+ John Burdett
This Thailand-based novelist is best known for his popular series of mystic thrillers set in Bangkok, but, he tells PAUL EHRLICH, he finds transcendence in KATHMANDU
Published on Apr 2, 2010
Some places impose ritual on us. Whenever I visit Kathmandu I stay in the same suite at the Kathmandu Guest House. I always spend the first morning at Swayambhunath, the monkey temple, which is, in reality, a tough animal neighborhood atop a hill where primates rule and their adolescent offspring whip apples from out the hands of innocent tourists. But the first afternoon I always save for Pashupatinath.
Pashupatinath is the second-holiest site in Hinduism, after Benares. The public cremations here are a popular attraction for tourists (“Look, honey, they’re burning someone’s granny on that huge bonfire over there next to the water”), but I come whenever I can to see a pal I made many years back.
He is a yogi in a loincloth, who, when in residence, occupies an allotted slab of stone near the gaudy shrines opposite the temple complex. He has not cut his hair in more than 30 years; most of the time he keeps it in a huge bun on top of his head. I once made the mistake of asking his name, after he had filled his great chest with an inhalation of smoke from his black stone chillum. He took a full minute to exhale, then said: “Bam Shankar”—I am Shiva.
It is for such dizzying perspectives that one travels to Nepal. Everything here is giant size, from the courage of the Sherpas—those professional conquerors of Everest—to the Gurkha heroes of the British Army, to the mountains themselves, to the gangs of monkey thugees, to the godlike visions of the holy men. Shiva makes Pashupatinath my favorite place, whether he’s in residence or not.