My heart still hurts when I think of Nepal. We stayed in Kathmandu for three weeks working at the local hospital with a program called Work the World. This was in February, only a few months shy of the tragic earthquake that shook the vary foundations of Nepal’s fragile growth. Pristine white temples painted cardinal red and gold sprout multicolored prayer flags that flow in the wind, connecting each and every corner with mantras of good faith, good luck, and joy. These historical temples, places of worship for hundreds of years, have all been cracked, bruised, and utterly destroyed by Mother Nature’s force. Though I’m so thankful to have seen these world heritage sights in person, the loss of such rich history causes a deep ache in my bones, not to mention the thousands of people who were injured, killed, or left homeless.
We strolled through Durbar Square, walked in circles around Boudhanath Stupa, and tentatively climbed the steps up to Swayambhunath, better known as Monkey Temple, while avoiding screeching monkeys that seemed poised to pounce. Kathmandu is home to seven world heritage sights, each unique and wondrous in their own ways. We strolled through Durbar Square, where red brick religious shrines rise up in geometric angles. The red cloth decorations that rim each roof highlight the sharp angles of the succeeding levels of each building, providing an easy visual contrast amongst the smog of Kathmandu Valley.
Boudhanath Stupa is a focal point in Kathmandu. Its large white foundation is topped by a gold faded dome and gold spire. It is surrounded by upwards of fifty Tibetan monasteries that fan out from its central location. The classic Tibetan Buddhist facial depiction projects on each of the four sides of the golden spire. The eyes of the Buddha symbolize omnipresent compassion, while the third eye symbolizes spiritual awakening. The squiggle between the eyes is the Sanskrit numeral one, which represents the unity of all things. As we are minimalists, we tend to not buy souvenirs. But this place of worship beckoned our spiritual side and we felt compelled to buy prayer flags from this stupa. Buddhism is the one religion that Whitney and I relate most to in a spiritual sense, so visiting Nepal was a long sought after experience. We hung those Nepalese prayer flags in our bedroom the second we returned home, and love how their symbolism creates warmth and peace in our beloved space.
We climbed the hundreds of steps up to Monkey Temple and were rewarded with an incredible overlook over Kathmandu. I found myself breathing heavily while trudging up the stone steps, from not only the steep climb, but also due to my fear of angry male monkeys screeching at me while swinging overhead. Whitney found them adorable, much to my dismay, as she attempted to bribe them over to us with sweet baby talk. The only good that came from that endeavor was close up photos of baby monkeys, which I must admit now were pretty cute.
In the mornings we worked alongside the nephrology team at the University Hospital, followed by a quick lunch back at our program house, then off to explore Kathmandu in the afternoon. We also took weekend trips outside the main city. One weekend we stayed at a monastery up in the surrounding hills, which provided fresh air, breathtaking views, and a unique experience as we were allowed to participate in prayer in the morning and rooftop yoga in the afternoon. Another weekend we traipsed off to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is in a remote location, demanding long and often uncomfortable travel, but the significance of this pilgrimage sight supersedes any level of discomfort. We ended our Nepal adventure with an incredible yoga trek. More on that to follow.