Here I got to know my new camera, which meant, of course, a bunch of overexposed photos. I didn't lose anything serious, and once I figured it out, got a few great shots that wouldn't be possible with my old point-and-shoot. I started on a walking tour south of the tourist area in Thamel to the main historic area Durbar square. Buddhism in Nepal comes from a different stream than Indian Buddhism, from the Vajrayana, or Tibetan, school. Most people are familiar with the Dalai Lama; this is the school of Buddhism to which he belongs. Often Hindus and Buddhists will pray at the same temple. It was fascinating to see how the features of the gods changed in a different culture; people certainly create god in their own image! In Nepal, porters carry incredibly huge loads. Shortly after I took this photo, this man put this package -- which looked as if it must be filled with rocks -- onto his back and carried it down the street.
I spent a lot of time at the Seto Machendranath Temple, which is a large temple covered in gold-coloured metal decoration, has prayer wheels around the walls and wooden carvings in the roof supports. Many small stupas fill the square around it, and several beautiful statues of the gods. I've included here a photo of the two Taras, who are Buddhist Goddesses. I found it somewhat annoying that the square was also filled with pigeons, so it was difficult to take a photo without including them.
Durbar Square is the main historical centre, with temples dating back to the 12th century. One of my favourites was the Shiva-Parvati temple, where the holy couple peer out of the top window. I was also very excited to be able to see Kumari Devi, the living goddess of Nepal, who lives in a house with beautifully carved wooden windows. Wood carvings are used in Nepal much more often than in India, where most of the carvings are stone. Photos of the Kumari are not allowed, but photos of her courtyard are.
Early one morning I visited Swayambhunath, the site of one of the most important stupas in the Kathmandu Valley. Pilgrims were circling the stupa and spinning the prayer wheels, or standing in line to visit the goddess Hariti. There is an important gompa here as well, with a huge golden statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. Prayer wheels come in all sizes, but these children were playing around -- I don't think it really took both of them to turn the wheel! The stupa platform and the surrounding Tibetan settlements are filled with prayer flags as well as with prayer wheels. Each flag has a prayer printed on it, and every time the wind blows it, it sends the prayer. Likewise, every prayer wheel has a mantra on it, and every time a pilgrim spins the wheel, it sends the prayer. Before I left I circled the stupa to spin the prayer wheels.
On another tour of the city I found children climbing on and residents praying at a huge chariot! These chariots are built for festivals and are incredibly tall. I didn't see them move it, but I can't imagine how it doesn't fall over when they roll it around the city. (Or how they maneuver around the knots of electrical wires that seem to fill every intersection.)
Finally, the good news is that the quarrel with India is reconciled, although I think that government officials will always be ready to remind me of the fight for the rest of the year, if not the remainder of my passport, if I ever return to India in the coming years. So I'll be heading back into India in a week or two, to make the long trip back to Pune.