As evening fell on my first afternoon in Nepal, I felt for a moment like I was back in Tibet.
Caught on a tide of jostling pilgrims, I was pulled forward by the crowd, some of them murmuring mantras like om mani padme hum and swinging their hand-held prayer wheels. I could smell butter lamps and there was a cold edge to the air.
But this wasn’t Barkhor Square in Lhasa.
It was Boudhanath Stupa in the Kathmandu Valley, in Nepal. Many of these pilgrims were likely to be Tibetan refugees who had fled their homeland.
Unlike in Barkhor Square there were no soldiers watching hawk-eyed from surrounding rooftops for signs of dissent.
Boudhanath during the evening kora, or circumambulation, of the stupa, is a sight to behold.
It’s a spiritual rush hour with monks, nuns, ageing grandparents and teenaged girls in heels and leather jackets joining in the throng.
The stupa is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Nepal and the area surrounding Boudhanath is home to Tibetan refugee settlements. Apparently there are 50 other smaller stupas constructed by Tibetans in the surrounding area.
Activity at the stupa proves that Tibetan buddhism is very much alive and well in Nepal.
The painted eyes are distinctly Nepali and you’ll see these painted all over Nepal, including on Swayambunath Temple (the monkey temple), also in the Kathmandu Valley.
Prayer flags trail out from all corners of the building allowing the wind to take the matras to heaven. It was mesmerising. I didn’t know whether to keep snapping photos or just walk the kora and take it all in.
In the end, I did a bit of both!