Won­der of won­ders in Nepal

THE IN­CI­DEN­TAL TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MUR­RAY LAU­RENCE

THREE of the holi­est Bud­dhist shrines south of the Hi­malayas are in Nepal’s Kath­mandu val­ley. Boudha and Swyambhu (the mon­key tem­ple) are just a 40-minute walk from the cen­tre of the cap­i­tal.

Th­ese are un­de­ni­ably vi­brant sites, sur­rounded by monas­ter­ies. But the World Her­itage-listed Namobud­dha ap­pears more of a holy mi­rage.

My first quest to reach this fa­mous place of pil­grim­age was from Dhu­likel, a cou­ple of hours from Kath­mandu, where my wife and I were en­joy­ing a week­end at a labyrinthine re­sort. Namobud­dha was sup­posed to be a breezy two-hour walk.

We set off at 10am, fol­low­ing a trac­ery of foot­paths along ter­raced hills, through vil­lages and forests.

Oc­ca­sion­ally we ques­tioned passersby, who told us Namobud­dha was just be­yond the next rise. Its beauty was con­firmed as ‘‘unimag­in­able’’.

At 3pm we re­luc­tantly re­treated. That night we dined alone and de­flated.

Two years later I was with friends in the his­toric town of Pa­nauty and a glance at the map showed Namobud­dha to be not far away. There was ru­moured to be a bus, but its where- abouts was a mys­tery, while a guide­book hinted at a walk tak­ing just a few hours. So off we went. Af­ter some hours we stopped to chat with vil­lagers. Why were we walking to Namobud­dha? A bus, they said, would be along soon.

We also learnt that the road ends be­low a steep cliff and that our ma­jes­tic prize com­mands the sum­mit, up a pun­ish­ing stair­way. A bus did come, but it was head­ing to Pa­nauty.

We pushed on. And there, around a cou­ple more cor­ners, over a rise or two, was a white vi­sion, float­ing like a play of light on the hori­zon, but much too dis­tant to reach. So we turned back.

Re­cently I was con­tacted by Hari, a former col­league. He wanted to take me by mo­tor­bike to his vil­lage, not far from Kath­mandu. We left at dawn for the coun­try­side. At a fuel stop, Hari pro­posed we visit a tem­ple near his home. I as­sumed it would be to a Hindu de­ity.

The bi­tu­men ended and as we bounced along chan­nels of dry mud, I saw rib­bons of prayer flags and build­ings of a qual­ity to sig­nal a Bud­dhist set­tle­ment. And so, fi­nally, I en­tered Namobud­dha.

At one of its shrines, there is a sculp­ture of the young Bud­dha gen­er­ously feed­ing him­self to a ti­gress. Hari prayed, demon­strat­ing the ad­mirable eclec­ti­cism of many Nepalis.

Ev­ery­one I met at a wed­ding back in Kath­mandu that evening was thrilled that I had been to Namobud­dha — so beau­ti­ful, so in­spir­ing, so un­for­get­table, they chimed. I asked when they had been there. There was an em­bar­rassed hush. But oh, it is such a fa­mous, holy won­der, they cho­rused.

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