When I think about my time in Nepal, I think about movement. Cars and motorbikes hurtling past me, the winding roads on the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, birds swirling in flight around the eaves of temples and palaces.
As a traveler, Nepal was hard for me. I struggled with confronting poverty in Kathmandu, a region still recovering from the earthquake that killed thousands of people in 2015. I didn’t know what to do with my own economic, white, and American privilege in Bhaktapur. I got sick in Pokhara and was grappling with grief.
There were many bright spots, of course, including hospitable hotel owners who shared their stories and their vodka with me, fellow travelers who wandered the city streets with me talking about feminist theory, and raucous street performers that enlivened squares during the holidays.
I hold all of these impressions in my hands at the same time, but when I look back on photos of my month there, I can’t help but be awed. I knew even while I was taking those pictures that I wouldn’t appreciate the beautiful complexity of the place until long after I’d left.
From the smallest shrine to the largest temple, I found artistry everywhere. Color everywhere. As overwhelmed as I was, I was filled with a sense of reverence.
After I left Pokhara, I returned to Kathmandu for a few more days before my flight to Myanmar. This time, I set myself up in Boudhha, which boasts the largest stupa in Asia. Pilgrims gather from around the world to walk around Boudhanath Stupa, repeating mantras and spinning prayer wheels. Monks in maroon and orange robes flooded the square around the stupa during the day, nearby vendors selling Buddhist books and mandalas.
The smell of incense clung to the air. At night, the light of butter lamps glowed in the street, those small acts of worship.
I knew I was ready to leave Kathmandu, to find whatever came next for me along this journey. I would soon be visiting my friend Jon in Myanmar, an unexpected side trip I decided on during my last weeks in India.
Still, I was grateful that I came back to Boudhha before I left. Pokhara had moved me and stirred my soul, both with its beauty and because of my own chance for reflection. And from walking in circles around the stupa to listening to pilgrims praying their way closer to the holy, Boudhha centered me.
After the music on the streets died down and quiet fell over the plaza, I couldn’t help but look up–this time not at the dizzying flights of the paragliders like I saw in Pokhara but at the watchful eyes of the Divine.