Kathmandu Eyes

The 5 AM wakeup bell at Dilgo Khentse Monastery 30 yards outside my window at Dragon Guest House is as beautiful as it is persistent. Even if I could sleep thru it, the dogs and crows and general hubbub of Kathmandu starting at that time would surely awaken me. I roll out of bed and grab a shower - cold usually, tho sometimes there is warm water left over from the previous day's solar energy. It's not bad since it's already warm outside. Today's high will be in the low 80's with 90%+ humidity - much nicer than most of the USA these days. I do my yoga and debate whether to do my sit ups. Of course, I usually do them because it's probably the only cardio-vascular exercise I'll get all day.

I stroll out of the Guest House and head down the road, saying "Hi" and waving to the kid whose family owns the shop next door. I follow the road around the monastery, past a rice field and the dog with the crooked leg. Beyond the monastery, the road turns into a mud and brick lane. I go past the shops where they are hammering brass into teapots and prayer wheels, then go alongside another rice field. The fields are shimmering green at this time because of all the rain - it rains every afternoon and some mornings. It poured monsoon bucket loads in the middle of the night last night. There are lines of prayer flags strung between the houses in this part of town. As in most of Kathmandu, the buildings are all rectangular boxes with flat roofs. The predominate color scheme is red brick and yellow.

The lane makes a turn and there are more people, more dogs, stalls set up selling vegies etc, and a sacred cow or two. I now dodge not only mud puddles, but bicycles, motorcycles and a lot more people. The smell of juniper incense starts to fill the air. Seven minutes walking brings me to the main square in Boudhanath and the Great Stupa - the one with the Kathmandu Eyes that you see in all the picture books and postcards. I join the throng circumambulating the stupa. The crowd is older and more female than the usual populace - just like most spiritual gatherings outside of Muslim areas. There are lots of older Tibetan women in traditional dress. There are younger Tibetan women mostly in traditional dress. There are a few Tibetan monks - most are in their monasteries at this time doing their morning chanting. There are Nepali women in traditional dress. There are young girls, both Tibetan and Nepali, in smart Western clothing or traditional dress. And there are men, mostly in some form of Western clothing, ranging from ragged to modern. We head clockwise past beggars and dogs and large incense burners and butter lamp stalls. On the right, surrounding the stupa, is a 7 foot high wall full of prayer wheels plus the occasional shrine. I recognize some of the people from before - the old woman using a kid's ski pole as a walking stick, the woman with the neatly folded red cloth on her head, the guys doing full length prostrations around the stupa. Since these people are always here every morning, it's easy to imagine they are always here - these guys doing prostrations all day and night in my mind.

I take a turn or two or three before going up on the stupa. The entryway is a scene - a narrow doorway leading to a small enclosure with dozens of people inside - some coming and going like me, some sitting, some ringing the bells, some spinning the prayer wheels, some lighting incense. I climb the first set of stairs and step out of the crowd onto the lower level. There are a few people around the large incense burner on this level. a few people doing prostrations, a few sitting, but a much less crowded and hectic scene. I can actually hear the noise now instead of being immersed in it. There are the usual barking dogs and cawing crows. There's the ringing of the bells as the big prayer wheels spin and the other bells being rung by the faithful to awaken the protective forces. There's the mummer of the crowd below as they talk or mutter their mantras. A Tibetan horn sounds. A motorcycle enters the square and slowly proceeds against the flow of the circumabulators. I hear a low drone in the distance - Tibetan chanting? - naw, it just a prop plane taxiing at the airport.

On the eastern side of the stupa, inside the surrounding wall, a dozen people are doing full length prostrations. On the south side, where I'm now at the level of the second floor windows, I get a good view of the main entrance to the square, with all its commotion. There's a golden roofed monastery on the western edge of the square. From this vantage point on the stupa, I can see 3 other golden roofed monasteries including Dilgo Khentse's again. And back to the north side, I look down on all the activity at the entrance to the stupa.

I go up higher. Sometimes I take a turn around the next level, but it slopes more than the other levels and I have to be careful not to slip on all the grain that people have thrown to the pigeons. There's hordes of pigeons - when they fly over me, I feel a strong rush of air. The Tibetan believe that monks who don't practice well, get reincarnated as dogs - plenty of them hanging out at the stupa. Wonder who these pigeons were last time?

I go up to the top level, at the base of the dome. I'm now at rooftop level. I look out on Kathmandu and the surrounding hills. This is the best place to see the Himalayas - if they could be seen. The monsoon clouds cover even the tops of the Kathmandu hills. Wait, what's that? Yes! The summit of a 25000' high peak peeks thru the clouds.

Back down, down, down the steps. Maybe I take another turn around the stupa with the crowd, maybe not. Back up the lane, past the shops and dogs and rice fields and sacred cows. At Dragon Guest House, I grab my raincoat plus whatever else I want at work that day. I go up the road two doors to the house with the French kissing dragons in the balcony walls. The second floor is where Tony, his wife and her sister, and several monks live and work. It's 7:30 AM and now I'm ready to start my work day.

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 26 July 12