Since my sinuses hurt just writing about Kathmandu I want to move on, but we have to visit Pashpatinath, the holiest of Hindu religious sites in Nepal. We immediately hire one of the students touting themselves as guides. Always do this. Here you walk among temples built around the time Europeans were stacking logs at Jamestown … temples devoted to that wild and crazy guy, Shiva, who in the pantheon of Hindu gods has the most questionable of biographies. Shiva’s story at Pashpatinath is too fantastical for me to tell – you’d think I was drunk and not just hung-over – suffice to say it’s a story involving a godly (large) phallus, a stag with one magical horn, an ocean of blue poison, a cow with enchanted milk, and said phallus transforming itself into a pillar of light. This story, quite illogically, makes Pashpatinath, with its ragged line-up of funeral ghats on the Bagmati River, the place to go to dispose of the dead. Count me in.
We are allowed to wander among the pyres to watch people dispose of the dead by burning their ‘booddies’ into fine ash … or not-so-fine depending how much fuel you can afford, and sweeping them into a rather inadequate – at the moment – barely-moving river. The Bagmati, at the end of the monsoon season, is a trickle and must be diverted into a narrow channel below the funeral ghats to receive the fricasseed remains of the departed’s temporal vessel. Not to make light of this tableaux because it is very moving and is treated reverently by our guide … whose name was probably Krishna. Don’t remember.
The fellow that acts as, and I am sorry to use this word, ‘barbequer’ does so because he is of that caste … of cremators. After the ‘booddie’ is incinerated and swept into the water, another sad soul in a dhoti (loincloth) wades knee deep into the squalid mud and fishes around with his hands for any jewelry that the departed may have been wearing … this is customary. The family will not reclaim it and only those of particular caste are allowed this ‘opportunity’.
Pashputinath is also a destination for wandering sadhus, ascetic holymen, who have abandon all material attachments in search for purity and enlightenment and ….
… occasional tips for photographs. How to tell the difference between a real sadhu’ and a pretend one … this from Krishna. The pretend ones negotiate the tip for a photo.
… and won’t stay in places like this.
btw If my wife ever gets a clue and leaves me here is where you will find me