Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Boudhanath and Dinner With the Thapas.


Original Post Date: July 7, 2017.

After leaving Awantika at the Mitini offices, Adärsh, Chantale and I got back in the car for the short drive back to Adärsh's office. There, we said our thank you's and goodbye's before Sonam whisked us off to our final sightseeing destination for the day - one of my favorite spots in the Kathmandu Valley - Boudhanath. Like Swayambhunath, Boudhanath is a Tibetan Buddhist stupa.

Sonam thrust us back into the chaotic traffic of Kathmandu.



So much of the city reminds me of Old Delhi, especially the jumbles of wires that hug utility poles.  I don't know basic utilities actually work here....maybe they do but not well.  God help you if you need someone to do repair work!


Sonam deposited us on the side of the main street, very near the entrance.  It wasn't hard to figure out where to go as the stupa is so massive, you can see it towering over the adjacent buildings.

I came here twice in 2007 and I remember the entrance well.  We stopped at the ticket office before continuing on.  It's a short walk off the main street, past a few shops.  Before you even arrive at the stupa, you will see the clockwise procession of devotees walking the kora around the stupa.

When refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many decided to live around Boudhanath so the area around Boudhanath is a very Tibetan neighborhood.  Boudhanath is said to entomb the remains of Kassapa Buddha who is the predecessor of the current, Gautama Buddha.

The April 2015 Nepal earthquake badly damaged Boudhanath, severely cracking the spire. As a result, the whole structure above the dome, and the religious relics it contained had to be removed, which was completed by the end of October 2015. The reconstruction began in November 2015 with the ritual placement of a new central pole or "life tree" for the stupa at the top of the dome.  To my untrained eye, I didn't notice any sign of damage from the earthquake so perhaps by now, the stupa has been fully restored.

We joined in the clockwise procession around the stupa but didn't get very far before we decided to veer off and head into a restaurant that had a rooftop view of the stupa.  Not that we needed a rest or anything but it was a nice chance to get a drink, use the facilities and do some people watching from above.







After our break, we headed back downstairs and continued walking the kora, breaking off only when we came across a set of steps that would lead us up to the base of the dome itself.  Here are a few of the photos I took as we wandered around Boudhanath stupa.





There's a monastery here.  I didn't go inside in 2007 and I didn't go inside today.  I think all the monasteries in Ladakh have taken away all and any interest I have in seeing yet another Tibetan monastery.  Maybe on my next visit, I will venture in.










Devotees have found a quiet corner to do their daily prayers in.


They do the 108 prostrations (devotional bows) that are part of the Tibetan Buddhist prayer ritual.












We stayed longer at Boudhanath than I had expected.  Not complaining as I have a soft spot for this place as well.  I don't know why I like it here better than at Swayambhunath.  Maybe because the stupa here is really at the center of attention and there's a monastery right on site.  Feels more like a religious complex to me even though all around the stupa are shops and restaurants.  I don't ever recall seeing devotees walking the kora at Swayambhunath whereas it's all day thing here.


In actuality, we couldn't stay very long at Boudhanath as we are the expected guests at a dinner being hosted for us by Mr. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa and his lovely wife, Dr. Rita Thapa.

We met Bhekh, yes I just call him Bhekh, at dinner at Bindu and Sumina's house two nights ago.  The two couples are good friends.  In case you are wondering who the heck Bhekh Thapa is, well let me tell you. He has quite the impressive pedigree! By career, he is a Nepalese is a foreign affairs expert and diplomat who was the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nepal.  He was fourth Governor of Nepal Rastra Bank from 14 August, 1966 to 26 July, 1967.  He was Minister of Finance between 1976 and 1978 after serving as State Minister of Finance and Secretary of Finance Ministry. He has twice served as Ambassador to USA (1980–1985 and 1996) and served as former Nepalese ambassador to India from 1997 to 2003. Currently, he is working as EPG (Eminent Person's Group) coordinator representing Nepal on reviewing bilateral treaties between India and Nepal.  It's hard not to be impressed by Mr. Thapa - especially as you walk through his house and see all the photos of him posing alongside very famous dignitaries including US Presidents!

His wife is no slouch; she is well pedigreed as well.  Dr. Rita Thapa is a world renown public health specialist.  You can read her equally impressive resume here.  I jokingly teased Mr. Thapa that he had married up and he agreed!

The couple had three children.  Sadly, they lost their only son - Bhaskar Thapa, to a massive heart attack in 2013.  At the time of his death, Bhaskar was the lead engineer in construction of the fourth bore of the Caldeott Tunnel which runs through the hills in the East Bay area in California. There are loving memories of him throughout their home.  The Thapas also have two daughters, one of whom is very well known English language author. 

From Boudhanath, Sonam drove us back to Bindu and Sumina's house where we quickly freshened up before getting back into the car and making our way to the Thapa's home.  Sadly, we are not dressed for a nice dinner.  Thankfully for us, the Thapas greeted us into their home with such warmth and hospitality, I was humbled - how we were dressed was a non issue.

Despite their wealth, the Thapas live in a relatively modest home and Mr. Thapa seemed genuinely relaxed in our company.  Mrs. Thapa arrived home from work shortly after we arrived and after some *snacks* aka Nepalese appetizers, we were once again treated to a delicious home cooked meal.  Time really flew by as we ate, chatted and laughed.  I really love this couple - they are completely down to earth despite their high powered careers.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave.  We didn't want to overstay our welcome and told them we wanted to get back early so we could pack for our trip to Pokhara tomorrow.  That in fact was true.  Before we got into the car, the Thapas wanted to show us the shrine that they had built in the memory of their son.  It's a small shrine positioned in a very nice spot in their garden where they can come and quietly reflect on the time they had with him and in their own way, still connect with him on a daily basis.  It's sadly obviously just how much they miss him.

We bid the Thapa's a goodnight and thanked them hugely for inviting us to dinner.  Considering we were pretty much strangers to them, it was a really heartfelt gesture on their behalf to have us over.

As they did last night, Bindu and Sumina were there to greet us when Sonam dropped us off and as they did last night, they stayed up for a bit to chat with us, curious about how our day went and what dinner with the Thapas was like.

Tomorrow, we are off for a short visit to Pokhara.  I managed to buy us roundtrip tickets on Buddha Air and we're booked for a two night stay at an Airbnb - just renting a room.  While I love being in Kathmandu, I'm also very much looking forward to going to Pokhara.  I've heard so much about the place from people I know who have been there, it will be nice to finally be able set foot and explore the place.

It's been a long day and I'm tired so I'm going to take a quick shower and then head right to bed!

Goodnight from Kathmandu!