As far as I’m concerned, everyday spent traveling is an extraordinary day. Of course, some days are better than others. And every once in a while, you have a day where everything falls into place and its pure magic. Friday was one of those days.
After a rooftop breakfast at the Avalon House, we ventured out to buy bus tickets for Pokhora before meeting up with one of Michelle’s monk friends at the monastery at Swayambhu Temple. After volunteering here a few years back, she had kept in touch with Thupten, now a teenager who seemed to oversee some of the younger little monks who, excited by our visit, were running around and showing off. Two of these little ones kept us company while we waited for Thupten to come greet us and take us around the temple. One of them, Uri, remembered Michelle from when she spent time here teaching them English, and he enthusiastically waved from the school window before greeting us. The other little one, whose name we could only make out as “John” was only six years old and a new arrival. As they ran around us, waving and showing off, I turned to Michelle and said…”this is the best part of the day!”
After we parted with the little monks, Thumpten served as our personal guide of the giant Swayambhu complex, while him and Michelle caught up. One of the centers of Buddhism in Nepal, the Swayambhu Stupa is also home to Hindu temples and you can see both Hindus and Buddhists visiting the complex all day long.Perched high up on a hill, overlooking central Kathmandu, the temple serves as the location of the creation myth of Kathmandu which includes a tale of the boddhisattva Manjuushri striking out snakes from the valley. Walking around with a resident monk as our guide, I thought to myself…”This has to be the best part of the day!”
After about an hour, Thumpten had to get back to the monastery so he bid us farewell and said “See you next time!” We decided to stay in the area and walk around, stopping off at Swayambhu Coffee House for some masala tea and momos with some of the locals. As Michelle tried to find the guesthouse she had stayed at years before, we wandered around the hectic streets finally ascending a staired alley way that led to some houses and a monastery up above. There, next to the monastery was the BDC guesthouse. From there you could hear the chanting and drums coming from the monastery next door, so decided to visit. Hesitant to walk in, we asked a monk as he walked by who smiled and motioned us in, indicating it was ok. We approached the temple entrance clockwise, as is the Buddhist tradition, and found a bunch of child monks running in a courtyard and some Newars sitting on chairs just outside the entrance. Not blicking an eye at, us even though we were the only westerners there, we sat on a bench and peacefully watched as a ceremony was about to begin. We walked over to inquire what was happening and asked two men sitting down if either knew how to speak English. One of them, Pinod, repied “yes, a little”, and then proceeded to tell us that the ceremony was being held for his family member who had died a year earlier to the date. He then continued to tell us the entire history of British/Nepali relations and how he had served in the army and that Nepali soldiers were very brave. He would probably still be telling us tales if his family had not eventually pulled him away as they were leaving. After chatting with him and witnessing the serenity of the monastery, we thought for sure that that would be the best part of the day.
After the monastery, we walked back down towards the main road and found a tea shop, where we sat and sipped masala tea while watching hordes of Buddhists pilgrims, many of whom were elderly women, struggling up the hill as they rotated their fingers along their prayer beads. When they walked by, we would smile and say “namaste” and they would stop and return the smile with their own “namastes”. One of them seemed particularly excited to say hello to us and Michelle realized that she remembered her from years before. Sure enough, she had a picture with her from three years prior. Again, I thought, “this has got to be the best part of the day.”
We eventually left the Swayambhu area and made our way back to our hostel to relax a bit on the rooftop, where we struck up conversation with two older Turkish men. One of them, Ehren, was super friendly and began asking us for some suggestions, so we lent him our book. Like us, they were spending about nine days in Nepal, visiting Kathmandu and Pokhora. Offering to send them recommendations from Pokhora, Michelle and Ehren exchanged numbers. After much conversataion, we said goodbye and wished them safe travels as they headed into Thamel to explore. A few hours later, they sent us a message to join them for dinner at Third Eye Restuarant. Though we were both exhausted, we decided it might be fun and headed to Thamel. We enjoyed a delicious meal of Indian food served with great conversation about travel, history and Turkish politics, and once again, I said to Michelle “Okay, that might have been the best part of the day”.
After dinner, the two Turks were heading to the bars so we parted ways as we had to be up at 6am the next day to catch our bus to Pokhara. We told them we’d meet up with them there. Falling asleep that night, thinking about visiting with Michelle’s friends and meeting the little monks at the monastery, exploring Swayambhu temple with 17 year old Thumpten as our guide, recieving greetings from elderly Buddhist women walking along the road, and sharing a great meal with new friends, I couldn’t stop smiling. And that, my friends, was the best part of the day.