There is no image more evocative of Nepal than the heavy-lidded, summer sky-blue eyes of The Buddha at Swayambhunath temple, near Kathmandu. The question mark nose that sits beneath them is in fact the
OPPOSITE: The heavy-lidded eyes and question mark nose of the Buddha at Swayambhunath temple is, along with the Annapurna skyline, the most evocative image of Nepal. ABOVE: Machhpuchhare, the holy fishtail peak of the Annapurna range, wreathed in clouds, is an unforgettable sight for those who’ve trekked in its Shadow.
Patan Dhoka Kathmandu (Gaze on the Eyes of Buddha)
Nepal numeral “one” symbolic both of unity and the one path to salvation as preached by the Buddha. If you look carefully, you’ll see a delicate whorl rising from the gilt background above the eyes-the third eye, all-seeing, symbolic of Buddha’s omniscience.
There can be few more pleasant ways to while away a late afternoon in kathmandu than to walk out to Swayambhunath. Stat the walk from Durbar square. Behind the kasthamandap, in the south-west corner of the square is Pie Alley or Maru Tole, although the pie shops for which it was once famed are now all gone.
Follow it down to the river and cross via a footbridge that rocks and sways with the continuous passage of local pedestrian commuters. A path leads up to a road lined with house and shops, where you turn left towards the green at the foot of Swayambhunath hill.
The climb to the temple involves puffing up more than 300 steps-some sources claim 365, a number that is disputed but you can check yourself if you wish. Along the way sellers of Tibetan jewelry, their wares spread out on rugs, will call to you. Look in particular for the carvers of miniature mani stones. Mani stones are inscribed with prayers and usually seen at tops of passes, where they are laid tin thanks for successful journey. Watch out the too far Monkeys, which scamper about mischievously, and are best kept at a distance. Manjushri, the Tibetan Buddha of Discriminative Awareness, is said to have once had his hair cut here> the shorn hairs became trees; the lice became monkeys.
After you’ve recaptured your breath at the summit, choose quiet spot to survey the scene. At your feet is spread afabulous view of Kathmandu, while circling the stupa in a clockwise direction, one outstretched hand slapping the prayer wheels into a devotional spin, lipsmuttering a mantra, is a Tibetan monk or two. All around, prayer flags flutter in the breeze, scattering their prayers heavenward fro the salvation of all beings.
The famous eyes gaze out in the four cardinal directions. Over them is a staggered cone of 13 gilded rings, representing the 13 steps to enlightenment. At the summit the “umbrella” with its saffron skirt, represents enlightenment itself.
It’s almost chastening, the air of antique devotion that hangs about this place, particularly late in the afternoon as the warm light deepens into the searing reds and lambent shadows of sunset. But then, before you know it, worldly concerns sweep such thoughts aside: it’s getting dark and time to turn back to Kathmandu for dinner.