Boudhanath Monastery, Nepal’s largest monastery, is located east of Kathmandu. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world. Boudhanath Stupa is one of Nepal’s most holy sites for the Buddhist faith. This stupa, a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site, is included in World Heritage Cultural site list by UNESCO. After the Chinese invasion in 1959, Tibetans in thousands came to this famous Buddhist Chaitya and energized the Stupa.
Location: Bouddha, Kathmandu
Swayambhunath Monastery is a legendary Buddhist shrine that sits on a hilltop of Kathmandu valley. It is regarded as one of the oldest Monasteries in the world. The word Swayambhunath means “the self-existent” in English. The temple is also known as the monkey temple as large tribes of monkeys can be seen there regularly. Swayambhunath Monastery is complete with Buddha eyes looking out across the valley, an iconic symbol.
Location: Chhauni, Kathmandu
Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is one of the most popular pilgrimage places in the world. Lumbini is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the four major Buddhist holy places commemorating the most significant events in the Buddha’s life. One of the most attractive parts of Lumbini is the temple of Maya Devi. This temple, dedicated to the mother of Lord Buddha – Maya Devi – was excavated a few years ago. The main attraction of Lumbini remains the Sacred Maya Devi temple, the Ashoka Pillar, the sacred pond and the China Temple. The shrines and monasteries built by different countries and in different times reflect the architectural traditions of the respective countries and thus giving Lumbini an international feel with a message of universal friendship and brotherhood.
The Region of Namo Buddha, Past and Present
The pilgrimage site of Namo Buddha is about forty kilometers from the Boudhanath Stupa. Located on slightly elevated land, it is a pleasant and out-of-the way place. The landscape below resembles an eight-petaled lotus, and the sky above has the form of a wheel with nine spokes. In this wide panorama, some mountains glisten white like a conch shell or a crystal. On other mountains, the groves of trees seem to gleam with emerald and turquoise jewels. In summertime, southern winds bring coolness; in wintertime, the warm, gentle sun is like the clear and radiant face of youth. The flowers bloom bright and multicolored. In the blue vault of the sky, clouds gently gather and turn all shades of red at daybreak; they are beautiful in wondrous hues that fill space with their canopies and banners. Like a heap of white silk scarves, mists drift slowly from place to place. From the clouds, the drums of thunder resonate; lightning flashes like a slim dancer’s quick movement; and fine showers fall in brightness. In sum, all the harmonious conditions needed to practice samadhi are present at this sacred site. Merely coming here inspires one’s faith; renunciation and weariness with samsara naturally arise. As it is said: “In the supreme place of a solitary mountain retreat, any activity is virtuous.” In brief, Namo Buddha is a place of pilgrimage highly esteemed by people from all over the world, East and West.
After Great Being offered his body in generosity to the tigress, people found it difficult to travel through the region for fear of all wild animals, so they developed the practice of reciting “Namo Buddhaya” (“I take refuge in the Buddha”) to dispel their anxiety. To this day, the local inhabitants call the area Namo Buddha. As time passed, villages gradually appeared, and cultivated fields extended from the houses. The ancient stupa has become a special place to accumulate merit through activities such as circumambulation and making offerings. People come from all corners of the world to visit the site and make the traditional offerings of butter lamps, a fresh coat of white paint for the stupa, and a pleated cloth that encircles the base of its spire and ripples in the wind. In the past, when there were no roads for cars, only a modest footpath led to the site, and it was very difficult to reach. Nowadays, cars of any size can make the trip without a problem. In olden times, on most nights when the moon was full, a tiger would appear near the stupa; the caretaker and many local people would see it. It is said that later when cars, electricity, and other modern technology arrived, the tiger was no longer seen. Most of the local people in this area are Buddhist, and even to this day some can read Sanskrit.
About eight kilometers below the stupa in the town of Panauti are ruins said to be the palace of the king Great Charioteer. Even today, on the fifteenth day of the fourth Tibetan month, the people of the region have the custom of setting out a gilded bronze statue of the Buddha and gathering to perform ceremonies all day. At another interesting site about three kilometers below the stupa, a small temple is said to contain the remains of the Prince Great Being’s mother. Inside one can see an image of her carved into stone. Further, in the woods below the stupa, a little spring gives what is known as blessed water. About a fifteen-minute walk up from the stupa, one can visit the place where the prince offered his body in great generosity.
Today, two caves are venerated, one near the monastery and another on a hill nearby. Since so many centuries have passed, the exact place is difficult to locate. It is certain, however, that the cave is in this locale. Many great individuals have set foot in Namo Buddha. From India came scholars and meditation masters such as the noble and supreme Vasubandhu and the unequaled Jowo Je, the glorious Atisha. From the Kagyu tradition, the protectors of beings, great lamas have visited such as Situ Chökyi Jungne and his attendant the great scholar Bero Lotsawa Tsewang Kunkhyab as well as the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje; the Drugchen Khyabgon Rinpoche; and the Drikung Khyabgon Rinpoche. From the early tradition of the Nyingma, important lamas have traveled here, such as Khyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Drubwang Pema Norbu, Chatral Rinpoche, and Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok. From the glorious Sakyapa tradition, great individuals belonging to the Sakya, Ngorpa, and Tsawa schools have come, as well as major scholars and meditation masters from the Riwo Geden (Gelugpa) tradition, such as Khewang Gendun Chöphel. In sum, numerous important figures from all the traditions have walked this land.
How to get to Namo Buddha
Namo Buddha is about 40km away from the heart of Kathmandu city. It is in Kavre District in the southeast of the valley. If you take a local bus, it will take around 3 to 4 hours because there are several substations, but if you take a taxi from Kathmandu, it will take around 2 hours. It may cost about NRs1700-2000 for one way (KTM-NB) and NRs2500-3000 for a return trip (KTM-NB-KTM).
If you are willing to take a local bus from Kathmandu, you should first go to Ratna Park Bus station, which also known as Old Bus Park (Puraano Bus Park). You can book a ticket and take a bus from there to Banepa. The bus goes through Koteshow then Bhaktapur and then finally reaches Banepa. From Banepa you have to change buses. Book a ticket at the counter for Namo Buddha (a bus which goes up to Dhapcha passes through Namo Buddha, so you can take that bus as well). The bus goes past the Dhulikhel bus station.
You can also trek from Banepa to Namo Buddha passing through Panauti and Sangkhu.