A Trip Down South

We’re back! It was an intense trip that included meeting lots of new people, a visit to the birthplace of the Buddha, and a trip to the emergency room, but we all made it back in one piece.

We left Kathmandu on Sunday and arrived at about 5pm in Bhuttwal, a little city an hour’s drive from Lumbini. We stayed there with some friends of my father-in-law. Much of their family was gathered there for Tihar, and we brought along 9 people (including me, Tri, Tri’s brother and dad and a number of family friends). All together, including the staff in the house, we were 33 people. Although it was, at times, a little overwhelming, I loved it. There was always something to do, people to talk to, food to eat. I had never met these people before this week, but now they feel like family.

On Monday morning, we set out for Palpa, a hill station about an hour and a half out of Bhuttwal. It was a bit crazy getting out of the house because there were so many of us, but we finally made it for a picnic lunch.

On Tuesday, 10 of us went over to Lumbini to see the temples. Lumbini is in the Terai (the planes of Nepal), only about half an hour from the Indian border. Before coming to Nepal in 2009, I visited Delhi and Agra, and Lumbini really reminded me of what I saw there. In India, the land was flat and dry and the weather hot, very much like Lumbini. The people also looked more like the Indians I met in Agra and Delhi than the Nepalis I know in Kathmandu. Lumbini is a cluster of beautiful temples right in the middle of a vast expanse of farmland. Different countries have donated money to build temples to the Lord Buddha, many of them replicates of Budhhist temples from those places. Here’s the Thai one…

The Cambodian one was under construction, so we couldn’t go inside, but you can see the top of it here…

The German, supposedly one of the most elaborate ones, is built in a Nepali style. I love the ceiling…

Going to see the Buddha’s actual birthplace was the best. There are ruins in the middle of Lumbini supposedly from Siddhartha Gautam’s family palace. They also have the stone on which Siddhartha’s foot was imprinted after he was born. Of course I was a bit skeptical about the lumpy imprint on that stone being from the baby Buddha’s foot, but I didn’t mind extending my imagination a bit 🙂 There were tourists from all over, including a number of pilgrims from South India. You can see the ruins on the grass. The people in white are the pilgrims…

I started re-rereading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse when we were down there, a book I remember loving in high school. It’s a little slow but a good story. I can’t give a proper review of it because I haven’t read it in so long, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in religion in this area.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection between Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal, partly because of one of Barani’s comment on this post about Buddhism having only a small influence in Nepal. Thulobaa (Tri’s uncle; literally means “big dad”) came with us on the trip down to Bhuttwal, and I asked him if there were any Buddhists in his family. Although I don’t think he would call himself a Buddhist, he said that he and many other Hindus practice Buddhism because they consider the Buddha to be a god. Similarly, there are a number of people in Nepal who would call themselves Buddhists but celebrate Hindu holidays. The fact that the Buddha can be worshiped and loved in what was once considered the only Hindu Kingdom on earth is only one example of the tolerance for diversity and difference that I see so often in Nepal.

Anyway, I’ll add some more photos to the photo page, and I’ll post a little about what we did for Tihar, in particular Laxmi Puja, soon.

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A Visit to Namo Buddha

On Monday, Tri and I went to Namo Buddha, home to the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery. One of the reincarnations of the Buddha is supposed to have given his life to save a starving tiger and her cubs at Namo Buddha. We left bright and early at 5:30am on Monday morning with our friends, and it took about an hour to get to the area where we started hiking. First we worked our way up the “thousand steps” to Kali Temple. We were literally in the clouds when we reached the top.

After stopping for chiya (tea), we hiked further up to the monastery, which took about two hours. Here is a picture of the last part of the path, draped in prayer flags

The view of the clouds, valleys and hills was stunning. The building with the gold roof is the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery

Many of monks were Tibetan, and there was quite a bit of Tibetan script on the walls around the temple. However, I also saw some Newari script (Ranjana). Newari is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley.

After hiking up, we were pretty tired, so we decided to take the bus back down. A local told us to walk half an hour down the mountain to catch a 2:30 bus that would take us to another stop where we could finally find a bus going to Kathmandu. On the way to the bus stop, we passed through Tri’s grandparents’ village. Although Tri’s dad was born in Kathmandu, his parents emigrated from Sanku, a village close to Namo Budhha. We walked the roads they walked, saw the fields that they saw every day. While living in the US, I rarely had a chance to connect with Tri’s past, but I’m excited to start learning more about his family.

We loved Namo Buddha, and we’re hoping to go back, maybe when my parents come to visit…