Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land

(Originally written July 27)

What a productive weekend this has been—especially today! We were out the door slightly after 6:30 this morning, and split between two taxis, we survived the trip to the Bodha Stupa, one of the largest in the world. The site is sacred to Buddhists, and is considered the center of Kathmandu’s Tibetan population. Even though we arrived quite early, there were dozens of pilgrims, worshippers, and tourists there already, and the number swelled as the sun melted the clouds.

An electric atmosphere energizes places where the air is filled with so much collective belief and faith, I think: I noticed similar things in Assisi and the Vatican. Many bare-scalped monks and nuns circumambulated the stupa—always going clockwise—in saffron and maroon robes. The air was thick with incense, pigeons, persistent chanting, and rattling prayer wheels. Shops held artifacts and amulets made from invitingly mysterious bronze, studded with turquoise, carnelian, and bone. 
For the first time since we arrived, I realized that I am truly a stranger in a strange land. The experience was akin to standing in a giant book written in an alien script and language—or liking being a big, camera-shaped inkblot in the middle of the page. 

I really need to learn more about Buddhism.

The wise eyes of the Buddha watch the city in four directions.

Pilgrims often light butter lamps for their prayers.

If you want, you can purchase prayer flags on which to write the names of your family, which are then hung from the stupa.

Ellen contemplates the stupa. The shape represents the path to enlightenment.

So many people gathered before 7:30 am.
A class of very young monks.

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