We were told about Pashnupatinath well before we boarded our plane for Kathmandu. A good friend sent us a long list of everything that we needed to see in Kathmandu. We only had two days to explore, but he told us not to worry. We would be able to see quite a bit. The list included names of temples I could not pronounces, stories of living goddess in young girls, funeral rituals, and monkeys. Had I not been reading something from someone I actually knew, I might have mistaken the email for some kind of Grimm fairytale. It all sounded magical, mystical, and mysterious.
Pashnupatinath was at the top of the list. For some reason I felt drawn to this Hindu Temple in Kathmandu. We were told it was walking distance from the hotel, and since we rarely walk anywhere in Abu Dhabi, the idea of walking seemed like a good one. Smiles came easily from the locals, and I managed to keep the camera away from my face for most of the walk to the temple. Instead of looking through a view finder, I just wanted to take in everything around me – the sights, the sounds, and the occasional power line that dropped so low our walk soon turned into a game of limbo.
As we walked down a steep hill to the temple we could see smoke rising. That is how we knew we were headed in the right direction. The temples held cremation ceremonies daily, as per the Hindu religion. From what I had read and heard about, these ceremonies took place regularly and were intertwined with daily life. I had always been drawn to ceremonies that were considered macabre or mysterious, and the temple we walked towards promised to deliver both. As we got closer to the smoke, it was as if we were walking towards death. I kept thinking about what my father’s reaction would be if he were with us. I know that he would utter “Oh my” in a rather concerned tone under his breath as we walked be the homeless and less fortunate. As we walked I tried to see beyond that. I looked at the beauty that surrounded us with each step we took.
Yes, there was dust in the air on on the road. There were people begging for money and food, and children running around in torn clothing. But there were bright and beautiful colors, there were smiles, and there was an overwhelming sense of peace and calm.
Once we reached the funeral ghats, it was as if time stood still. Pyres were burning out, and ashes were blowing in the wind. Along the side of the Bagmati River, men were bringing straw for burning and marigolds for decorating.
One family had a picnic opposite the funeral pyres,
and two small children danced and played in the heavily polluted river, as if they were the only people in the world.
I felt like a voyeur – as if I was watching various elements of life move and interact in front of me.
And there was everything in between as we stepped into the lives and traditions of others and learned what peace and beauty really and truly are.