Boudhanath Stupa: A Spiritual Abode

Boudhanath, also known as Boudha, is one of the most popular tourist sites in Kathmandu. In contrast to the colorful surroundings, the stupa itself is stark white in color. It has different names in different languages. The Newar communities of Nepal call it Khasti, Tamangs call it Jyarung Khasyor and in Nepali it is Boudhanath.

This magnificent Stupa is one of the largest measuring almost 100m in diameter and stands 40m in height, and one of the most significant Buddhist monuments in the world. This great Stupa was enlisted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 making it an admirable place of interest for people all over the world. Today it is the key center of Tibetan Buddhism and the holiest of all Buddhist shrines in Nepal. Surrounded by shops, cafes, and handicraft businesses, it has emerged as an important trade hub and a major tourist destination. It is believed that those who reside around this great Stupa are blessed and will never have to suffer from hunger, famine and unfavorable conditions.

There are many stories and legends relating to the origin and history of Boudhanath Stupa. It is believed that this great Stupa was built during the Kashyapa Buddha’s end period and the beginning period of Shakayamuni Buddha.
The earliest historical references of Boudha Stupa are found in the chronicles of the Newar society. Some believe the name is derived from Kasyapa, the Manusi Buddha of the Dwapara-yuga, whose relics are said to be enshrined within it.
According to Newari etymology it is derived from the Newari word for “dew”, by the chronicles that mentioned when the Stupa was in the process of construction, a drought struck and the workmen would lay out a white cotton cloth at night to collect the morning dew, which was then wrung out to facilitate the day’s construction.

According to another story (as per Gopal Raj Chronicles) the Licchavi King Dharmadeva installed “stone spouts” but the water did not come. So, the king consulted his astrologers and was told to sacrifice the most virtuous man in the kingdom for water. After disappointing results, the King decided that it was only himself and his son who qualified as victims and so decided to sacrifice himself. He instructed his son, Prince Manadeva to decapitate his shrouded form with one stroke. The prince obeyed his father’s command but was horrified to see his father’s head fly from the corpse. It landed in the temple of Vajra Yogini in Sankhu and he was told by the goddess that the only way the prince could undo his sins was to let a cock fly and build a Stupa for his father wherever the cock landed. The cock perched at Boudha, and King Manadeva built the magnificent Stupa there.

Part of the stupa was damaged when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on April 25th, 2015. Realizing the religious, cultural, archeological and touristic importance of the Boudhanath Stupa, the locals of the area joint hands and decided to go ahead with reconstruction of the revered stupa. Support poured out from home and abroad in the form of cash, construction materials, gold and physical labour. The love, respect and hard work of the people paid off and after eighteen months of the devastating earthquake that shook the country, Nepalese celebrated the restoration of the stupa. In a massive three day -purification ceremony, amid a grand celebration that drew thousands of pilgrims, the historic site was restored to its glory, and reopened to public on 22 November, 2016.

Meaning of different parts of the Stupa
1. Mandala: Mansion of Boudha
2. Dome: Symbol of Universe or Vase of great treasure
3. Two Eyes: Symbol of method and wisdom
4. Harmika: Symbol of eight noble paths (Four square parts of stupa)
5. Nose like symbol: Symbol of Nirvana
6. Thirteen Steps: 13 steps of Bodhisattva’s ground for complete enlightenment
7. Lotus: Symbol of compassion and purity
8. Umbrella: Protector of three jewels; Boudha, Dharma, and Sangha
9. Pinnacle: Symbol of Mt. Sumeru (King of all mountains)

Festivals of Bhutan

Bhutan’s festivals are extremely lively and vibrant. Its people clad in colorful traditional Bhutanese attire, its spicy and zesty cuisine, various mask dances and dramas, makes it an eye-catching ambience in Bhutan.

Tshechus, held on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar, are among the most celebrated festivals, particularly the Paro Tshechu (Spring Festival) and Thimphu Tshechu (Fall Festival). With at least 1 festival taking place every month, one does wonder how they manage it all. But each festival comes with its own unique identity, history and diverse themes. Out of the numerous festivals Bhutan has to offer, let’s take a look at few of the popular ones.

1. Paro Tshechu
Held every spring, Paro Tshechu is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro district. The Tshechu is considered a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the festivity. At dawn on the last day of the celebration the monks display a gigantic thangkha (embroidered painting), the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong. Thongdrols are impressive examples of Buddhist art and keep spectators in awe. Simply viewing a Thongdrol is considered so pure, it is said to wash one’s sins away.

Paro Tshechu Dates: April 7 – 11, 2017

2. Thimphu Tshechu & Thimphu Drubchen

One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. Several days prior to this grand festival, the Thimphu Drubchen takes place where thousands of people travel to the capital city and offer prayers and rituals to invoke the gods. Held at the Tashichho Dzong, both these festivals are among the extremely popular festivals in Bhutan.

When it was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867 the Tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. Later in the 1950s, the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, introduced numerous mask dances performed by lay monks that added color and variation to the festival without compromising on its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because they are similar to stage-theater. Short skits are also performed to spread health and social awareness messages.

These festivals are also a break for farmers from their farm life who celebrate, receive blessings and pray on this happy occasion.

Thimphu Drubchen Dates: Sept 26 – 29, 2017
Thimphu Tshechu Dates: Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2017

3. Punakha Tshechu

After several requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people, Punakha Tshechu was introduced in 2005 by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. This Tshechu was established to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche, the unifier of Bhutan.

This festival not only plays an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provides devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special for both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.

Punakha Tshechu Dates: March 7 – 9, 2017


4. Black Necked Crane Festival

The Black-necked Crane festival is celebrated annually in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. Unlike other festivals, this festival is celebrated to mark the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part of the locals’ daily lives during winter.

Organized to generate awareness on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes, the one day festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas.
The festival has become a part of the local culture in Phobjikha valley ever since it was first initiated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in 1998.

Black Necked Crane Festival Dates: November 11, 2017

Lhosar Tashi Delek!


Pola & Mola (Tibetan for grandfather and grandmother) are an old Tibetan couple living in Nepal. Originally from Lhasa, Tibet, they migrated to Kathmandu in the late 1950’s to begin a new life in Nepal. A young 20 year old Pola had on his shoulders, the responsibilities of educating his younger siblings and taking care of his parents. Despite cultural and language differences, he set foot exploring the streets of Kathmandu.

Initially, he bought Nepalese spices, tobacco and candles; and exported them to Lhasa. He recalls those days when there were no roads and they had to send men on foot till the border carrying the supplies for days. “The Nepalese people are very hard working and with a Khukuri attached to their shirts, they carried goods on their backs,” he recalls. This went on till 1969, after which the highway was built and the Tibet – Nepal trade flourished. Since then, he traveled back and forth for 48 years between Nepal and Tibet, importing raw wool, musk, Tibetan thermos, campus shoes and later the famous Tibetan carpets from Lhasa to Nepal and likewise, exporting herbs, cotton, jute, ghee etc. to Lhasa.

While Pola sold Nepalese imported goods in the popular Barkhor Street in Lhasa, Mola stayed in a small retail shop they opened in the busy streets of Ason in Kathmandu selling all types of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. “I made a lot of friends in Ason”, she says. “Those were the carefree days; chitchatting and drinking tea with fellow shopkeepers is how I improved my Nepali.

After 57 years in Nepal, Pola & Mola share fond memories of Tibet and Nepal comparing similarities & differences between the two places they call home. “The same astounding landscape, mountains, hard-working people yet so distinct in culture and language.

With 4 children and 6 grandchildren, they now live a happy retired life in Nepal. “Life has shown us so many phases, between being born and brought up in Tibet and retiring in Nepal. We love our life and are happy but what is important to us is that we do not forget our Tibetan culture and heritage, the place that defined our existence. We are proud of our traditional dress – Bakhu and our Tibetan language. Also, on this happy occasion, we would like to wish everyone a very happy Lhosar. Lhosar Tashi Delek!”

Learn to make – Nepali Style Tomato Achar (Chutney)


This tomato achar is a local’s favorite. It is often served as a momo (dumpling) dip or a side dish in a Nepali thali set. However, this can also be served as a salsa dip.

Ingredients:

– Mustard Oil or any cooking oil
– Dry Red Chilies
– Chopped Onion
– Chopped Green Chilies
– Turmeric Powder
– Chopped Tomatoes
– Salt
– Red Chili Powder
– Cumin Powder
– Ginger-Garlic Paste
– Coriander Leaves

Preparation:
Heat mustard oil or regular cooking oil in a saucepan and put dry chilies. Stir until the chilies turn dark. (Nicely fried dried red chilies bring out the flavor)
Add chopped onions and green chilies and fry them until they turn golden brown in color. Add some turmeric powder into it.
Now, put the chopped tomatoes and let it cook in medium heat. Add salt, red chili powder, and cumin powder to taste.
Add ginger garlic paste and cover it for about 15 minutes.
After the water dries, wait till the mix turns into a nice thick consistency. (Add water if you want to dilute it.)
Lastly, garnish with fresh coriander leaves. This is served cold.


Let us know how it went and we would love to hear your feedback. Good Luck!

Tihar – The Festival of Lights

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Tihar or Deepawali is the festival of lights celebrated widely in Nepal. The five day long festival falls a fortnight after the grand festival of Dashain during Kartik, the seventh month of the Nepalese calendar. A joyous annual festival occurring in late autumn, Tihar brings happiness, prosperity and good wishes into the lives of people. Each day represents reverence to not just humans, but also to the sacred cows, dogs, crows and oxen that are honored in the Hindu culture. Being the festival of lights, butter lamps known as diyos are lit and the entire country illuminates to celebrate with immense joy and ecstasy.

First Day – Kag Tihar
The first day of Tihar is Kag Tihar where the Kag or crow is worshipped. Considered to be the messenger of death, people try to ward off grief and death in their families by offering food to crows.

Second Day – Kukur Tihar
The second day of Tihar is dedicated to the most loyal friend of mankind, Kukur or dog. Dogs are especially important to Nepal’s Hindu practitioners and are regarded as mount of God “Bhairab” as well as “Yama” (God of Death). They are said to guard the gates of afterlife and represent the concept of dharma, the path of righteousness.

On this day, dogs are worshipped as a gratitude for their loyalty and service. A garland of marigold flowers that are in full bloom during this time is draped around their neck and an auspicious red tika applied on the forehead that signifies their devotion and friendliness. They are offered delicious food and the day is marked to treasure the relationship between humans and dogs.

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Third Day – Gai Tihar and Laxmi Puja
The third day is one of the major days of Tihar. The morning is Gai Tihar meaning cow worship. In Hinduism, the cow is regarded as Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is considered holy and sacred and in ancient times, cow milk, dung, and even urine were utilized as a source of purifying oneself. The cow is fed plenty of grass and garlanded with the auspicious marigold flower this morning.

In the afternoon, houses and offices are cleaned and floors painted with Red Mud (Rato Mato) and cow dung (gobar). Rangoli, a pattern made of colored rice, colored sand and flower petals, is drawn at the main entryway of the house and traditional butter lamps (Diyo) are lit to welcome the gods and goddesses. Doors and windows are decorated with fresh garlands of sayapatri (marigold) and makhamali (chrysanthemums) flowers. In the evening at a scheduled auspicious time, Goddess Laxmi is worshipped and thanked for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Various sweetmeats are offered to the goddess and relished amongst family and friends. After the prayers, girls and boys go out to the neighborhood houses singing and dancing to the customary songs, Bhailo and Deusi for which they are bestowed with money, fruits and selroti, a Nepalese delicacy made of rice and sugar.
Firecrackers and sparklers light up the sky although the government has imposed a ban to avoid any mishaps and protect the environment.

Fourth Day – Goru Tihar and Mha (aatma or self) Puja

This day different types of prayers or Pujas are held depending on one’s cultural background. People who follow Vaishnavism perform the Gobardhan Puja (honoring Gobardhan Mountain) or Goru Puja (worship of the oxen). The ox helps farmers plough fields and draw the carts in the paddy fields of Nepal, a predominant agricultural country. They are fed and worshipped and Govardhan Puja is performed, where a paste of cow dung is applied outside houses as replicas of the Gobardhan Mountain.

At dusk the Newar community perform Mha Puja also known as self-puja. It is done to purify the body and soul for one’s prosperity and longevity. A Mandala or mandap, sand painting of a sacred diagram signifying good fortune and long life, decorated with marigold flowers, sweets, fruits and a special garland is set for each family member who sit cross-legged behind it. The elder female member then begins applying the tika on their foreheads and performs the rituals handing over shagun, auspicious food consisting of boiled eggs, fruits, sweets, fish, and the traditional rice wine. Later they indulge in a scrumptious feast and revel in the festive ambience.

This day also marks the new year of the Nepal Sambat, the Newari calendar.

Fifth Day: Bhai Tika
The final day of Tihar is dedicated to the siblings, particularly brothers. At an auspicious time scheduled a day earlier by an astrologer, the entire nation’s sisters apply tika of five colors on her brother’s forehead and pray to Yamraj, the god of death, to ensure his long life. She also ties a sacred cotton thread of Tantric value meant to protect them and offers him sweets and fruits. Similarly, the brothers give tika to sisters and offer her gifts and money along with an assurance to protect her forever. Those without sisters receive tika from cousins and relatives. The impact of this day is to strengthen the bond between brothers and sisters.

Tihar is the second biggest festival of Nepal after Dashain. The proximity of the two major festivals gets people in the merry-making mood the entire month beginning from Dashain and lasting until the end of Tihar.

Everest from Tibet

An amalgam of culture, history and nature, Everest from Tibet takes you amidst a wild and uncompromising landscape, through soaring snow-capped mountains, freshwater lakes and glided temples to the very heart of Tibet.

Everest-from-Tibet

Call it The Roof of the World, The Forbidden City or the Third Pole – so magnetic is its fame that a mere mention conjures up images of grandeur and spirituality. It has the earth’s highest ecosystem and is one of its last remaining wildernesses with its lush forests supporting abundant wildlife. Its many mountains feed some of Asia’s most revered rivers and Mt. Kailash is the most sacred mountain in the world. Its people are some of the most resilient in the world and through their richness and deep religious convictions, were built many captivating monuments.
It is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Asia.

Trip Highlights:

• Everest Base Camp with the spectacular view of the North Face of Mount Everest.
• Dalai Lama’s summer and winter retreats, The Potala Palace and Norbulingkha.
• The sacred Yamdrok Lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
• Witness monks in philosophical debates.
• Tread the path of Lhasa’s pilgrimage route to experience the firsthand religious fervor of Tibet.

Itinerary in Detail