Life in Kathmandu happens on the street. I expected that. I wasn’t quite prepared to witness a public cremation on my first day in town. The Hindu temple at Pashupati area is a favourite tourist attraction here. It’s not particularly beautiful as temples go, but tourists come here to see the monkeys scooting around, to photograph the painted holy hermits, and to see bodies burned.
It took our group from World Expeditions (I’m their guest for a nice trek) about two minutes to see our first monkey robbery, fortunately nothing we’d have to call American Express about. The victim of the mugging was a lady selling drinks and packets of peanuts, a couple of which the monkey made off with, to the delight of all but the vendor.I was personally robbed by a holy man. These dreadlocked gentlemen hang about on the hill above the temple, dressed in saffron robes or loin cloths, their faces painted with red and yellow ochre. They may spend some time each day thinking holy thoughts, but they haven’t entirely given up hope of getting a few worldly possessions. “Photo-money, where you come from?” is their chanted mantra.
I saw it as a sort of street theatre so cheerfully forked out 1000 Nepali rupees for photographic rights, thinking in my innocence that that was about USD1. (It’s closer to USD10). For that sort of money I expect buskers to do an impressive song and dance. Perhaps these modern eremites will one day read my blog. If they do, (and I mean you, the two holy men first on the left as you go up the path) I expect a reply detailing some findings on the meaning of life.
On the bank opposite a small funeral procession arrived, carrying a bright red coffin. A group of about twenty men followed by two women in red saris, stood around for a while chatting, then opened the coffin and pulled out a body, wrapped in a white sheet.They lugged it down to the river, where they left it with its feet in the water. An older gentleman was assisted down the bank to scoop up water and pour it on the eyes of the body. The face was now exposed. A woman, presumably his wife. The male family members all took out mobile phones and ritually took snaps of the departed. We tourists respectfully entered into the spirit of the ceremony and took snaps of our own.
The body was then strewn with flowers, wrapped in orange cloth,and carried to the funeral pyre further down the bank. Meanwhile a young boy climbed into the coffin and tried it out as a boat, paddling it along the river to join the next stage of the ceremony.
The widower took a burning lamp and walked three times around the pyre. A helpful Nepali gentleman standing beside me explained it to me. ‘Three times around the body. Once for Brahma the creator, once for Vishnu the preserver, once for Shiva the destroyer.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘Where you come from? Australia? You have some spare Australian coins? I love to collect Australian coins…and euros…’
The pyre was burning, a stiff white arm protruding from under the sheet. The grieving family appeared to have lost interest and our bus was waiting for us.
I’d like to leave my readers with a comment about what I learned today about the meaning of life and death, but it will take me a while to think about it. And to load the photos onto this post.
More when I next find an internet cafe…