Shiva's

Playground


The Holy Bagmati River begins at Bāghdwār (Nepali for “Tiger gate”) where it forms from the convergence of three headwater streams before passing through the mouth of a gargoyle shaped like a tiger's mouth. Considered the source of Nepalese civilisation, it winds its way through the Kathmandu Valley and continues south, eventually crossing the border into India, where it greets the Ganges.
Along this river, roughly five kilometers northeast of Kathmandu, stands the sacred Hindu temple complex Pashupatinath. Covering 264 hectares of land and spanning both banks of the Bagmati, it's a chaotic cluster of 518 temples formed over thousands of years of worship to Lord Shiva. Every day an average of 30 bodies are burnt on the open-air cremation ghats.
Each one requires a quarter of a tonne of wood. It is believed that through fire, the deceased returns to the gods. The leftover ash is fed to the holy river. The site operates 24 hours a day. It welcomes a continual trickle of bodies arriving from all over Nepal. Some make their way by old Suzuki ambulances delivered from hospitals and homes.
Others, who live and die close by, are carried on bamboo biers on the shoulders of family and friends through the streets of Kathmandu. Many who are dying make a final pilgrimage to Pashupatinath with the hopes of taking their last breaths with a hands or feet in the waste filled waters of the holy river—breaking the cycle of rebirth—to reach Nirvana. Pashupatinath is at the confluence of life and death.
 
I wake dead and dreary and entirely depleted. I don't want to leave my room full of clean air-conditioned-air and immerse myself in the dirty cobble-stoned streets that lead to Pashupatinath. I've spent 11 days in the temple complex now and I'm completely done with death. I'd rather spend today among the living. Hours pass and all I've done is lagged in my hotel room, dunking tea-bag after tea-bad, and feeling guilty for it. So I toughen up, switch off my thoughts, and force my legs out the door.
 
Now on the streets, my skin is already sweating and sizzling. It’s summertime, so the sunshine is even more assaulting than usual—fuelled by pollution that spews from buses, tractors, and three-wheeled tempos (all in varying degrees of disrepair) I find it hard to breathe. This is my third trip to Kathmandu in three years. The heat hits you every time. It’s heavy-handed. But nothing like the thick, damp, lingering haze exuded by Pashupatinath 24 hours a day.