Boudhanath is a neighborhood of Kathmandu that is located about 10km from the center. After the nice and warm welcome of our guides, I was preparing to spend a few days alone in the city of Kathmandu and had chosen Boudha to spend those days with myself.
So after two days accompanied, I took a taxi to Boudhanath. In those moments of having to stay alone, I am always afraid, it is a moment of feeling alone in front of the world, but at the same time it is exciting, I remember telling me… ”Well, here I am, inside this taxi, with this taxi driver that I don't know at all and in this country that is all a mess. ” I looked out the window and felt at ease, with a girl's look eager to explore the world from her own gaze. I didn't have much idea of English, so it caused me some sense of insecurity.
When the taxi driver stopped, I paid him and got out of the taxi to the square where is one of the largest stupas in the world and probably one of the most beautiful. Since 1979 it is part of the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. And there I was, in front of that wonder, created again by the Buddhist spiritual beliefs, place of pilgrimage, where people from many parts of the world, from Tibet, and many other Buddhist pilgrims and tourists come to join them.
When I arrived I looked for a place that Monica had told me I had to pay to enter, I understood that it would be to enter to visit the stupa inside, but you really have to pay to enter the square, inside the stupa you cannot enter, just surround it outside and enter the part of the terraces. Further up or inside there is no access. Pilgrims walk around it, always clockwise. It is a building of perfect symmetry and proportions. Each element that forms it has a concrete meaning in all Buddhist stupas, and in Boudhanath all are perfectly represented.
Plinth : It would be the lower level of the stupa. It is square and represents the Earth. Each side would be one of the states of consciousness and the four immeasurable: joy, equanimity, compassion and love.
Kumbha : It is the great dome. It symbolizes water. Each year it is whitewashed and decorated with yellow motifs. These represent the petals of the lotus, flower linked to Buddha.
Harmika : It is on the dome and it’s a square tower that symbolizes fire. That is where the eyes of Buddha are in Boudhanath. Needle : It is a kind of pyramid about the harmika. It has 13 levels that represent the 13 phases that must be passed before reaching nirvana. Umbrella :It crowns the stupa and symbolizes the emptiness beyond space.
These places where people come to pray, where peace is breathed, and a feeling at the same time of noise, music, shops for tourists, Buddhist monks ... It is such a powerful energy that at the same time it envelops you and catches you, my feeling sometimes was also that I wanted to get out of there.
After my first round or two of the stupa, I decided to go and find my hotel, which was inside one of the many Buddhist monasteries around Boudhanath.
Shechen Monastery offers tourists a hostel right next to the monastery, which makes it possible for you to live with the monks and see how they live ... I remember that until I got to the monastery I got a little lost, I approached one of the monks and asked him if he knew the direction to go to the monastery.
Everyone had told me that it was well known and that I wouldn’t get lost if I asked. With my level of English and my accent I asked a monk. At that time he didn't know where it was, I got a little nervous and panicked a little. How could it be that a monk did not know where this Monastery was? Then I understood that it was an apprenticeship ... patience I told myself. Now I remember my reactions and I laugh at myself ... hahaha. The man as a good monk had taught me a lesson in a few minutes.
I followed the direction a woman gave me from one of the stores and continued to get lost in the streets around the stupa. In one of the streets I found two cows eating garbage, that shocked me. I kept walking and got into another street, I asked again and they didn't know where the monastery was ... So I started to trust me, to let myself go and in the end I managed to reach the entrance to Shechen.
The earthquake in Nepal in 2015 left many parts of Kathmandu damaged and the monastery had suffered great damage from this. So the entrance was quite inaccessible because they were under construction. You could enter, but always be careful not to step on a hole, or hit yourself with some iron. Well, they were under reconstruction. Maybe like me in that moment in my interior ...
Boudhanath became my home in a couple of days. I went in and out of the monastery to visit the square, I got up to go to pray with the monks. I met some lovely Spaniards with whom I still have contact. I met the volunteers there, with the other group of travellers from the Foundation ... I really loved feeling at home with such different people, with such a different culture. I was feeling happy.
MEETING WITH THE GROUP
After those days of feeling free and on my own, I was about to return with the volunteers Ana and Ferran, and with the guides Monica, Tiko and Jessica, to return to Thamel and the next day go to meet the group. Being in a group always moves me inside, it is being in another environment, in another state of me towards others. And also the fact that I did not know them, therefore, everything that is in our mind, all expectations, non-expectations, etc ... They fall or become different and the reality appears.
I remember being with Monica at the airport, with all her excitement that the group arrived. I remember how that excitement infected me, I remember her desire, her mixture of emotions, waiting for them to arrive, and they were not arriveing. We didn't know anything about them, we could just see travellers and more travellers coming but not them. That kept us alert, with some concern about whether they had had any complications on leaving the plane ... How nice to see how Monica looked after the group before arriving.
And then they appeared, with their backpacks, smiling and tired faces from the trip. We were happy to meet them and wanted to show them everything we had seen so far.
The day had dawned clear and the we could see the mountains. It was something that in the middle of August does not usually happen, so it was fortunate to have arrived on such a day and to see part of the Himalayas from Kathmandu.
ROUTE TO THE EAST OF THE VALLEY. BHAKTAPUR
Our journey itinerary began. After spending another night in Kathmandu in the neighborhood of Thamel, we were preparing to make our first trekking through the eastern valleys, we went to visit the Buddhist monastery of Namo Buddha and the towns of Dulikhel and Panauti.
That precise day one of the many ceremonies and celebrations they have in Nepal was being celebrated. This was the ceremony to scare away evil spirits, in which the inhabitants of different villages burn a representation of a demon they make with straw and other materials and then the men followed by the children take him running through the streets to take it out of their village.
When we arrived in Bhaktapur after the excursion and saw this ceremony in another town, we found each other in the middle of a lot of people who were celebrating the same thing. At one point we were together with the inhabitants in a parade, singing, shouting and making noise to scare away evil spirits. It was a fun time. At night they continued with the ceremony, burning “the devil” and passing over a bonfire to free themselves from the “bad”. From the top of one of the monuments of Durban Square in Bakhtapur, we could see part of the ceremonial.
CHALNAKEL AND PASHUPATINATH
The next day we did not go to these two villages, where we went to visit the first TAI project "Student to Student". This project is one of the first schools with which the TAI Foundation collaborated. A student from the school who has already grown up and moves on to another level of education, continues to earn some money as a teacher for the children of the school where he / she studied. So he/she can continue paying for their university studies.
This project was created as a review class (library) so that the children after their class schedule, continue with a little help to do their homework, since many of them if they return to their homes do not usually have help from parents and they can be too much in the streets with the risk that it entails. Sometimes child trafficking, abuse, etc ...
After the visit to the library and with the emotions to the surface, we went to spend the afternoon and the night where it had been my "house" for a few days, Boudhanath. I was very excited to go with the group and that they could see that magical place. It was a night with a lot of magic, to see the illuminated night stupa, to put some candles with a gesture of prayer and offering to our families. Very emotional and intense that day.
As if the emotions of the previous day had not been enough, what awaited us this day was even more powerful. Patan is another neighborhood just outside the center of Kathmandu. This day the Foundation had scheduled a visit to another of its projects. “Sapana workshops” with the Kathmandu Circus. This project is very nice and was the one I liked most and touched me.
The ASHA project, which means hope in Nepali, has been working with TAI since 2016. Asha is a foster home for these children who have been victims of sexual abuse and where they do their utmost to reinsert them back into the community.
Asha (wich meaning is hope), collaborates with Kathmandu Circus to offer them these workshops and to develop a positive relationship with their body and with others, since these children are very hurt and have their self-esteem very low, they have many traumas hidden in the body. The purpose of these workshops is to offer them the possibility of having a healthier relationship with their body and with the body of others, since they have many fears and many distrust.
In the workshop they interact with many people in a cooperative manner which helps them reestablish that confidence in themselves and others.
Getting to the place and contacting these girls and boys knowing their past history was something that moved us all. Our guides told us that it was best not to look at them with a sad face or make comments of any kind, but rather to treat them as "normal" children.
Having contact with children always gives me some respect because you never know what they can tell you. And with my level of English, I felt quite insecure. But when I got there, some teenage girls started asking me what my name was and between smiles and looks of complicity we ended up sharing a very nice moment. That afternoon we spent playing with them, doing somersaults, and some circus figures. I had a great time. It was like going back to my inner child who enjoyed these games so much.
The teachers gave us a show with hoops and other types of circus exercises. It was a very beautiful and very emotional afternoon. I remember that I left there crying with emotion, very touched.
But if that were not enough, facing the night we were preparing to see a ceremony that totally connected with death. In the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, they perform the “fire ceremony”, a ceremony that takes place on Saturdays and coincides with the ritual in which relatives of the dead person venerate his body and burn it and then throw his ashes to the Bagmati River (tributary of the Ganges).
Death for Hinduists is another cycle of life, they believe in reincarnation. So this "fire ceremony" is represented through the elements, water, earth, air and fire.
From my point of view I see it as making a recognition of life and death. With the transforming fire to let the body (the matter) become more volatile (air) and then its ashes fall into the river (water) and flow into the immensity of the ocean.
Such is a rite to transformation, to which we can live day by day if we are connected with the spiritual.
The next day we went to visit another of TAI's projects, “Maitri Griha” is a day center and foster home that welcomes children with mental functional diversity and offers them decent education and care. Since 2006, it works by giving hope to the neighborhood of Ramhiti, Kathmandu, doing an extraordinary job of caring for and promoting these children, while involving their families in their education and raising awareness of an increasingly broad spectrum of the population. .