A Special Place in Kathmandu’s Kathesimbhu Stupa

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Walking the maze-like streets of downtown Kathmandu, I spotted a dome, a spire and a multitude of flags down an alley.

Detail of Kathesimbhu Stupa.

It was my first glimpse of Kathesimbhu Stupa, a beautiful edifice rising from a hidden courtyard in one of the older parts of the city.

Although it wasn’t mobbed with tourists, there was something extremely compelling about the architecture. Later, I would learn that it was modeled after the famed Swayambhunath Stupa, also located in the Kathmandu Valley.

Of the original edifice at Swayambhunath that inspired this smaller, hidden copy in front of me, Lonely Planet writes:

This perfectly proportioned monument rises through a whitewashed dome to a gilded spire, from where four faces of the Buddha stare out across the valley in the cardinal directions. The noselike squiggle below the piercing eyes is actually the Nepali number ek (one), signifying unity, and above is a third eye signifying the all-seeing insight of the Buddha. The site was shaken severely by the 2015 earthquake but the main stupa sustained only superficial damage.

The multicolored prayer flags that converged atop the spire made something within me soar. The white dome represents the Earth, while the 13 steps on the spire stood for the 13 stages that humans must pass to achieve Nirvana.

I couldn’t stop staring at the dome, the spire and the flags — for so long that I lost track of where I was, where my feet were and what else lay nearby. Oddly, I felt at home.

It was tough to take my eyes of the visual treasure of Kathesimbhu Stupa, the flags, the sky and the birds. At top, a pigeon flies near the structure. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

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