A couple of well spaced sadhus in the Pashupatinah temple complex, Kathmandu, Nepal.
There are no sad Sadhus in Nepal
They say that the Himalayas are the Home of the Gods, but that’s not the reason that the Nepal’s Khathmandu valley, at the foot of the Himalayas, is close to heaven for tourists. It’s more because the people are friendly and interesting, the town centres are packed with ornate architecture and medieval religious relics in daily use, souvenirs are unique, the food is eminently edible – especially if you like Indian, Mexican or Italian cuisine – and all of this comes at the right price.
Khathmandu used to be the end of the hippie trail, when restaurants served magic mushroom omelettes all day long and smoke got in your highs, but now, though the hippies have mostly gone the countryside is still high and the prices are still low.
Painted Sadhu with snake and trident, Kathmandu
There are hippie-ish alternatives for foreigners in search of socially interesting and photogenic phenomena – the Sadhus.
Dressed in reds and yellows, with long, unwashed hair coiled on their heads, white lines painted on their foreheads and huge forks in one hand, these wandering, ascetic Hindu monks, like the hippies of the 60’s know how to have a good time in Nepal.
Nepal is a Hindu state but tolerates other religious beliefs.
Buddhism is also popular, perhaps because Siddhartha Gautama – the Buddha – was born in western Nepal. Hinduism is curious religion in some respects; you cannot convert to it, you can only be born into it. Hindus believe in a cycle of reincarnation, with the next life depending on karma, the quality of the present life. Nirvana, heaven, the goal of every being, is the end of the life and death cycle, in other words extinction.
Hinduism has a confusing number of gods, who have confusing numbers of arms, legs and heads. Some say that these gods are simply alternative forms of one god, others disagree. Whatever, the five faced, four armed, three eyed Shiva (in one of his less bizarre forms), is, with his elephant headed son Ganesh, the most helpful god in this valley.
Shiva comes in many shapes sizes and forms, sometimes cruel, sometimes kind, and is often represented by a stone linga, a kind of short, thick penis on a female genital platform – a common shrine around Nepal and India.
Pashupatinath temple photo by Luca Galuzzi.
And finally, the Pashupatinath Temple in the suburbs of Khatmandu is second only to Varanasi as a Hindu religious goal, the end of a long pilgrimage for many Indian sadhus and a big step towards a better next life, or even no life at all so it’s a major draw for sadhus.
Stoned, free and headed for nirvana in Khathmandu. Isn’t that something to smile about?