Santaman was waiting in the arrival hall of the Tribhuvan International Airport with a garland of fresh marigold and a big piece of paper with my name printed on it when I stepped out of the gate. As you might have correctly guessed, with such hospitality, that I'd splurged a little and arranged for a personal driver through a local tour agent (thanks for the good recommendation, FBB's Dive Wife!) prior to my departure. With only a few days in the Kathmandu Valley, I thought it was a sensible decision as I didn't want to waste time haggling with the taxi touts.
A short exchange later, Santaman led me to Sudip, my driver for the next 2 days. The initial plan was to head directly to Nagarkot for a view of the Himalayan sunset (and sunrise) but we still had some time to spare, I thought. I'd decided to stretch my dollars and asked to visit another site before leaving for Nagarkot. It was between the sacred temple of Pashupatinath and the Great Stupa of Bodhnath. Santaman suggested the latter and I'm glad he did. In ancient times, Bodhnath was on the trade route between Tibet and Nepal. Travelers would come here to seek blessing for a safe journey ahead.
I'd never seen a stupa of this magnitude and architecture before. Standing before it, I was humbled and in awe. But certainly, there's more to the gilded tower, saffron paint and whitewashed dome that makes Bodhnath a World Heritage Site.
In the late afternoon, there were fewer tourists than pilgrims circumambulating the mandala - in the clockwise direction. While performing the Kora, these Tibetan Buddhists also turned the Mani (prayer) wheels, counted Mala (prayer beads) and/or chanted mantras of the deity of compassion. It was this, the practising of the faith of these pilgrims, that had been most unforgettable.
Two hours later, I rushed to find Sudip at the parking lot across the road. I was late. When we met, he just smiled, perhaps relieved that I had returned safely. Nagarkot now?
Do click here for more photos of Bodhnath.