At this white-washed stupa, beneath the watchful Buddha eyes I’m watching what I learn is one of the few places in the world outsiders can observe Tibetan Buddhists culture. A mixture of monks, tourists, an even western Buddhist students in robes slowly circumnavigate this giant stupa, clockwise. Incense burns, offerings are given. There is a palpable energy here, Buddhists believe it is the source of sacred energy and one of the most important pilgrimage sites. It’s easy get absorbed here, accidentally circling the stupa several times.
The original was built in 600AD, though the current version is much newer since it was mostly destroyed in the 14th century. Stepping into its gates is a bit like transporting back in time several centuries, minus the ubiquitous digital cameras and abundant wi-fi.
Historically, travelers, pilgrims, and traders used to seek blessing from the stupa for safe travels through the mountains. Today it is a center for Buddhist life and education, generally considered the most important Buddhist monument in the world.
Translated, it means lord of wisdom.
After hitching a ride from one of the guesthouse employees headed to the airport I spent a few hours here, wandering, absorbing. I felt extremely relaxed within the walls of this village, despite the hundreds of people around me. Surrounding the stupa there are several stores and restaurants, many of which offer rooftop views of the stupa, a perfect place for lunch, reading a book, and generally inattention.
After, I returned to Thamel, I successfully navigating the streets for the first time. It’s taken almost a week, but I finally feel comfortable with this city. I was assured, my inability to navigate is completely normal, all the streets look the same, there is no grid nor street signs. Instead I’ve made a mental map with indicators such as, there’s a supermarket, turn right at next intersection for my guesthouse. There is certainly a sense of accomplishment after learning a new city, even if it is a really, really small part of it. And I have to admit, sitting in the backseat of a taxi weaving through this labyrinth of a city, scarf wrapped tightly around my neck, breeze flipping my hair, I’m all alone on the other side of the world and I feel, pretty cool.