This need not sound as sad or conclusive as it does; it is simply the best way to describe our last days together as a cohesive program before heading in different directions to conduct our research. At this very moment I am certain that all 14 of us are deep within the throes of our research, slaving away over interview transcriptions, photographs, and related literature trying to make some sense of anything…Then again, I am drinking coffee in a cafe with blazing-fast internet and updating my blog. I suppose others might be trying to retain their sanity as well. Nevertheless, these pictures are from our trip to Swayambhu on the north-western side of the Kathmandu Valley. Swayambhu (or Swayambhunath – with the ending very common to many names here) is known to many who travel to Nepal as the infamous “Monkey Temple.” Although this is a misnomer, there are plenty of monkeys to be found. And rest assured, whether you can see them or not, if you have food, they can see you very, very well. On more than one occasion did we witness a little furry primate relieve a larger, less furry primate of their foodstuffs. Really makes you wonder who is the more evolved…
But the stupa itself and the surrounding monuments and temples are quite beautiful. The name “Swayambhu” can be translated or understood in a few different ways. Literally, for the Newari Buddhists, it means “self-arisen.” This hearkens back a story that is told about a lotus sitting peacefully on the surface of the lake that is now the Kathmandu Valley. Supposedly this lotus, and the hill that formed under its own power beneath it, now sit within the large stupa built on top of hill. This is a horrible butchering of the story, but self-arisen forms are quite common in Nepal, and they are particularly special for Buddhists. Another way to understand it, from a Tibetan translation and context, is as “sublime trees,” or essentially the hill where an abundance of trees thrive. This story is related to a god that established the area, and he sacrificed his hair to protect the site. So when he cut his hair off, it is said that each one of his strands of hair was planted and grew into a different tree. Now, I know nothing of trees or how to actually name them, but I can claim that there are many different looking trees in this area. So who knows? Oh, and there are also lots of prayer flags, as per usual.
This is a surprisingly clear view of the valley from the top of the hill.
Our visit to Swayambhu was one of many things we had to accomplish in our last week together. Among the other things were finalizing paperwork for our research, making contacts, finding housing, and packing up in our home stays. The latter of these was by far the most difficult for most of us. Although we were ready to go out on our own and have new and exciting experiences, it was hard leaving a family that had so generously taken us in for the semester and treated us like part of their family. I really do miss having a good, home cooked meal every night. Fortunately we will see them once more at a picnic in our last week. I will do my best to update more throughout my research, but as it is not particularly exciting for most, it might not be worth your time. Once again, thanks for reading. See you again soon!