Cycling in Kathmandu: Budanilkanth to Kopan

After a leisurely breakfast in my homestay, a short, gentle uphill ride took me northeast towards the the sprawling Kathmandu outskirts to the temple of Budanilkanth. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, a Hindu deity (buda meaning ‘old’ in Nepali), but despite that there is a carving of Buddha on the forehead of the Vishnu sculpture making it a place where both Hindus and Buddhists can worship. The statue of Vishnu reclines on a coiled serpent in a recessed pond within the temple grounds. It is carved out of a single piece of basalt and is allegedly the largest stone carving in Nepal. It’s a popular site with queues to go around the pond to see Vishnu, along with several surrounding small temples and places of worship.

From the temple I backtracked to a turning that would take me uphill towards the Shivapuri National Park. The tarmac disappeared shortly after the turning as I ventured into the back streets of the suburbs. The road then quickly veered uphill on a steep, dirt track. It was a fairly unrelenting, baking hot climb, made up for by rewarding views back over the Kathmandu Valley.

After around 350 vertical metres of climbing I came to a junction that I didn’t remember seeing when I planned the route the day before. My Garmin showed right to a track or left to a road with my planned route heading down the track. I could either follow the Garmin on the dirt track, in which case the climbing was done, or follow the dirt road, in which case I had another 150m to climb in about 1.5km of distance. Pretty steep. Feeling hot and lazy I followed the Garmin.

I headed down the gravel track, which turned into a grassy footpath, which turned into a river bed. At this point I thought I should go back to the junction and take the “road” option. But that would entail pushing, most likely, my bike back uphill… and then cycling the extra 150m uphill… when I was already halfway down… Notwithstanding the deterioration of the path a small girl had given me confirmation that this was the correct way as I carried my bike through her garden and around her cows. Now I thought I could spy a dirt road somewhere ahead, so I ploughed on, carrying my bike down the river.

I did find the road, while being stared at by school children. A puffy, red-faced, sweaty tourist carrying their bike down a river. No wonder. I got back on my bike and nonchalantly cycled off.

The road then gently undulated its way towards Kopan Monastery, albeit through sand, muddy ruts and rocky sections. At least some of the pizza-related cushioning I had developed in my days loafing around Kathmandu might get a little shaken off.

The Kopan Monastery follows the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism under the spiritual director Lama Zopa Rinpoche and hosts many courses “through which people’s minds and hearts can be transformed into their highest potential for the benefit of others, inspired by an attitude of universal responsibility” (their words, not mine).

Naturally then, the monastery was closed, due to a 10-day long meditation course that was taking place, but I was allowed to walk around the outside area. It’s an imposing building with huge, ornate doors and a beautiful garden to stroll around. The garden contains some of the most intricate stupas I’ve seen here. If I hadn’t been dripping in sweat from wearing an extra layer of clothes on top of my cycling gear I would have been tempted to stay in amongst the littered gap year students all trying to sound profound and seeing who could outdo who with their Buddhist philosophical literature. Instead, I took my tourist photos and cycled off. For reference, I haven’t ever read any Buddhist philosophical literature.

I did approach one shrine, which had a mantra on a poster outside of it. It informed me that, “By merely seeing, touching, and looking at this mantra purifies 100 thousand eons of negative actions”. So, I feel I have done my bit.

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