People have looked to the mountains for spiritual consolation for millennia. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” say the Psalms, “from whence cometh my help.” For Nepalis, the link is especially powerful. The Himalayas are where the Hindu gods go to meditate and replenish their tapas, or spiritual “heat”, and the Buddhist peoples of Nepal’s Himalayan regions regard many of the highest peaks and lakes as sacred.
Many trekkers come to Nepal to make personal pilgrimages. When you stand on a ridge festooned with colourful prayer flags torn ragged by the wind, or look down on the luminous, glacial blue of a Himalayan lake, or when with aching lungs, cracked lips and a spinning head you come to the top of the highest pass yet, it’s hard not to feel your own spiritual store hasn’t been warmed just a little. Of course, you can always just emulate the gods: find a high place, fix your eyes on the Himalayas, breathe and begin the search for mindfulness.
For spiritual discipline, perhaps the richest possibilities are found in the Kathmandu valley, Nepal’s heartland in the Himalayan foothills. The valley has been described as a living mandala, or spiritual diagram – its very geography mapped out by temples, devotional stupas and holy caves and gorges. Pashupatinath, where Kathmandu’s dead are burned by the river, attracts pilgrims from across India. Many Western travellers make for neighbouring Boudha, the vibrant Tibetan quarter, where the painted Buddha eyes on the great white dome look out across throngs of Buddhist monasteries and where, at dawn and dusk, the violet air echoes with the sounds of horns and bells, and the murmured mantras of the faithful.
Gompas (monasteries) such as Boudha’s Shedrub, the “White Monastery” (www.shedrub.org), and nearby Kopan (www.kopan-monastery.com) run teachings on Tibetan Buddhism in English, as well as meditation courses. For serious Hindu meditation, try the Osho Tapoban Forest Retreat Centre (www.tapoban.com) and Nepal Vipassana Centre (www.dhamma.org).