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Spiritual Nepal: Part One

22nd February

What a day! We are only at the end of day 3 of our trip and already I have found myself unable to accurately describe the feelings I have experienced from the incredible people and places we have seen. I have been on my own personal spiritual journey for some time now, but this place has already helped me understand way more than I ever could have imagined.

This morning we woke to a delicious homemade breakfast made by the lovely owner of the Peacock Guest House, which was the perfect start to our day. We relaxed in the courtyard as we watched the owners work on their beautiful handmade wood work. We were move and refreshed after a great night's sleep.

As soon as we stepped out onto the street there were a couple of locals waiting for us to buy some of their goods, because we had said "maybe tomorrow" to them the day before. They remembered to come back.. Oh yes, they remembered! We were more than happy to spend some money however as we know just how much it helps them rebuild their lives.

We decided to take another walk around Bhaktapur, and as well as doing lots of shopping, we got to see some of the Newari culture firsthand. As we watched some of the locals placing flowers, food and water at one of their many shrines, we noticed what looked like blood, and at first, we thought perhaps it was powdered dye they were using (as they do use this at times-more about this later). However, as we walked further on, we saw two men carrying a dead goat, and on our way back, had another look at the shrine and saw that the goats head was placed there too. We later learned that part of the Hindu religion is animal sacrifice, and so sadly, this is what they had been doing. While it was upsetting to see, we also respected that this has been a part of their culture for a long time, and in particular, the locals in Bhaktapur are part of an ancient Newari settlement, and so their practices are very traditional. Thankfully, we were soon surprised to find a hidden Buddhist monastery down the road, which lightened our mood. This monastery was well hidden, and if we hadn't of gone off wandering, we would never have even known it was there. The monk who was cleaning out the front welcomed us to take photos and have a look around, which was lovely. There we saw young Bunga outside in the courtyard eating their lunch, which was served to them by the women. It was fascinating to watch. It felt like we were in another era.

Later in the afternoon we met up with our guide Rina, who took us on our 'Spiritual Nepal' tour. She started off by telling us that she wanted us to see and feel what Nepal is really like, so to get to our first destination, we walked for around twenty minutes through Thamel; weaving through the motorbikes, cars and rickshaws; something that is not so easily done for us as tourists, not being used to just walking in front of traffic! We walked to where the buses were (and when I say 'bus', it is not your average bus that we are used to). Because of the fuel shortage in Nepal, buses are packed with passengers to the brim, with people hanging out the sides. We squeezed onto this little bus (that honestly, I would never dream of getting on at home for fear of it falling apart), and made our way to Boudhanath Stupa.

Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world, and after the 2015 earthquake, it is slowly being repaired, however it is still an absolute wonder to see and experience. Rina told us that while 70% of the Nepali population is Hindu, the stupa is visited regularly by both the Hindu and Buddhist people. She also informed is that there is no conflict in regards to religion in Nepal, which was a beautiful thing to find out (if only the rest of the world could follow suit). Rina explained to us what people do when visiting here - it's just so much to explain myself, so I have posted a link below if you'd like more information.

We certainly picked the perfect day to visit here; being a very special occasion for the Buddhist religion. Today was the Chotrul Duchen Festival, the full moon day that marks the end of the 15 Days of Miracles. This is one of the four Buddhist festivals commemorating four events in the life of the Buddha, according to Tibetan traditions. Chotrul Duchen closely follows Losar, the Tibetan New Year. It takes place on the fifteenth day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar during the full moon, which is called Bumgyur Dawa. The first fifteen days of the year celebrate the fifteen days during which the historical Buddha Sakyamuni displayed miracle for his disciples so as to increase their devotions.

To commemorate the occasion, Tibetans make lamps, traditionally of yak butter, called butter lamps, in the shapes of flowers, trees, birds, and other auspicious symbols. All the lanterns are lit in celebration on the fifteenth day of the month. So, we each lit some butter lamps (odd numbers only), and then made our way around the stupa, spinning the hundreds of prayer wheels around the outside wall of the structure. Each prayer wheel is inscribed with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

We walked clockwise around the stupa (this is the way to do it), and people usually walk three times around it; once for the Gods and Goddesses, twice for the world, three times for yourself. Rina also explained to us, the meaning behind the prayer flags. Each colour represents an element; blue for sky, white for air, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for the land. The prayers abs mantras are then carried by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.

Once we reached halfway around the stupa, we made our way into the monastery (having a spin of the massive prayer wheel out front first). We wandered around inside, in awe of all the intricate details of the Thanga painting and golden god and goddess shrines. Upstairs were many people singing hymns and there were literally thousands of butter lamps being burned. We were simply speechless as we watched silently.

We then were invited up to meet with a local monk, who gave us both an astrology reading, and performed a mantra for us (and my children). The mantra that he recited for us was the sacred mantra of Buddha Amitabha which protects you from dangers and obstacles, and overcomes all hindrances to your success. The mantra enhances your compassionate and loving nature bringing incredible blessings. OM AMI DEWA HRIH

After a quick snack, we headed back onto another bus towards Pashupatinath Temple, which is one of the most sacred Hindu sites in Nepal. The temple is located on the Bagmati River. As we were walking towards it, we were lucky enough to meet a Holy Man (also known as Sadhu or Yogi), and we took a photo with him. We stopped and each bought an offering of marigold flowers to the Hindu Gods.

What we experienced next I cannot quite explain in words, however I will do my best. On one side of the river there were hundreds of people who had come to celebrate and worship the Gods. Music was being played and everyone was clapping along, singing and dancing. It was a beautiful feeling being there. However, directly opposite, were the cremations being held. This happens every single night. It was such a strange feeling and sight to see such complete opposite rituals occurring in the very same place. It invoked such an array of different emotions in me that I will never forget.

The Bagmati River (Holy River) runs to the Ganges in India. It used to be only royalty cremated here but now they have no King, so all people are cremated here (all religions too). Just a few hours after death people are cremated. First, they are stripped naked (same as when came into the world) and placed in the river on bamboo to cleanse and remove any sins, then brought back onto the bank to be cremated. The process takes 4-5 hours.

We discussed this at length with Rani, and something I found interesting about this was that there are three types of people who are buried instead of being cremated: a holy man, a pregnant woman, and a stillborn baby, as they are closer to spirit.

We spent quite some time here, and all the while, I felt I had to send out as much love, compassion, and positive energy as I possibly could to all who were there; in particular, those who were farewelling their loved ones.

As you can imagine, I could go on forever about today's experiences, and you can understand why today, I have very much grown on a spiritual level.

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