Discovering the temples of Nepal with Urban Adventures

Prayer flags in the breeze in the Annapurna ranges - discovering the temples of Nepal with Urban Adventures.jpg

We joined Urban Adventures for the day to explore the temples of Nepal to learn more about the country's deep spirituality and cultural heritage.
Check our their Spiritual Nepal day tour here - it's the best tour we did on our travels!


In the middle of the throng of Tibetan monks, nuns, and Nepalese locals spinning prayer wheels as they make their way clockwise around Boudhanath Stupa, an old man pauses beside a statue.

Prayer beads looped loosely through his fingers, he presses his palms together and lifts them gently to his forehead as the rhythm of the Buddhist chant ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ leaves his lips. His calm moment of meditation lasts a few seconds and before long he’s resumed his place amongst the moving mass of young and old, layperson and monk.

 The old man pauses to pray at Boudhanath Stupa.jpg

All around us in the streets of Kathmandu, the air is perfumed with incense, daily offerings are placed in shop fronts and street shrines, the whole place seems to beat in time with the chanted mantras that filter down each street.

We’ve only been in Nepal for a matter of days, and already we’ve come to realise that this is a place where spirituality and everyday life are completely enmeshed.

This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise given that Buddha was born here (in Lumbini, a mere 175 km from Kathmandu), and although 81% of Nepal is actually Hindu, all religions coexist here in harmonious balance. In fact, Hinduism incorporates many of Buddha’s teachings and even considers him to be an incarnation of god Vishnu.  

We’d come to Nepal mainly for the promise of its first-class hiking, friendly people, and beautiful vistas. Turns out, it’s a place that also serves up a healthy dose of spiritualism too.


Discovering the temples of Nepal with Urban Adventures


Butter candles and Boudhanath Stupa

Our encounter with the spiritual side of Nepal begins with the old man at Boudhanath Stupa, a vast 14th-century spherical Buddhist stupa that also proudly holds the dual titles of largest in Nepal, and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.

Festooned with Buddhist prayer flags, the whitewashed dome and all-seeing eye of Buddha is already impressive when viewed at ground level - until we discover that when viewed from above, the complex transforms into the shape of a Mandala and a tribute to Buddha’s path to Enlightenment.

As we light butter candles in offering to Lord Buddha, pilgrims of all different ethnicities and religions circumvent the Stupa, spinning the 108 prayer wheels and chanting as they go.

Nowhere have we seen a more obvious picture of cultural and religious tolerance; a melting pot of diversity has given Nepal a heart as beautiful as it’s landscape.

THE DETAILS

Location | Bouddha, Kathmandu

Opening hours | 9:00am - 17:00pm every day

Entrance fee | NPR 400

Our guide, Satya, takes us through some of the customs at Boudhanath buddhist temple in Nepal.jpg


The watchful eyes of Swayambhunath

After struggling up the last of the 365 steps to the Swayambhunath Stupa, we find ourselves catching our breath beneath the watchful eyes of Buddha.

Following his gaze out over the valley, we’re greeted with an incredible view of bustling Kathmandu going about its day  - a sight definitely worth the raised heart rate of the climb.

Swayambhunath is a beautiful, if not slightly chaotic jumble of Hindu and Buddhist iconography, there’s a heady scent of incense and butter candles, and the hum of the sacred om mani padme hum (in which all of Buddha’s teachings are said to be found).

Also known as the Monkey Temple thanks to the sacred monkeys that call it home, it doesn’t take long before our furry friends have made their presence known - attracting a small crowd as they bounce nimbly along the narrow railings looking out over the valley.

THE DETAILS

Location | Swayamabhunath Stupa, Kathmandu

Entrance fee | NPR 200

 Swayambhunath Temple .jpg

Life, Death, and Pashupatinath

While Nepal is constantly abuzz with the intoxicating chaos and bustle of human life, the sacred Pashupatinath Hindu temple is a sobering reminder that all life eventually comes to an end.

Honouring the Hindu god of transformation and destruction, Shiva, the site is so sacred that non-Hindus are forbidden from entering. It’s here on the banks of the holy Bagmati river, that devotees are cremated on open air ghats.

As their soul embarks on its journey to the afterlife and reincarnation, their body returns to dust and is finally swept into the waters of the holy river. Life and death exist side by side in Nepal, and nowhere is it more apparent than at Pashupatinath.

A red and yellow blessing is tied to our wrists by a Sadhu (holy man) as night falls gently over the complex. A different hum of activity starts to rise; people line the far bank of the river, and an elaborate offering of music, chanting, incense, lights and camphor to Lord Shiva begins. The ceremony builds slowly until the whole crowd is on their feet, dancing as they chant and sing together in worship, and it’s impossible to resist being swept up in the energy of it all!

 

THE DETAILS

Location | Pashupati Nath Road, Kathmandu

Opening hours | 4:00 am - 9:00pm every day, but closed in the middle of the day between noon and 5 PM

Transport | local bus or taxi (around USD $10-15 for a round taxi trip)

Entrance fee | NPR 1000 

Note | The Pashupatinath temple itself is only open to Hindis, however you can still explore the rest of the complex with no issues

 Aarti festival at Pashupatinath.jpg

Nepal's chaotic capital Kathmandu! Our in-depth city guide to Kathmandu


Resilience in the Durbar Squares

Bhaktapur, Patan, and Kathmandu; Nepal’s three Durbar Squares are more than just former royal palace, they’re also home to some of the most prominent and beautiful temples in Nepal.

It was in the midst of the ruins at Kathmandu Durbar Square left by last year’s earthquake, that we discovered a lone statue of Ganesh placed defiantly atop some of the rubble left behind by 2015’s earthquake.

Draped with a marigold garland and flecked with brightly coloured powder from recent Holi festival celebrations, it was a poignant reminder that Nepal’s deep spirituality has remained resilient and stronger than ever.

The country and its cultural heritage may still be in recovery, but Nepal’s heart hasn’t changed one bit.

 

THE DETAILS

Location of Kathmandu Durbar Square | Kot Square, Kathmandu

Location of Patan Durbar Square | Patan

Location of Bhaktapur Durbar Square | Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

Opening hours | All Durbar Squares are open 24 hours

Entrance fees | Kathmandu Durbar Square: NPR 750
                 Patan Durbar Square: NPR 500
                       Bhaktapur Durbar Square: USD $15

 friendly nepalese locals

Spirituality in the mountains

Two weeks spent in the Annapurna mountain range confirmed a theory we had that if Kathmandu is the beating heart of Nepal’s spirituality, its hiking trails are the veins and arteries extending this lifeblood to every corner of the country.

From the Hindu villages of the foothills to the Tibetan Buddhist culture halfway up in Manang, every day on the Annapurna circuit reveals Nepal’s spiritual side. There are hindu tika blessings gently pressed on our foreheads by locals one day, and buddhist prayer wheels spun for good fortune in each village.

The trails are lined with fluttering prayer flags, and the call of ‘Namaste’ is constant. Each day we’re welcomed into communities by warm smiles, offered tea and fireplaces to warm our tired bodies again, and given blessings for the following day.

 Spirituality in the mountains.jpg


A place you need to feel

Whether you’re a spiritual guru, a self-help nut, or an atheist when it comes to both, there’s something about Nepal that really does change you.

It’s impossible to escape the feeling of a place where religion and the gods are so carefully sewn into the fabric of everyday life.

While Nepal’s prayer flags float messages of love on the breeze, its culture flows through its rivers and deep valleys, and it’s deep spirituality lives on in the hearts and smiles of it’s people.

Nepal might have earned the title of ‘Roof of the World’ because of the towering protection of Everest and the Himalayan range, but perhaps, it’s also because there’s so much life contained within.


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We discovered the temples of Nepal with Urban Adventures on their Spiritual Nepal day tour. As always, our opinions are our own.

This post originally appeared on the Urban Adventures blog