Yak cheese for breakfast while sitting in a garden of marigolds, people expressing faith so differently from my Episcopalian heritage in New Jersey. That was early morning in Kathmandu, half a world away from my normal.
Nepal is complicated, relevant, calm and startling all at the same time.
This is a vibrant country with 37 million people, no ocean borders and next door to “the top of the world,” as Tibet is known. Mount Everest is here, and so are thousands of glorious symbols and stories.
My noontime blessing from a 9-year-old goddess in a Kathmandu neighborhood connected me directly to a 17th century Nepali tradition active today.
If discerned to be so, the child is selected by age 4 and a ritual places the goddess within her. Back to her family she goes when puberty arrives, considered a goddess for one week longer and then no longer sacred.
Religious normal in Nepal does not resemble my nation’s normal.
Winds carry prayer
Flags in vibrant colors and also tattered threads flow overhead on yards of cord, with the wind horse carrying the prayers they hold.
Hands turn prayer wheels as people walk clockwise around the many temples, releasing a mantra engraved or painted on it. Once I learned that’s the purpose, I joined local residents and visiting pilgrims as they circled.
With so many Buddhist and Hindu holy places, Nepal attracts travelers making pilgrimages. Incarnation is a word heard often, glorious stories of new gods and goddesses.
Incantations are the lovely sounds rising in prayer: chanting monks, murmurings in temples, low-toned conversations with holy people as exchanges of rice, flowers, grains and nuts are made.
Prayerful Melodies Merge
I heard incantations merge as I trekked to altitude 6,000 in the Shivapuri National Park to visit the nunnery on top of a southern slope, overlooking the Kathmandu Valley.
Worship in Nepal is visible and everywhere—street corners, front yards, marketplaces, water gathering squares. Sidewalk worship is spontaneous, and plentiful in Kathmandu. A small stack of stones, smudges of the red powder seen on foreheads as a touch of blessing, often a bell intended to be rung as music to the gods.
To admire, appreciate, perhaps leave a bit of my heritage and take away new layers for my own soul — all possible in Nepal.