The first thing you see when you leave Kathmandu Airport is a “World Heritage Site” sign plastered several times along a rickety corrugated tin fence. Behind it is an open area with garbage. You wonder where the Unesco World Heritage site could possibly be in this ramshackle area and what kind of place it would be? Its Pashnupatinath Temple, one of the most sacred sites in Nepal, attracting pilgrims from all over Nepal and India. The temple complex straddles the Bagmati river which, until recently, people bathed in its very holy waters. Unfortunately nowadays they are very dirty waters, and the bathing has stopped. I’d heard terrible stories of a garbage-choked river, but now weekend clean up teams have been hard at work removing the trash, although the water remains very unclean.
Pashnupati is also a crematorium, and the bodies are burnt on the ghats alongside the river …..out in the open, for all to see. The mourners gather by the burning pyres, the men shaving their heads as a sign of mourning. Onlookers are on the other side of the river, at a respectable distance. There were very few westerners. Just devotees visiting the temple, funeral parties, monkeys, and vendors selling devotional beads, garlands and gifts. It was busy but not crowded, and we walked around largely undisturbed to look in amazement at the vast array of “life” (and death) going on around us.
Here are some snapshots from the overwhelming array of scenes going on all around:
In case you are wondering, I was far enough away that I didn’t feel like I was intruding, otherwise I could never have taken the photos. It was so strange and so real at the same time…everything being played out in the open.