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Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple feels just as complex as Nepal itself.  It is present day and ancient history rolled into one.   It’s exact origins are unknown, but the oldest dated inscription is from 459 AD.  People have been coming to this place as a holy site since then, and continue to make pilgrimages there today.


The picture above is from the entryway.   Most of the visitors were families dressed up for the occasion.  Whatever purpose brought people to the temple, everybody stopped and got a photo at the front.  For us, that was as far inside was we went- only Hindus are permitted past this point.

There was still plenty to see around the temple grounds.

The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva, and he is often represented by the “shivalinga” – a stone phallus that represents the creative energy of Shiva.  There’s usually some sort of vaginal representation at the base- the representation is literally of the act of creation.

Pashupatinath, like many Shiva temples, is built around a “natural” shivalinga that is said to have been discovered there.  We didn’t see that one because it was inside.  They say that it’s part of Shiva that stayed on earth when he visited back in the day.  A shepherd found it when his cow kept spontaneously dropping her milk there.  The real one is said to be underground because it was too much for mortals to handle.

In another town, we visited a cave where you can put money in and have a cow statue drop some fake milk so you can make a wish, because of course you can.


Here is a whole row of shivalingam from Pashupatinath complete with the ashes and colors from recent offerings.


More shivalingam.  The ones that are missing were either stolen by the hippies back in the day or taken for use in grinding grain.


Holy Men

There are plenty of holy men around the site.  Shiva devotees wear orange, the color of marigolds, and perform a variety of different rituals and acts of self-mortification depending on the path they have chosen to follow.

We had heard lots of stories of foreskin stretching, rolling, and other extreme acts of self-mortification, so we were prepared for just about anything.  Nepal is a very modest country, though, so I guess they have restrictions on which days the holy men are allowed to be naked.  We were not there on a naked day.  The guy in the middle was wearing a heavy chain link chastity belt thing, so he might be one of the foreskin-stretchers on naked days.

The holy men cover their skin with ashes, another symbol of how they reject human taboos.

As a tourist, there was also the uncomfortableness of knowing that they were performing for you because that was their livelihood.  You visit the holy men, they bless you, then you give them money, then they ask for more money.  We had a guide with us who steered us away from some holy men and took us directly to these guys.  He had a lot to say about how different holy men charge for different things and making sure we saw the right ones.

The guy I sat by really wanted me to touch his dreadlocks.  Or he assumed that, as a tourist, I really wanted to touch his dreadlocks.  When I didn’t touch them after he held them out for me, he put them around my shoulder.

But we were tourists, we were there for a show, they were giving us what we wanted.  We were giving them the money that they needed.  Still, the whole thing felt very inauthentic.  Maybe that’s to be expected with a “see the major sights of Kathmandu in two days” sort of itinerary.  It felt exploitative.  But I don’t know what I would change.

Ritual Cremation

OK, so let’s talk about death.  Pashupatinath is built on the bank of the holy Bagmati river. When a Hindu dies, the body needs to be purified and returned to the elements.  The closer this is done to the temple, the easier it is for the spirit to travel there for reincarnation once the body has been cremated.  It is also important that this is done as quickly as possible.

So, a lot of the people in and around the temple were there mourning a loved one, or recognizing the anniversary of a death.


The reddish ramp is where bodies are washed in the river and prepared for cremation.  The red color is from saffron.

(Interlude- as a tourist, this was hard to get past.  People wash their dead relatives in this river, which flows from here into the city of Kathmandu.  Kathmandu, the biggest city in the country, with a population that is water-insecure.  The river is seen as purifying the bodies, but at the same time, the bodies are polluting the river.  On the other hand, the entrance fees go to river cleanup initiatives.)

After the body is washed and prepared, it is cremated.  The platform below is reserved for heads of state and other VIPs, because it’s the closest to the temple.



Yes, those are cremations in progress.  The sites get gradually less expensive as they get farther from the temple.


In the background you can barely see the chimney of the new electric crematorium that’s been built.  Its use doesn’t burn wood or pollute the river.  But it also doesn’t have the same significance for families.

The low houses in the background above are where the families stay if they don’t live in Kathmandu.  There are a variety of rituals that need to be performed in the week after the death.



Dust masks are common around Kathmandu because of the air quality.  At the temple, almost everybody wears them because of the smoke from the cremations.

A year after the death, you’re supposed to return to the site to have a picnic.


The monkeys try to get in on the picnic action.  The rest of the time, they climb around the area, through the cremation ashes, and are in and out of the river.



Walking away from the site, the temple starts to fade away and the rest of Kathmandu reappears.  Here’s a shop that was selling fabric dyes.


Overall, it was an incredible place to experience.  I know that we could only scratch the surface as far as its meaning and history, but it was an incredible experience nonetheless.


What does recovery and development even look like?

The entire town of Bhaktapur is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its well-preserved 17th century architecture and its temples and historical sites.

Historical buildings typically have bricks made from local soil and intricate woodwork, especially around windows and doors, although some have some a few non-traditional adornments to bring in customers.

Now, imagine that you live in Bhaktapur. Most of the economy depends on money coming from tourism because of the historical architecture. There is also papermaking and ceramics (from the local soil) in town, but that tends to depend on tourism too, or at least a market for paper and ceramic souvenirs.

Most people get their water by carrying it from this well.

Bhaktapur was very heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Many homes were damaged or destroyed. The area is earthquake prone and can expect a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher every 80 years.

Here you can see the gap between a home that has been rebuilt and one that is still damaged.

Lots of corrugated metal rooves covering the remaining structures until they can fully rebuild (adding stories and a tile roof).

Bamboo scaffolding as work is being done.

Stonework that fell during the earthquake.

But as you think about rebuilding, remember that your entire economy depends on maintaining World Heritage status. So you really can’t update your building techniques to make them more seismically stable if it means sacrificing that status and upending your tourism-dependent economy.

The government of Nepal tried to subsidize the rebuilding of homes by offering homeowners money to help them rebuild in the historical style. This was great for folks who held the title to their homes. But in a lot of cases, the homes were still legally owned by an ancestor who had died long ago. Everybody knew who lived there anyway, and families often couldn’t pay the tax to transfer the title.

So you cobble together the money to change the title, made more complicated because the documents you need were also likely destroyed in the quake, and you rebuild as best you can. You know that another earthquake may flatten your home again in 80 years or so, but that’s just how it is. Rebuilding is still your best option.

I don’t know what the best solution would be, but at least my visit is helping me understand the complexity of the problem.

One thing I do know is that cash is very scarce here, and there is a lot of infrastructure needed. People are spending a lot of time and energy gathering and carrying water, and it’s not even safe drinking water.

If you’re so inclined, you can donate to recovery or development initiatives here or through another charity that you prefer. I know that even small amounts would help.

Now here are some more photos of cool stuff from Bhaktapur.

Monkey Temple

When I think of visiting major tourist sites, especially UN World Heritage Sites, I picture visiting a place that’s very old and no longer in use other than tourism (whether that’s locals visiting to learn about their own history, or foreign visitors). Its about the past.The temples in Kathmandu are old, but they’re still very much in current use. It was Saturday, so the temples were full of people who had come to pray or otherwise pay homage to the sites.

The first temple we visited was full of sacred monkeys who seemed to live very well on the fruit and crackers people brought them. Some of the stories say that they became domesticated when the hippies started feeding them in the 60s. But there is also an story that they are descended from the lice of a holy man who lived at the site in the olden times.

If you have any wishes, you throw a coin in here and try to get it in the pot. I missed.

The monkeys mostly ignored people unless they had food. They would take your snacks, or you could just hand them over. They also would try to take them from each other.

Where there are snacks, there are also dogs hoping to get in on the action.


Yesterday was our first day in Nepal. It was mostly a day to recover from the long flights and 13 hour time change, but we did walk around a bit and explore the area near our hotel.

One thing about being in a new place is that your competence regresses. You’re used to being an adult, but suddenly there are a lot of basics that you just don’t know how to do.

So yesterday was our day of toddlerhood.

For example, we needed to learn how to walk down the street. In Nepal, they drive on the left. We figured out that also means that people walk on the left too.

Our hotel is in the super touristy Thamel area of town, so the streets right around here are filled with tourists and people trying to sell you stuff.

We ventured out to a garden a few blocks away from the main tourist section. The streets are very narrow, so you are always passing somebody, and usually also being passed by cars and mopeds.

So, we were trying to apply the “pass on the left” rule. But as tourists, people would expect us to get it wrong, so there was this sort of double fake out as we all had to guess how to walk past each other. We were as bad to walk past on a sidewalk as toddlers. But we were paying attention and learning.

Eventually we realized that the pass on the left rule isn’t very solid, it’s just the default. But of course people don’t walk down the street thinking about how to walk past people. We do that automatically. Except when we travel, then we have to learn it again.

Our other adventures involved learning how to eat, use money, use the bathroom, and even knowing how to find the right floor on the elevator (the ground floor is floor 0 here). So it really was a day of developing basic childhood competence.


I had never gone ziplining before.  It has sort of been on my bucket list just because I was too heavy to be able to go for many years.  So if there was something that I couldn’t do because of my weight, I try to make sure to do it now as a sort of celebration.  It meant that I noticed the scale near the entrance where they put on your harness.  I reveled in the fact that nobody was going to ask me to step on it to make sure I wasn’t too heavy for the cable.

All of the pictures of ziplining that I have noticed are of smiling, happy people in gorgeous surroundings.  So I always sort of assumed that the point was a chance to get out into nature and see interesting things from a new angle (above), and that the cable was more of a means of transport from one area to another.

Boy, was I wrong!  The point of ziplining appears to be the adrenaline rush of being on the cable itself!  And, at least for me, I spent a whole lot of time concentrating on what I was doing, which didn’t leave a lot of room for pondering my surroundings.

The basic idea is this: you wear a harness that suspends you from a cable in a sitting position.  You wear gloves, and your dominant hand goes around the cable behind where you’re attached.  That keeps you from spinning while you’re moving, and you use it to brake at the end.  Your other hand holds the rope you’re suspended from, maybe for stability?

Then you GO!  It felt like I was moving way too fast along the cable, but clearly they have the angle set so that you’ll go the right speed most of the time.  The guy at the other end waves you on and signals when it’s time to brake.  I spent most of my time on the cable feeling like my hand was about to slide off, but did get the hang of it over time.  Luckily they start you with some shorter ones that are sort of “practice” before you hit the longer ones.

The place where I went also had two “superman” cables, where you are suspended from your back in a flying position.  This was nice- since you didn’t have to use your hands on the cable, I didn’t have to worry that I would screw something up, and could look around a bit more.  I did get a few videos from those, although I kept panicking and assuming the camera wasn’t recording and turning it off.  The first superman line was about a mile long, and took almost two minutes to complete!  The second one was about half that length.

Then, it was time for the “tarzan swing”.  For that one, you walk across a bridge to a platform, get attached to a rope, and then jump (or are pushed) off.  After a bit of freefall, the cable catches you, and you swing back and forth and eventually down to the ground.  A few members of our group didn’t do the Tarzan swing.  I reasoned that I had come this far, I might as well try it.  But at the end of the bridge, you do have second thoughts!  They opened the door, and I was falling through the air!  It was such a terrifying feeling.  Then the rope catches you, and that is a big thrill.  From there to the bottom, it’s a lot of fun, and you land very gently.

In the end, I’m glad I did it, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.  It’s just not my sort of thing.  The tarzan swing, on the other hand, was a ton of fun, and I would do something like that again if I get the chance.  But the ziplines, in the end, were about as nerve-racking as they were fun, at least for me.  Give me a roller coaster any day.

The platform for the Tarzan swing.  They said it was about 40 meters high.

The platform for the Tarzan swing. They said it was about 40 meters high.

Here are the videos that I took:

Superman cable 1

Superman cable 2

Superman cable 3

Tarzan swing.  I couldn’t videotape myself (obviously), so this is a video of somebody who went after I did.

Rema asked me to create a photo of the day to represent my trip, which is an interesting challenge narrowing things down in that way.  I will save them to this project.


7-1-14  – Watching the US World Cup match on the big screen in La Plaza de la Democracia.


6-30-14 – These stone spheres are found in southern Costa Rica and were recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.


6-29-14 – La Sele advances to the quarter finals at the world cup.


6-27-14 – I passed a mural of Guernica on a wall in San Pedro.


6-26-14 At the mall in Desamparados. Pizza and cones, together at last!


6-25-14 – My first trip into San Jose.  This is the mercado.


6-24-14 – Rain, rain, rain.  The rain starts suddenly, and comes down hard!


6-23-14 – My room


6-22-14 – Arrival at the airport