Stupas of Nepal

There is not much respite from the chaos of the Kathmandu streets.  Ducking into a small tea shop or a used bookstore is always a good option, but for a quick urban getaway, try exploring the many stupas of the city.  Stupas, both small and large, are tucked in many hidden nooks (of which there are many) in Kathmandu.  Just when you least expect to find one, a looming white dome painted with Buddha eyes pops out of nowhere. So, what are these stupas?  What are their religious significance in Nepal and in other countries in Asia?

Components of a Stupa:

A stupa in the heart of Kathmandu.

There are several components of a Nepali stupa. Stupas can also be found in other regions of Asia like Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, and they are all slightly different.  The following components are very distinctly Nepali.

The stupa consists of a white dome that is often recovered with layers of whitewash to keep it looking fresh and bright. Out of the top of the dome comes a decorated, golden spire-like structure.  At the base of the golden spire is painted a set of mystical, half-closed Buddha eyes. Lengths of colorful prayer flags cascade down from the top of the spire to the surrounding edges. One many of the stupa domes, there are arcs of dried yellow paint.  Surrounding the base of the stupa are rows of carved prayer wheels, which spin when turned.  Devotees walk around the stupa spinning the prayer wheels as they go. Some Buddhists even do prostrations around the stupa. Rows of butter lamps burn near the stupa, which are lit be visitors or monks. Visitors can give the groundskeeper or monk a donation, and they will light a butter lamp for you.

A collection of lit butter lamps at a stupa in Nepal.

A monk refills butter lamps outside a stupa.

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