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Maha Shivaratri, Pashupatinath Temple and the Tour Guide from Hell

By Friday, March 15, 2013 , , ,

Maha Shivratri, also called Padmarajarathri, is dedicated to Shiva and in Kathmandu celebrated at Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal. I'm not going to talk too much about the festival itself since there seem to be many stories and legends behind why it started and exactly what it celebrates, and much of it's observation takes place in temples where non-Hindus are not allowed. However, it is the wedding anniversary of Shiva to Parvati, and it does involve bathing in sacred rivers (this would be the Bagmati River, which flows in the Ganges) leaving offerings, and women either pray to Shiva to protect their husbands and sons, or pray for a husband like Shiva.

Pashupatinath Temple sits on the Bagmati River, and is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu, although the original structure no longer exists. As we approached the temple, we were amazed by how crowded it was.

We walked passed snaking lines of women in beautiful colors. 

The queue must have gone on for kilometers, and everyone was really pressed up behind one another. We thought there was no way we'd be able get in. There were police officers everywhere guarding entrances, sometime with rope across them.

We got in however, and were allowed to skip the lines. It felt somewhat wrong to be given the VIP treatment  just because we were westerners. Although I really appreciate being able to have access so easily and have everyone be so helpful, it left me with an icky feeling that I was being given privileges because of my appearance  It turns out that only Hindu's are allowed in the temple which the line was for, and tourists were charged 500 rupees for access to the compound. So us non-hindus don't clog the lines and donate to the temple complex's upkeep, and we don't have to queue.

a Sadhu

Unfortunately, at the place where we bought our tickets, we picked up one of those 'guides' who are locals who offer to show you around for a fee. Only he didn't tell us this, and at first just showed us the way in, then kept showing us things. He was very friendly at first, telling us about how he'd traveled to Germany and how much we'd like temples, but soon we realized he had a really horrible, pushy demeanor. He had us running around, not letting us stop to take photos of things we wanted to (the temples, fire ceremonies, the Sadhu) and instead pushed us to take photos of things we weren't interested in, like the cremating bodies next to the river and erotic carvings on temples.

It didn't bother me that there were corpses burning nearby and the smoke wafting over us. It didn't bother me that this was a very public funeral ceremony. What did bother me was that this man was turning this personal ceremony held by a grieving family into a tourist attraction. He encouraged us to take photos of ourselves with the bodies being cremated behind us, and didn't understand why we didn't want to.

We just couldn't seem to shake him.

Then he asked us for 500 Rupees each, which we refused. We never asked him for his help, he was very pushy, rushed us past things we were interested in and took this horrible glee in telling us about the hospices, dying and death in Hinduism, and then at the same time expecting us to be thrilled with the kama sutra carvings on the temples. 

Maybe we should have realized he'd want a tip after the tour, but he had a pass around his neck with the word "Volunteer" on it, and since a temple run organization was collecting 500 rupees from westerners/tourists/people not participating in the ceremonies, we assumed he was volunteering for that organization.

I guess I'll know better for next time.

However, let's end on a positive note: Here are some temple monkeys!

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  1. This is a sad indictment of how tourists can be treated overseas - heck, even in the UK.

  2. What a shame that 'tour guides' like this bring a blight to an otherwise respectable profession. It's sad when you go to (especially third world) places, wanting to find out about the culture, support the local economy by buying tickets, food etc, maybe even make donations and then there are pushy people who won't take no for an answer. We went to Cuba which was wonderful except for certain hawkers pushing their wares onto us, which took a lot of getting used to.

  3. What a horrible way to make money.I hate it when people take advantage of tourists. I know in their eyes we are incredibly wealthy, but scheming and stealing is just wrong.

  4. There is nothing worse than a pushy person trying to con you out of your hard earned cash! I can't believe he was trying to get you to take photos of the dead body; that's such a shame as it can ruin the whole experience if you are forced to do things that you don't want too do. Unfortunately many people see Westerners these days and think of sex (hence the erotic carvings) rather than you wanting to experience the moment and soak up the atmosphere xx