a dash of tibet in kathmandu
Perhaps the most prominent image of Kathmandu in guide books is the “All-seeing eyes of the primordial Buddha” and there are two major temples where it can be found, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath. Swayambhunath is known for its inclusion to the walking tour of cheap holiday deals from Kathmandu and aptly named Monkey Temple because of, well, the Rhesus Macaques. I don’t like monkeys, they can really be so feisty and temperamental, their moods are so unpredictable and it swings more than that of Enchanted Kingdom’s Anchors Away killing everyone around its vicinity… Oh, are we still talking about monkeys?
Everywhere you turn your head in Kathmandu, you can see the primordial eyes of Buddha, Nepalese people have a familiar affinity with these eyes, you can see them from billboards, company logos, shirts and even on those colorful delivery trucks running across the country like a huge traveling pinata. In the old Kathmandu, the eyes were painted around these temples on top of the hills. A way of saying “Be mindful of your actions” because Bette Middler is right “Someone is watching us, froooooooom a distance”
Boudhanath is less than 20 minutes away from the backpacking center in Thamel by taxi. Though, that depends on the traffic situation around the city. It will cost you around 300 Rupees and may vary depending on how the drivers will rip you off and how easy you will give-in.
This temple is also known to be the center of Tibetan populace. During the time we were there in October of 2012, we attempted getting a ride to cross the border to Lhasa, but unfortunately, it has been closed. All package tours to Tibet were all suspended. So the closest Tibetan experience we can get is to visit Boudhanath as most of the Tibetan refugees in the city converge there to worship, do business or just simply hangout and smell the burning incense.
To quote one blogger: “This is a souvenir shop, you can buy souvenirs here”
Upon entering the complex, you will have to pay an entrance fee. We would surely pass as locals and just walk straight but of course, being the responsible travelers that we are (Naks!), we paid the minimal 180 Rupees for the conservation of the site. The gatekeeper appreciated our honesty and told us he really thought we were worshipers, we felt good about what we did and walked towards the pastel colored shop houses, until a scent from afar knocked our mental consciousness to a dreamy state. We uttered in unison:
“That’s burning weed”
So we followed where the fume was emanating, and discovered that it was in fact burning Juniper shrubs for temple offering.
The tibetans and Nepalis may look the same for us foreigns, but to give you a hint on how to identify the difference just look at us, I look more of a typical Newar and Monette looks like a common Tibetan. Nepal and Tibet are countries sandwiched by two distinct races, Indians down south and Chinese up north. Tibetans has a prominence of Chinese facial features while Nepalis are more northern Indians. What is the point of this comparative delineation? I don’t know either!
The Tibetans started fleeing their country in the 50’s due to the uprising in Lhasa. Being hospitable by nature, the Nepalis offered a welcoming arm and the government gave a treaty for the refugee rights. The 30,000 Tibetans across the country established a strong community and their culture is more embedded in Nepal more than ever. You can see the thumb marks of their culture everywhere, from clothing, food, art pieces and perhaps my favorite is their Tongba, known as the hot beer.
The manager of Hotel Encounter Nepal found out that it was my birthday, so he treated us in an authentic hole-in-a-wall Tibetan restaurant in Thamel, He ordered the liquor so that I can try it. It was all for the experience and so we happily cheered and downed our mini barrels. But I must say, I liked it not because of the taste but for the novelty of it. It is an acquired craving, imagine drinking boiled Coke.