Boudhanath Stupa: Kathmandu, Nepal

In the Kathmandu Valley, along the trade route from Nepal to Tibet, lies the Boudhanath Stupa.  The stupa (Buddhist place of worship) is one of the largest in Nepal, and in fact, the world.  It is an oasis of religion; monks, prayer flags, prayer beads and mantas are set aside from the congested streets and piles of rubble that are the city Kathmandu.

Boudhanath Buddhist Stupa Kathmandu Nepal

Like most religious structures from eons ago, this one is shrouded in lore.  Legend has it that an old “poultry woman” (honestly, I have no idea what that means) asked the king for land to build a shrine to Buddha.  Mind you, this was 1,600 years ago, so the fact that legend credits this stupa to an old woman is remarkable.

Also like many religious stories from long ago, there is a component of cleverness and of the underdog coming out on top.  Upon hearing the old woman’s request, the king offered her as much land as she could cover with the hide of a buffalo (really, is this how things were measured back then?).  Naturally, the woman cut the hide into thin strips and outlined a large circumference.  Despite being tricked, the king was ok with this and now Boudhanath Stupa is a top destination for Buddhists and tourists alike.

Tibetan monks at Boudhanath Stupa kathmandu nepal

Tibetan Buddhist monks walking around the stupa

Square tower atop Boudhanath stupa kathmandu nepal

The 13 steps to the top of this tower represent a path to enlightenment

While tourists and pilgrims alike can enter the stupa, we weren’t quite prepared enough for that and did not want to appear somehow disrespectful.  Also, the door wasn’t immediately obvious.  Instead, we circled the structure, spinning the prayer wheels while keeping up with the monk “traffic.”

Spinning prayer wheel at Boudhanath Stupa kathmandu nepal

From above, the stupa looks like a mandala and is of central importance to meditation.  It’s hard to appreciate that from the ground, but we were able to climb to the first platform of the structure to get a better view of the prayer flags and the surrounding area.

Prayer flags at Boudhanath Stupa kathmandu nepal

bowls at Boudhanath Stupa kathmandu nepal

The stupa is a peaceful place and a welcome break from the rest of Kathmandu.  There are surrounding shops selling religiously inspired souvenirs that would be perfect for the hippie in your life back home (stay tuned for a post on shopping!).  At first I thought that only tourists were buying these trinkets, but most stores had a sizable monk presence inside who were inspecting the goods.  I guess they need to pick up their prayer beads and flags like the rest of us.  The monks and local Buddhists vastly outnumbered Western tourists, which also meant that we were left alone – no pushy vendors, no begging, just an enjoyable and relaxing experience.

All in all, this is one of the best experiences that we had in Kathmandu.  Do you like to visit religious sites when traveling?  I’d especially love to hear experiences with religions that are different from your own!

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One Response to “Boudhanath Stupa: Kathmandu, Nepal”

  1. Nicole
    February 29, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Peaceful is not a word I used to describe Kathmandu at any point. I’m excited that you had a reprieve from the commotion that is even just outside Boudhanath. Also, I am in love with prayer flags and photos of them.

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