As the rays of the early morning sun hit the golden spire of the stupa, it sparkles in dazzling yellow. It’s 7:30 am. Pigeons sit on the white dome like black specks, while in the distance the pale moon hangs in the sky like a circular kite. As a flock of pigeons flap their wings above, there is a continuous flow of people down below.
One of my favorite places for breakfast used to be Andrea’s ‘Saturday Café’ in Boudha and have in the past years, taken several friends there. Eating breakfast with the view of the massive stupa looming in front of you is an awesome experience. I loved her banana pancakes, but sadly on this visit, I discover she has closed down. So, with a heavy heart I climb down and walk around looking for an alternative. At Boudha, it has to be a rooftop restaurant if you want a spectacular view.
The morning air is filled with the sound of rustling feet as hordes of devotees circumambulate the stupa; some spin prayer wheels, some count beads while others simply pick up the quick pace of those in front of them. Most of them seem to be Tibetans of all ages; there’s a sprinkling of foreigners, some Tibetan monks, some European monks and the rest, Nepalis. I’m relieved to find the CD shops have finally stopped playing “Om Mane Padme Hom” which they’d done to death. Greetings of “Tashi Delek” can be heard as people come across acquaintances.
Surrounding the massive stupa are restaurants, cafés, guest houses and countless shops along with a few ornate monasteries that break the monotony, yet the atmosphere is always peaceful. The shops here sell anything from singing bowls, clothes, statues and thangkas to exotic incense. I listen to some Italians vigorously bargaining with a young shopkeeper who bravely laughs off their every attempt. Precisely at 10am, diverse tourist groups start arriving with their guides and cameras. One guide gives his group of mostly Thais and an Englishman, a brief history of Boudha and tells them all to meet at the Golden Eyes Restaurant and Café in 45 minutes. Why ONE Englishman, I didn’t ask! Suddenly Boudha seems to be under some kind of invasion as groups of European, Chinese and American tourists pour in. You meet them everywhere you go; climbing up the stairs of monasteries, climbing up to the stupa’s mandala taking countless pictures from every possible angle, checking out curios along the sides and drinking coffee in the cafés. 6 km from central Kathmandu and one of the world’s largest stupas, Boudha was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and remains one of the major tourist attractions.
Talking about cafés, New Orleans Café had opened an outlet beside the stupa and was the first to open a branch here in Boudha. Unfortunately, the deal fell through. The last I heard, the landlord wanted to run the café himself; a well-known problem among entrepreneurs running lucrative businesses in Kathmandu. Or the rent suddenly skyrockets leaving the owner with no choice but to do a quick feasibility study and leave immediately. How often have I heard this story? And didn’t it start in the early days of tourism with Boris Lissanevitch being ousted from Royal Hotel. Well, that’s what I was told. Unfortunately, I can no longer talk to Inger about what went on in the old days in the valley. The gentle Danish lady, who shared an extraordinary life with Boris, passed away in November last year.
Roadhouse Café followed in the footsteps of New Orleans and has opened a branch here. I walk up to enjoy the lovely view from the Café and order a cup of cappuccino which sets me back by Rs 210. But the ambience is fabulous, so I guess it’s worth it. At the Best View Garden Restaurant, I order breakfast gazing at the magnificent stupa glowing in the early morning sun with the Ganesh Himal range in the backdrop. Their pancakes aren’t as delicious as Andrea’s but that’s life; you move on. I meet a friendly young couple from the Czech Republic named Radim and Petra who live in Prague and are visiting Nepal for the first time. After completing a 12-day trek on the Annapurna route up to Jomsom, they are about to head home very pleased with the trek. “The scenery was so beautiful; fantastic views. The pass wasn’t so difficult but the altitude was a problem because we live at 200m,” is what they tell me. An interesting point they make is the fact that they moved from Thamel to Freak Street because the former is too crowded.
As I look down from the rooftop of Paradise Café, I can see on ground level just inside the walls of the stupa, away from prying eyes, a group of devout Buddhists going through the vigorous rituals of prostrating themselves on wooden platforms; getting up, doing a short puja with palms together and repeating the action endlessly. They don’t seem to tire nor do they rest in between. In fact, I’m getting tired just watching them. Come to think of it, this is a remarkably healthy, religious practice as one gets plenty of physical exercise in the process, besides the spiritual gain. I sit and wonder who’s clever idea this was, as gyaling (Tibetan trumpets) strains resonate through the chilly air from the nearby monasteries. It is 10:45 am, and there are few people doing the kora now.
At 12:30, I climb up to the roof top (obviously) of the Golden Eyes Restaurant for a Chinese Chopsuey which at Rs. 300 plus tax is pretty good. I hadn’t asked, but they put a fried egg on top instead of an omelet which is exactly how I like it. “As the Chinese New Year approaches, you see more Chinese visitors around Boudha now,” says Robin Subba who runs the Happiness Guest House at the northeast side of the stupa. A Chinese lady named Ling Zi has recently opened a couple of guest houses and a restaurant that share the catchy name ‘Happiness’. “A lot of Rimpoches come to stay here along with other European Buddhists. They come from all over: Belarus, Herzegovina, Belgium, besides the USA and South America,” adds Robin. Just then, the tall, healthy-looking Rimpoche from Belarus comes down counting prayer beads. Both the ‘Happiness’ guest houses at the moment are full. For the winter season, that sounds very good. In fact, I’m surprised to see so many tourists around in January! Warmer winters?