We rise early to rambled along the gently awakening streets of Kathmandu towards the impressive Swayambhunath Temple (a.k.a Monkey Temple). The relentless harangue of retail hawkers flogging their wares on foreign visitors is blissfully absent. Street sweepers clear all forms of debris from the shallow gutters while garbage sorters pick through rubbish sorting out the organic matter. In a dimly lit cupboard-sized shop a man was diligently bent over an immobile chicken that he is aggressively plucking. Across the street a butcher chops huge pieces of meat on an old wooden table scarred by the biting blade of his trade. Already the washer ladies have hung a line of brightly coloured towels that looks like a party streamer in the washing square. At the top of a small rise we catch our first glimpse of Swayambhunath, perch high above the river, just visible in the rising mist from the river. Trudging on down the road we cross the river and make our way up a twisted staircase to the road that leads to the temple. The busy morning activity along the street of children preparing for school, girls brushing their teeth and ladies carefully laying out their vegetables, is starkly contrasted with the numerous mangy mongrels lounging in the dirt, curled against the curb or blissfully asleep hidden in the brush.
Suddenly looming ahead, a stone staircase, guarded on both sides by gleaming golden Buddhas, winds up into trees that are draped with endless intertwining strings of prayer flags. We swing to the left and walk clockwise around the base mound of the temple where hundreds of prayer wheels require our attention. Countless well rested monkeys bounce and swing along in search of breakfast. We climb the stairs to the top and discreetly watch the rituals at the top. Prayer wheels and small temples encircle the stuppa, with its all-seeing Buddha eyes. The atmosphere is quiet and calm. We make our way down the 365 steps amid a riot of colourful saris. As we descend the we sense the chaos of the day ahead.
Following a hearty breakfast we set out again packed into two taxis to visit Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu Temple and gnat for funerals and open air cremations. Body’s are swaddled in yellow fabric and laid out on a sloped surface so their feet are immersed in the Bagmati River. The ritual cleansing with water that flows into the Ganges River helps to purify and ensure a smooth passage of reincarnation. The cremation fires are started and tended by family members. Climbing up from the river there are many small temples frequently adorned with elaborately decorated yogis who allow photos to be taken…for a price. Continuing over the top of the hill we descend and continue on for nearly a half hour until we reach the impressive Buddhist stuppa at Bodnath. The massive all seeing Buddha eyes stare out unblinking in all four directions of the compass.
A speedy ride back to the Guest House gives us just enough time to clean up. We enjoy a beer in the garden with our trek host and head out for dinner. All are fast asleep except Anda and Barry who welcome Liesha, Nynke, Tanya and Jamie when they finally show up just after midnight, six hours after their expected arrival time.