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In this chapter, Vikram Seth recalls his memories of his visit to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. He describes two famous temples of that city. The first is the Pashupatinath temple of the Hindus and the other is the Baudhnath Stupa of the Buddhists. At the Pashupatinath temple, there is an atmosphere of confusion. He finds priests, hawkers, devotees, tourists, cows, monkeys, pigeons, and dogs roaming there. There is a crowd of devotees and people push one another to make their way to the Lord.
Only Hindus are allowed to enter this temple. A group of Westerners struggles for permission to enter. But the policeman at the gate does not allow them to go in. The author finds monkeys fighting each other. The holy river Bagmati flows by the side of the temple. He sees washerwomen at its banks. A corpse is being cremated on its banks. From the balcony, devotees drop flowers and other offerings into the river. There is a small shrine also on the river bank. Half of the shrine is submerged into the river. It is believed that when the whole of the shrine comes out of the river, the goddess inside will come out. Then the evil period of Kaliyug will end on earth.
In contrast to the Pashupatinath temple, there is a sense of stillness at the Baudhnath stupa of the Buddhists. The author does not find crowds here. It has a big white dome. The shrine is surrounded by a road. There are small shops on its outer edge. Many of these shops are owned by Tibetan immigrants.
Kathmandu is a crowded place. Apart from the two famous shrines, there are a number of small shrines in the narrow and busy streets. The author finds fruit sellers, flute sellers, hawkers of postcards, shops selling western cosmetics, films, chocolates, etc. He roams about in the market aimlessly. Then the author makes up his mind to return home. He enters a Nepal Airlines office and buys a ticket for Delhi. He comes back to his hotel. In a corner of the square near the hotel, he finds a man selling flutes. These flutes are made of bamboo. From time to time, the flute seller plays on flute. The author likes his carefree style. He finds it difficult to come away from there. In fact, the flute music always attracts him. The flute is a common musical organ. It is found in almost every culture. The flute reminds him of the common link between all humanity.
On his way from China to India via Tibet, Vikram Seth, the narrator, reached Kathmandu in Nepal. This extract describes his visit to the two famous temples there – the Hindu temple of Pashupatinath and the Bodh temple, the Boudhanath stupa.
After having a good sleep, Vikram Seth sets out with his companions to visit the Pashupatinath temple where the entry of non-Hindus is banned. A ‘feverish chaotic’ activity goes on inside and around the temple. People jostle with each other trying to get the priest’s attention; a royal princess appears in the temple; some Westerners claiming to be Hindus try to seek entry into the temple; two monkeys chase each other. Priests, devotees, hawkers, dogs, pigeons, tourists -all get together to add to the confusion. He sees a cremation taking place on the banks of the Bagmati river, some women washing clothes and children bathing in it. The river is being polluted as wilted flowers and old offerings are thrown into it.
In contrast to the noisy activity in the Hindu temple, Seth finds peace, quietness, and serenity at the Boudhanath stupa. Though there are shops of Tibetan migrants around the stupa, there are no crowds in the stupa itself. It stands out as a safe haven for quietness amidst busy streets.
Describing Kathmandu, Seth chooses the adjectives vivid, mercenary and religious. He finds its narrow and busy streets as very noisy, and radios, traffic car horns, bicycle bells, cows – all contribute to the din.
Though Vikram Seth wishes to prolong his journey back home, exhaustion and homesickness prompt him to buy an air- ticket to reach Delhi.
A flute seller in a corner of the square near the hotel with an unassuming style and a casual approach draws the writer’s attention. Mesmerized by the music of the flute, he is reminded of the different kinds of flutes and thinks about their uniqueness as well as their universality. He remarks that flute has a place in almost every culture, though with a variation in form and kind of music produced. The music of the flute leaves a deep imprint on his mind and he carries it with him when he returns home.