In the late morning we arrived at Bodhnath, one of the largest stupas in the world. Exactly who developed the original site is debatable. Speculation includes several kings and a Tibetan emperor during the fifth to eighth centuries AD. What’s not disputed is the significance of this stupah as a starting point on the trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Bodhnath has stood for centuries, greeting people from all over the region on their way to and from the Himalayas. It was fitting to make a visit here before starting our trek. We entered the site and moved clockwise around the base. Prayer flags extended from the umbrella on the spire, casting fringed shadows on the white dome while Buddha’s eyes gazed north, south, east and west.

Prayer flags at Bodhnath

Prayer flags at Bodhnath

Halfway around, we ascended the stairs to the lowest platform of the base and noticed two boys following us. The older boy offered up a game — name any country and he would tell you its capital city. It was hard enough to remember the capital cities of 50 states in the U.S., let alone 200+ from all over the world. I named a few countries … the U.S., Ecuador, France. He rattled off the capitals with no hesitation. I searched my mind for the most obscure country I could think of. “Burkina Faso!” I exclaimed. “Ouagadougou,” he replied. Very impressive, although his younger partner was more impressed with a camera we were carrying.

J gave him a quick lesson in photography and showed him how to look through the viewfinder of our old Pentax SLR, creating one of my favorite photos of the whole trip. These boys were sweet and curious — not looking for money, just looking for conversation and discoveries.

We left Bodhnath and moved on to Swayambhunath, known as the Monkey Temple for its resident population of aggressive macaques. More than 300 steps led to the stupa at the top of the hill with a rewarding 360-degree view over Kathmandu. Beautiful vignettes of worship and divinity were all around. I snapped a few photos before another wave of nausea took over, forcing me to sit down and take a break. We were flying to Lukla in the morning and our trek was beginning tomorrow — this was not how I had envisioned the start of our trip. With 14,000 vertical feet to go before getting to Kala Patthar, things were not looking good.

Help me Buddha, you’re my only hope.

Next: Kathmandu & the Khumbu Valley, Part 3

This entry is Part 2 in a series about my trip to Nepal in 2005. The previous entry can be found here.


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