Nepal 108: The Stupa

The Stupa in Pokhara, Nepal

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid-in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: “Wow! What a ride!”

—Hunter S. Thompson

The day after the interview, I got the email I knew was coming: After further consideration and review of your C.V., we have decided not to… blah, blah, blah.

I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or devastated.

I didn’t feel much either way.

I had known I was not getting the job.

I knew I didn’t have the energy to remain abroad much longer. I was thoroughly used-up and totally worn-out. All that remained was to skid across the finish line: a bus to Kathmandu, then a flight home.

I remained in Pokhara for a day or two with Linjon.

He was good company as we set out across Fewa Lake in a cheap boat taxi. I was trying to buy my flight home as we got in the boat, but got distracted when the haggling over the price of the boat ride began. They wanted to charge us $10 a piece or something, while we only wanted to pay $5.

By the time we got across the lake, the price of my flight home had increased by $50.

I sighed, and bought it.

“That boat ride just cost me 50 bucks,” I told Linjon as we started hiking up the trail towards Pokhara’s World Peace Pagoda, a stupa which sat on a hill overlooking the city. “Cost of the flight I was looking at just went up while we were in that boat.”

“Really? Airline prices are so strange,” Linjon said, huffing a little. “It’s funny,” he added. “We spent all those days hiking, and here I am after one day of rest — this is tiring!

“Eh, we trekked all the way to the Base of Annapurna, man!” I said, clapping him on the back as I passed him on the trail. “And you had on that huge pack! This is nothing.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “We are badasses! This is nothing!” I could hear the determined smile in his voice. It was surprising how much I’d come to know Linjon’s mannerisms in a week.

“So you’re really going home then?” Linjon asked. “You bought it?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“When do you go?”

“Three days from now.”

“So no Holi then?”

The Nepali holiday of Holi was coming up in about a week — our guides had talked quite a bit about it during the trek. It was a celebration of color, they said, when all of Kathmandu would turn into a no-holds-barred water-balloon fight with colorful dyes. It sounded pretty magical.

“Nah, no Holi,” I responded. “I just don’t have the energy, man.”

It seemed like I had used up my magic.

“What about you?” I asked. “You have a few more weeks of holiday left, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I might go see the rhinos in… what is it called? The national park?”

“Chitwan.”

“Yeah. I might go see rhinos in Chitwan. Or I may go do this volunteering thing, I had a meeting with a guy yesterday, it sounded pretty interesting. But I only really have one more week free, because after that I need to start studying for my exams which will be at the beginning of the term.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, the truth is I did not do so good on one of my final exams last term, so it is important I need to get ahead of the materials this term,” he said.

“Well, at least you have a life to be getting back to,” I said, probably a little bitterly. “That’s nice. I have no idea what I’m going back to.”

“It is, and it isn’t, you know?” Linjon said. “My whole family is doctors. Never in my life have I been expected to be anything other than a doctor. And to tell you the truth man, I am kind of questioning it. In Germany, you know…. It is not like…” he trailed off with a dismissive noise.

I didn’t know what it was like in Germany.

We continued on. The trail was surprisingly steep; we were quickly gaining elevation over Pokhara. Before long, we arrived at the Stupa. It was much larger in person than it appeared from Pokhara. A huge curving dome, fifteen meters in diameter and at least as many tall, the Stupa was not simply a sight: it was a small compound. There were a number of tourists around, including some Chinese, but the hilltop had an aura of peace.

Lakeside Pokhara from the stupa

Linjon and I wandered out to the edge of the path. We rested our hands on the rail, and looked out over Pokhara. The city stretched for quite a ways. As tourists, we had seen little besides the bus terminal and the Lakeside district, but the sprawl of the city continued inland for what had to be kilometers.

“I feel almost like we are in a video game,” Linjon said. “Like we are going to go down and conquer that city.”

Having wasted my youth playing far too many video games, I instantly understood what he was saying.

“It feels like we’re coming into a new town in an RPG, yeah?” I said. “Like we just came over the hill and this is our first view of somewhere new.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Or like a Civilization type game? You know Civilization?”

Yeah,” I said, nodding.

“I like that game a lot,” Linjon said. “Truthfully, it is part of the reason I failed that exam last term.”

I nodded, gazing out at a few paragliders coming down on the opposite side of the lake. “Yeah, I know that problem.”

Buddha Statue World Peace Pagoda Pokhara Nepal

Buddhists have this special architectural ability to create peace within a space. I had noticed this in Thailand, in Chiang Mai. One step, you were in the middle of a chaotic Asian metropolis, with scooters buzzing by and stray dogs in the street and pollution and power lines intruding everywhere. But take a single step, into a Wat (a buddhist temple) and suddenly — things were different. You had moved maybe five feet, but you started feeling calm, relaxed, peaceful and happy. It was quiet. The air, somehow, seemed cleaner. You would walk across that Wat and out the other side, and the chaos of the city would return.

It was a remarkable quality, and I felt it here again, below the Stupa. The simple white dome stood above us, imposing a certain scale. The mountainside fell away into the lake before us, and across the lake, the city stretched into the far-away foothills of the Annapurna Range.

The skies above us were cotton-candy blue, with sugary wisps of cloud. The sun was shining, there was a light wind, and the day was perfect. At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to think about much. But for a long time afterwards, I would hold that moment at the Stupa with Linjon as a perfect, peaceful memory.

***

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