(Continuation of Guilt Over Money and Jeans)
In between the shopping experience, the family took me around Patan and we saw the Durbar Square and Krishna Mandir. This might be a good time to take a brief sidetrack and talk about mandirs or “temples” in Nepal and the unique architecture of the country.
Before the Kathmandu Valley became a sprawling metropolis, it was actually the home to three distinct kingdoms housed in three areas of the Valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, and thus there is a “Durbar Square” or palace complex in each area. The palace complexes and surrounding temples are a great example of the beautiful architecture of Nepal, which is both different from the country’s massive neighbors (India and Tibet/China), while also incorporates elements from each.
I’m not an expert in temple structures, but even a novice can notice the difference between certain geographical temples. For instance, South Indian temples are known for their tall almost pyramid type structure and their ornate outer decorations, while in north India, many temples have a bit less ornate beehive type style. North Indian style temples can be found in Nepal, such as the Krishna Mandir, but more often than not, one would find Nepali styled temples which have a more East Asian pagoda look to them, often made of brick or wood. Nepali temple and palace structures also have intricate wooden windows occasionally with lattice work across the frame, and one can buy replicas of these in various sizes as souvenirs in the marketplace.
Things have changed a bit recently with the political issues in Nepal—due to large scale protests and pressure from the Maoists, in 2006 the king was forced to abdicate the thrown. The only Hindu kingdom in the world was suddenly officially secular. My first visit to Nepal to see P’s family was pre-2006, while it was still the “Hindu Kingdom,” and one of the stipulations of this was that non-Hindus were not allowed to enter Hindu temples. Somehow I heard about this rule before traveling to India, and confused the other people in my program during the abroad orientation when I asked a bunch of questions about whether or not we would be allowed into temples during our trip (I think others thought my questions were kind of stupid, why wouldn’t we be able to go into temples? Wasn’t that a draw for foreign tourism?). While in India I didn’t really run into instances where I couldn’t enter temples (although occasionally I would run into a sign, usually on a Jain temple, that noted menstruating women were encouraged not to enter), so I started thinking that perhaps I had heard wrong about Nepal. But when I was in Patan, the first temple Mamu and J Phupu tried to bring me into I saw a notice posted on the wall stating, “Hindus Only.”
I told J Phupu it was okay, that I would stand outside, but she insisted. They wanted me to go inside the Krishna Mandir and see it. Despite my protest (I didn’t want to offend people or create a scene by going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to with my non-Hindu-ness), J Phupu gently pulled my hand and brought me inside. We left our shoes, passed the “Hindus Only” sign and climbed the stairs to the second story of the temple where Mamu offered coins to a surprised priest, who in turn gave us tikkas while Mamu rang the bell.
The following day P’s dad, cousin and Kakabua took me to Bhaktapur to see the Durbar Square and temples there. Kakabua was a little less inclined to break the religious rules, and when he went into a temple he explained to me that I had to wait outside. Later that day we went to Pashupatinath, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal, and one of the largest and holiest Shiva temples in the world, on the shore of the Bagmati River. Pashupatinath is also the place where Brahmins and Chetris cremate their dead. Again Kakabua went inside and I waited outside with P’s dad and cousin, walking among the many small stone Shiva linga mini temples on the opposite side of the Bagmati from the main Pashupatinath temple itself. I could see the smoke rising from a few funeral pyres across the river and thought about the fact that the smoke was coming from the flesh of recently deceased people, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I thought I would be more disturbed, and it was an odd feeling to think about, but it was also kind of natural. When Kakabua returned he stoically told me, “The only thing certain in life is that we die, and I know that this is where I will be burned.”
Meanwhile, on the subject of mandirs, I previously mentioned the Buddhist stupas, but didn’t post any pictures so I thought I would include a few since stupas are also a common site in Nepal. The two most famous stupas in Kathmandu are Swayambhunath and Boudhanath (which is depicted in my signature blog banner). Stupas, prayer flags and prayer wheels are a much more common sight in the mountains than in the valley or the Terai. Along our trek in Sargamatha National Park there were prayer wheels and mani stones in almost every village.