Temples, Monkeys, Earthquakes & Hope
August 2, 2015, 8:17 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

IMG_20150731_074402123_HDRI woke up at sunrise my first day in the city and hiked up to Swayambhunath, also known as the monkey temple. Monkeys do indeed abound at Swayambhu and they get all up in your business. When they’re not leaping across the sky above your head, they’re busy doing funny things like chilling on a rock eating a Kitkat or staging a showdown with street dogs over stolen groceries. Anyway, back to my original subject: Swayambhu. I’d say that morning is pretty magical at most pilgrimage sites and Swayambhu always delivers in that respect. Up there you’re above all traffic and noise, just you and a whole bunch of people who hiked up to fulfill their ritual duties and pray. It could be any year, but most likely one that feels like several hundred years ago.

My trip up to the stupa coincided with the day of the full moon, a holy day, so everyone was busy in their devotion. Offerings being made to the tiny temples and icons surrounding the stupa were accompanied by the beautiful music of 50 or so Newari Buddhists singing and playing instruments. I sat with them for about an hour and listened. I then befriended an old Tibetan monk who walked me through the earthquake damage of the site as we did the pilgrimage circuit. The stupa’s spire is intact but one of it’s two major side temples collapsed, the other one is propped up by scaffolding like a huge crutch.


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This was the first place I really took in the earthquake damage, this place I’ve been coming to for almost 20 years now, and started to hear people’s stories. My new monk friend had bricks rain down on him, injuring his hip and legs. Looking down at the city, he pointed out other places that had fallen.


The damage is certainly bad here in the city itself, but I’m surprised by the beating many of the sketchiest of buildings were able to withstand. A friend here mentioned that an international committee of seismologists visited a few years ago and forecasted that quakes of this magnitude would demolish 60-70% of all buildings and take out 40% of the population. Thanks to all that is good in this world, they were wrong.

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As you walk around the city, life goes on as it has to but it seems to me that Nepali people do it with an admirable amount of tenacity and joy. A member of my hotel staff was showing me post-earthquake pictures of his village on his phone. It was leveled. But as he looked at these disturbing images he said to me, “Nepal is still alive, Madame.”  Later that day I saw a shirt for sale in the market with an image of Dharahara, the city’s historical watchtower that fell killing close to 200 people. The shirt read: “We will rise again.”

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