Here’s a short excerpt from my travelogue Notes of a Naive Traveler, about one of the many impressive holy sites in Nepal I was lucky enough to visit.
December 4, 1999: Budhanilkantha and Sundarijal
Last weekend, our neighbor’s son Shekhar and various family members took me to Budhanilkantha and Sundarijal, two holy sites close to our house.
To get to Budhanilkantha, Shekhar led us up the very high hill behind our house, through a collection of tiny villages bordering the river flowing past the rice paddies visible from our rooftop terrace. It was the first time I’d gotten to see how much of a rural setting we are in – there’s nothing behind our school except for impossibly tiny homes, rice, wheat, and potato fields. We walked along small built-up trails rising between the patches of dirt, used by farmers to navigate through their fields without crushing the crops. Along the riverbanks, tiny bamboo groves had sprung up, and the sound of the wind rushing through them – accompanied by the stream – was magnificent.
Budhanilkantha (literally “old blue neck”) was a remarkable site. Around an enormous sleeping Vishnu statue lies an interesting array of stone shrines honoring Ganesh, Shiva, and other gods I didn’t recognize. The Vishnu statue is covered by an elaborate red tent trimmed with red and gold fringe – nice and festive. A moat surrounds the stone carving, which is decorated with fresh garlands of flowers and tika powder.
As I’m not Hindu, I wasn’t allowed to go inside the actual compound, but luckily there was only a railing around the statue with poles far enough apart to be able to see into the complex. I watched various worshippers leave offerings of food, flowers, and tikas.
Later, a young Hindu boy dressed in priest’s robes entered the compound and washed off most of the tika marks the previous worshippers had placed on the statue. With the red dye gone, it was easier to see the naga coils on which Vishnu lies. Lying back on his bed of snakes, now glistening in the sun, Vishnu looked to be a most impressive god…
Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand
I never thought I would have reason to say to someone, “Sorry I’m late, it took longer to dismember the goat than originally planned.”
I was twenty-six years old, worked at a well-paid job, rented a fantastic apartment, and enjoyed a large circle of friends. I had everything, except I didn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing out on the experience of living.
Part guidebook on culture and travel, part journey of self-discovery, this travelogue takes you on a backpacking adventure through Nepal and Thailand and provides a firsthand account of one volunteer’s experience teaching in a Nepali school and living with a devout Brahmin family.
Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of eastern Nepal, take a wild river-rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter a charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea-kayak the surreal waters of Krabi, and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.
Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.