Kathmandu is color and chaos, people and traffic, temples and stupas and shrines. Cows wander around or lie in the middle of the road; dogs trot through alley; kids in school uniforms, neckties perfectly tied, walk to school in twos and threes; people carry refrigerators or stacks of boxes or huge baskets full of bricks on their backs, balancing the loads with cloth straps across their foreheads; chickens and ducks and pigeons poke around and peck at piles of grain; bikes and motorcycles and teensy tiny cars zoom through roads with no traffic signals, honking incessantly, forcing their way through the gridlock with only inches to spare. Fortunately, everyone jumps in to help direct cars as they squeeze past each other on narrow (understatement) roads, yelling at the driver how hard to turn and slapping the hood when they should stop. And around every stopped car, motorcycles and bikes and pedicabs and pedestrians pile up or squeeze around them, horns honking.
This morning I went to Bodhnath Stupa just at daybreak, where a crush of people – monks, schoolkids, elders, people with their motorcycle helmets still on, regular people – walk the clockwise circuit. They walk fast, some reaching out to spin prayer wheels, some saying prayers, but most of them just walking.
There are inner circuits, too, within the round walls of the stupa. Devout Buddhists prostrate themselves again and again, laying themselves flat, then returning to their knees and then standing, raise their hands in the air palms together, and then sink to their knees and to the ground again. People light yak butter lamps, polish carved bowls by pouring handsful of rough grains over them again and again, string prayer beads, spin prayer wheels, hang more prayer flags. Countless strings of prayer flags fly from the central point of the stupa to the outer edges.
The round courtyard is busy with activity but calm, so calm, even when the sounds from the street outside spill in. When it started to pour, people crowded together under awnings at the edge of the courtyard, making room; others continued their circuit, opening up umbrellas or holding things high against the wet or letting the rain fall on their heads. As the sky cleared again, people drifted back into the day.
A woman with a toddler wrapped in the back of her green sari backed toward the entrance, her palms pressed together and raised toward the stupa. The little girl, too, held up her hands together.