A day of religion in Nepal

The temples around Kathmandu are an impressive display of syncretism with the mingling of Hinduism and Buddhism. The religions share temples, gods, symbols, and festivals.

In the morning we visited Swayambhunath. The complex consists of the iconic dome-shaped Buddhist shrine or stupa and a variety of other shrines and temples.

We took the longer, winding path to the hilltop and the steep steps down. Apparently there are 365 steps, not that I counted.

Buddha statues at the base of Swayambhunath

On the way up I got sidetracked by the monkeys – it’s known as Monkey Temple for a reason. They were bathing and playing and fighting. They didn’t much care for humans but they weren’t scared of us, either.

Like just about everywhere else we visited, it dates back to ancient times. The earliest written record of the Great Stupa of Swayambhu is a 5th century stone inscription.

Although some of the structures around the dome crumbled during the earthquake, the dome and spire were unharmed. From the four sides of the spire Buddha’s eyes watch over the city.

Despite the poverty here, I haven’t seen many beggars. Honestly, I get hassled more on the streets of Wellington. Go figure.

But at the bottom of the steps was a young girl rocking an infant with one arm and holding the other out for cash. Giving money would have only condoned the behaviour, I thought.

As a journalist I like to think of myself as level-headed bordering on heartless, but that sight still bothers me. I’m not sure what I should have done.

It was a day of religion with the next stop being Pashupatinath, one of the holiest sites in the country. The Hindu temple apparently draws pilgrims from Nepal and India.

Ancient scripture has described Pashupatinath as “Lord of the entire living beings and the source of eternal bliss and peace”.

There’s no record showing when the temple was built, however it’s recorded it was rebuilt around 1120AD.

The view from Swayambhunath

Pashupatinath is generally worshiped as the deity with five faces and the Nepalese people also have a tradition of worshiping Pashupatinath as the Buddha.

The Bagmati, which flows through the area, is a sacred river. However it’s been blackened by the ashes of bodies cremated on its banks. Orange marigolds and pieces of rubbish dot its surface.

This is the site of the main burning ghats in Kathmandu.


Several bodies were burning when we arrived. One more was being prepared, the logs already stacked.

I should point out, I wasn’t invited to a funeral, it’s all carried out in public.

Sadhus, holy men recognisable by their unusual clothing and makeup, look on.

Mourners crowd the platform where their loved-one burns. One group blends into the next. Sons of the deceased stand out, wearing all white clothing.

There are 11 platforms in total along the river.

A “burner” will stoke the fire until the body is reduced to ash.

Afterwards, the platform is washed and readied for the next body.

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