chandi’, ‘Bhairav’, ‘Kaal-Bhairav’, ‘Durga’, Nav-Durga’, ‘Dakshin-Kaali’, ‘Chanda-Devi’, ‘Shonit-Pur’, ‘Gorakh-Kaali’, ‘Maha-Rudra’, ‘Rakta-Kaali’, Kankaal-Kaali’, ‘Jwalamukhi’, ‘Maha-kaal’, ‘Kaali-Vijay’, etcetera. These words variously mean as or have direct connotation with blood, death, anger, rage, volcano, victory, skeleton, terrible, destroyer, nemesis etc.

 

To Gorkhas, their Hindu faith gives them a very tolerant, ‘accept all’ attitude and the Shakt-worship inculcates valor and discipline.

 

As a part of Shakt worship, animal sacrifices are common among Gorkhas. On festive occasion such as 8th day of Nava-Raatri festival, they conduct ritual sacrifice of animals such as buffaloes, goats, chicken, pigeon etc.

 

During Dashain[11] festival of 2009, Nepal celebrated, what is dubbed by press as, ‘slaughtering festival’ in which 200,000 animals were sacrificed to Goddess ‘Godhimai’[12] at a town of Bariyarpur. (Somewhat akin to what is done every year during Haj period in Saudi Arabia and general sacrifices done on the Bakri-Eid day by Muslims all over the world, but with different slaughtering technique. Gorkhas slaughter their animals in one powerful stroke of the blade that severs head from the body, the Islam prescribes ‘Halal’ method in which animal’s head is never allowed to be severed from body in one stroke. For religious approval, throat is slit partially in one stroke and then butcher must wait for the next stroke until most of the blood has gushed out from jugular vein. When there are many animals to slaughter, to save time, the butcher will slit throats of all the animals one after another, letting them to bleed. By the time the last throat is slit, the first animal may have already bled fully and then he gets busy with application of second strokes on throat-slit animals, one by one finally severing heads from bodies).

 

Vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debates, ideas of ‘nonviolence’ and concepts of kindness versus cruelty have confused many. There are many critics of ritual sacrifice of animals whether done by one stroke of knife or more. As for me, although I am no expert on it, I know that one needs to be a serious practitioner of Shakt worship before endorsing or opposing animal sacrifices. Shakt-worship and Goraksh-Nath worship is popular In India, however, but for a few places such as in Bengal and Assam, the animal sacrifice is not common amongst rest of the Hindus of India, who had replaced animals by coconuts and other fruits a couple of thousand years ago under guidance of ancient sages from most sacrifice-ceremonies. Killing animals for food or worship is a gruesome spectacle indeed, however if it found to have certain ‘value’ in the process of Shakt-worship, it would not surprise me.

 

When we left our hotel, hardly we had any idea as to what are we heading into. We did not know that for next ten days there is not going to be any piped water, electric power, bath or a descent lavatory. That we are going to be in the midst of nothing and nowhere to hide.

 

Our Buses rolled out of the Hotel once everyone was in their seats and heads counted. Everyone onboard began singing prayers in all earnestness to Shankar[13] Bhagavan and to Ganapati[14] Bhagavan, some loudly and others silently as we were passing street after streets of sleeping Kathmandu. .We 40, our 4 Sherpas and 1 group leader, made our troupe, a 45-strong; split between two buses. Our next night halt was to be deep in Himalayas in the Tibetan town of Nyalam.

 

It was hard to know when we left Kathmandu behind and entered the next town and then the next; because of densely packed towns in the valley, the borders between them are blurred, fusing into each other. As bus moved further north, towns became thinner, gaps between them wider and then towns became small villages. Serpentine road had mountains on one side and was ravine on the other side. We stopped at a roadside restaurant for morning breakfast. Everyone was provided a pre-packed box with wholesome breakfast. Name of the restaurant was ‘Sagar-Matha’, translated, it means ‘high as (king) Sagar’; it is the Nepalese name of Mount Everest. King Sagar was a great king of ancient times whose great great-grand son Bhagirathi convinced heaven-river Ganga to come down to earth for liberating souls of his ancestors. It is a long story of struggle, of dedication and above all of reverence and duty towards our worthy ancestors, parents, grand parents and great-great grand parents. Bhagavan Shiva cooperated with king Bhagirathi in his exemplary mission. It was feared that mother earth might split up on impact from descending River Ganga from ‘heaven’. Bhagavan Shiva agreed to receive Her on His matted head to lessen the impact on mother earth. This is how River Ganga came to be on earth. Because  it was only after a most arduous and long effort that king Bhagirath accomplished his objective, in Indian languages, the word Bhagirath is used as an adjective to mean ‘extreme hard effort’.

 




[1] Chanakya was a fabled advisor to Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya of  Maurya Dynasty.
Time under Gupta Dynasty is known as ‘Golden Age of India’. Emperor Ashok
the great was from Maurya Dynasty. Chanakya has formulated codes of conduct,  laws of economics and laws of governance for Kings and administrators to follow. Essentially, it was Chanakya who did not allow ‘world-conqueror’ Alexander to succeed in his designs on India.
[2] Shravan was a very dutiful son.  In his honor month is known as  Shaavan
[3] Darshan  is an Indian  word that means ‘to see’, but is generally applied in relation
to God; it means ‘Glimpse of Divine’ or ‘sighting of God’
[4] A fat-tower like masonry structure usually made from bricks or stones.
[5] Known in Indian languages as ‘Mala’ and has 108 identical beads made from any type of beads, however the ones made with Rudraksh seeds or pieces of Tulasi stem are considered more auspicious.
[6] Rudraksh is a seed of Rudraksh fruit that grows on huge Rudraksh tree. It is said
to have medicinal and spiritual properties. Most Hindus consider these beads as
auspicious. However due to its demand, it is sold at high price. The price is higher
for the smaller beads and lesser for the bigger beads. Even among the beads, there
are many varieties differentiated by the number of lines on its surface.
[7] Body lotion, cream to block sunrays from harming the skin
[8] Prasad is something that we offer to God and then take home from there a
small portion. Usually it is some fruit, sugar candy or sweet, but it can be anything including flower, leaf, water etc.
[9] NRI is an abbreviation of Non-Resident-Indian. They are global Indians who possess Indians passports but live outside India.
[10] Sherpas are Nepali Gorkhas who are sturdy built and who work as guides and porters on the mountains
[11] Dashain festival falls on 15th of Hindu month of ‘Kartik’, and is celebrated every 5th year,
[12] Considered a form of Goddess Durga
[13] Shankar is another name for Shiva
[14] Ganapati is another name for Ganesh, son of Bhagavan Shiva and is famed as God that removes hurdles from the way. Hence devout Hindus begin any enterprise only after praying to Him

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