- Encounters with locals
- Place or Religious Monument
Pashupatinath is the place where I had my most emotionally moving experiences during my trip to Nepal. Even now, several years later, I still view this as the highpoint of all the experiences I've had on my travels.
Nepal's Bagmati River is to some extent the Nepalese equivalant of the Ganges in India. This is the reason why Pashupatinath has become an exceptionally sacred site for Hindus. in front of the Golden Temple here you'll find various stalls selling bouquets of flowers and other religious knick-knacks. Sâdhus (Hindu monks) come here on pilgrimage in large numbers. They tend to be more genuine and display greater religious devotion than the monks you find at Kathmandu's Durbar Square. It's in Pashupatinath that they carry out cremations on the ghats (a special series of steps leading down to the water). Tourists are free to attend the ceremonies if they want. For obvious reasons of respect, I recommend crossing the footbridge to the other bank and watching the proceedings from there. Here's a guide to what takes place. A body arrives, covered in a yellow shroud. This is first completely submerged in the Bagmati then placed on the funeral pyre in a lying position. Family members then pour water from the river into the mouth of the deceased. The eldest son shaves his head and sets fire to the funeral pyre, passing five times around it as he does so. Until 1829, widows were burned along with their deceased husbands. After circling the pyre for the fifth and final time, the son strikes the skull of the deceased with an axe to free his/her soul. A cremation takes a total of three hours to complete and requires around 400 kilos of wood. The ashes are scattered in the river at the very end. Pure beings such as sâdhus, babies and cobra bite victims are not burned but their bodies instead deposited into the water whole. It's fascinating to observe, and everything is carried out with incredible sensitivity and in an atmosphere very heavily charged with emotion.
I've visited almost 50 countries on my travels but have never experienced anything else as touching and emotionally moving as what I witnessed that day. If I had just one place on the whole planet to recommend, it would be Pashupatinath.
*Following the powerful earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May of 2015, the country is gradually being rebuilt. This article was written before that natural disaster occurred.
During my trip to Nepal, I never thought I'd witness a cremation and was struck by what I saw. We watched the whole process, although it wasn't performed in the usual order. From preparing the body, to ensuring the corpse was fully burnt, all done in the heady smoke from the fire, was a profound and astonishing experience.
The centre of this religious site is well worth a tour and includes buildings carved with Hindu erotic scenes. You can also cross the river and head uphill for some great views. You'll come across Saddhus, curious monkeys and stray dogs.
*After the devastating earthquakes that shook Nepal in April and May 2015 the country is slowly getting back on its feet. This article was written before these catastrophic events occurred.