February 26, 2013
The things that made me go om. One was any form of hiking. For months before my Nepal trip, I trained by climbing up the stairs to my workplace on the 15th floor every day. It turned out I beefed up my quads and lung power only to get on and off the tourist van. My travel girlfies and I did not have the luxury of time to do any Himalayan trekking.
All we begged for was a glimpse of the Annapurna Circuit jump-off. Too far and nothing to see, Arjan our guide insisted, other than a sign marking the starting point. Still a tad disappointed, we went for the next best thing: a tantalizing so-near-yet-so-far view of Annapurna Himal from the hilltop World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara.
It was too late in the day for a full hike. The van revved us more than halfway up the hill as a group of white tourists on their way down ate our dust, a hardly enviable situation to be in. The rest of the way we covered on foot. My stairwell workout paid off; I barely broke a sweat. The girls lagged behind, though, huffing and puffing until they parked their bums under the stupa devastated.
Called Shanti Stupa, shanti being Sanskrit for peace, by Buddhists, the immaculate white shrine atop Ananda Hill was built by a Japanese monk, explained our guide. The idea was borne out of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans. The monk not only wished for world peace, as beauty contestants were wont to do, but traveled the world over to build 80 or so stupas that symbolized the propagation of peace. Nepal housed two: one in Buddha’s birthplace, the other on this scenic hill, which took 18 years in the making, thanks to issues with the government. Trust politics to get in the way of peace. The stupa was finally completed in 1999 on the land donated by an official whose bust stood facing the peace monument.
A Buddha statue was ensconced on each of the four sides, all assuming a meditative pose that complemented the view. Buddha in dharmachakra mudra, the hand gesture that signified enlightenment, was facing the magnificent panorama of Annapurna Himal with eyes closed. At 1,100 meters up, the wind blew away the overstimulation and cares at ground level as the clarity of the horizon blew us away. The valley below contrasted the royal blue of Phewa Lake and the concrete sprawl of Pokhara. Beyond the foothills, the Himalayas evaded our gaze with a lack of contrast. Snow blended with clouds that enveloped the peaks. Only Machhapuchchhre’s pointed summit pierced through the cloud cover. At this vantage point, a microcosm of Nepal, a country of snowy ranges, deep valleys, and lakes of melted snow, was at our feet, as it were.
Shanti washed over me as I leaned over the stupa’s parapet to rest
my head my spirit gazing at the Himalayas with eyes closed, like Buddha. The pursuit of peace was an uphill struggle, indeed, as we had toiled up the steep steps, as the Japanese monk persevered to build this symbolic stupa in the face of political persecution, as the world reeled in the aftermath of war. Peace was its own reward. The stock answer at the Miss Universe Pageant took on a more palpable form in Shanti Stupa.
Take just a moment to live in the moment. Don’t let peace and beauty escape you.
– Ron Reed