Story of the Origin of Kathmandu Valley
From 1968: Return to Nepal… For the First Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
“From the Buddhist scriptures comes the story of the origin of the Kathmandu Valley and the holy stupa of Swayambhu. Previously, Manjudeva, an emanation of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, came to Nepal. He circumambulated the valley, striding along the surrounding mountaintops. At that time, the Kathmandu Valley was an enormous lake, in the center of which was a hill covered with lotus flowers. Manjudeva took his great sword and sliced a gash in the mountains to the south. The waters of the lake drained away, leaving only a small lake behind; thus was the Kathmandu Valley made habitable. The gash came to be known as Chhobar Gorge, and through Manjudeva’s magical powers, a lotus was transformed into the Swayambhu stupa on its hilltop, which is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists.
The mystical aura associated with Kathmandu lured many to take a bus or a plane to that legendary valley. Many world-travelers got as far Kathmandu and went no farther. There was also a small community of Western diplomats and aid workers—Peace Corps, embassy staff, workers with other NGOs—living in the Kathmandu Valley. With them they brought an influx of foreign currency, especially American dollars. Many of these Western visitors were the sons and daughters of affluent Western middle-class families, and the Tibetan refugees and Nepali merchants were happy to profit from their patronage.
In 1968 Kathmandu was like the proverbial Shangri-la, untouched, innocent. Small streets, rickshaws rather than cars, only a few tourists, breathtaking views of the Himalayas, Hindu and Buddhist temples on every corner, occasional mountain-climbing expeditions making ready to trek to higher altitudes. Crime was almost unheard of, no one locked their doors. And there was no electricity, except in the area around the King’s palace. In honor of the thousands of hippies who passed through, Jochhen Tole in downtown Kathmandu came to be known as ‘Freak Street.’ A small nondescript lane, it was lined with hash shops, cheap hostels, handicraft shops, and simple little restaurants serving pancakes, buffalo hamburgers, and other approximated Western foods as well as Tibetan momos and Indian chai.
Located about 7 miles (11 km.) by crowded minibus from Kathmandu, Boudhanath was a small village, just a circle of tall Nepalese houses clustered around a massive stupa, a gigantic white dome dating from the sixth century and topped with buddha eyes painted on all four sides. A hugely powerful sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, the Boudhanath stupa was ringed at the base with a brick wall set with 147 niches, in which were inset 108 copper prayer wheels that revolved continuously under the hands of passing pilgrims. Around the stupa one could find all aspects of Kathmandu life: elderly Tibetan grandmothers, backs bent from a lifetime’s work; Sherpa and Nepali porters carrying huge loads on their backs, held by a jute sash strapped across their brow; Nepali and Tibetan merchants hawking their wares displayed on the walkway; small Tibetan carpet weaving enterprises; giggling toddlers playing with rocks in the street, no pants, no shoes, no diapers; smiling Tibetan nuns strolling around the stupa, arm in arm; meandering hippies dressed in Indian lunghis, Kashmiri shawls, and Afghani hats, rapt expressions on their faces. Little shops sold Tibetan antiques and cheap odds and ends from India. Devout Buddhists performed kora (circumambulations) around the stupa day and night, circling clockwise, clicking their rosaries, endlessly spinning the stupa prayer wheels. The atmosphere was full of muttered mantras and half-whispered prayers for the dead, for families left behind, for relief from all the unimaginable sufferings of the sentient beings who fill unimaginable universes.”