The village of Bodhanath (or ‘Boudha’), very close to Kathmandu city is home to the ‘Bodha Stupa’ and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. If like me, you like places that offer a little something for the soul, then Bodhanath will want to make you stay longer than you intended.
Although, it’s located just a few kms. away from Kathmandu, this tiny village could not be more different and is miles away from the touristy lanes of Thamel. Most tourists visit Bodhanath on day trips from Kathmandu. But if you’re looking to slow down a little and connect with the sanctuary that is Bodhanath, or are simply curious about Buddhism, then I would recommend spending a few days here.
The lanes around the Bodha Stupa house a few guesthouses, cafes and restaurants and many monasteries. The Stupa itself is a great white structure with many brightly colored prayer flags, around which pilgrims walk in clockwise direction. The air is filled with Tibetan music from the shops around the Stupa selling prayer beads, incense sticks, prayer flags and religious music, along with chants of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. The streets are filled with pilgrims, tourists, monks and Dharma students from around the world. The monks are often seen wearing neon colored sneakers, listening to their Ipods. I quite like this blend of tradition and modernity. There are also a lot of shops selling Tibetan handicrafts, Thangka paintings, traditional Gurung jewellery and stones and books on Buddhist principles and philosophies. Around sunset, the scene is particularly peaceful as pilgrims pray, chant, prostate and walk around the stupa and monks gather in the temple to offer the final prayers for the day. This experience is really something, and though I did not understand the prayer, I felt great peace in just being there in that moment.
If you do spend a few days in Bodhanath, consider taking yoga classes or meditation sessions at one of the many monasteries and volunteering opportunities in the schools in the area. I would also recommend the hike to the beautiful Kopan Monastery situated on a hill overlooking the village. This hike takes half a day (all the way up and back) at a lesiurely pace, and takes you through small villages like Ramhiti and many dirt roads. The Kopan monastery grounds are vast and beautiful and offer great views of the surrounding areas. You can also hike from Bodhanath to the Hindu temples of Gorakhnath and Pashupatinath to see centuries old idols of various Hindu deities. Between the many monasteries and temples in the surrounding areas, and various classes, there is enough to do in Bodhanath for a few days. Besides, it is important to realize that Bodhanath is not about just ‘doing’, but more about ‘being’, which is exactly what I was looking for. The day ends early in Bodhanath, at around 8.00pm after the evening prayers, after which you can sit down for a meal at one of the Tibetan restaurants or the lovely Garden restaurant where I had most of my meals.