Bodhanath Stupa is a famous UNESCO and as the largest stupa in the world, is a featured attraction of Kathmandu. But most tourists don’t know much about Boudha, the neighborhood surrounding it, so they visit the stupa and within 45 minutes, they leave.
If you think Bodhanath Stupa is all there is to see and do in the area, you’re missing out. There is much to see, do and eat in Boudha and I’m going to share it with you. Thanks to the Himalayan Travel Mart conference I was there to attend as a delegate, I stayed in Boudha for several days and it’s a place I just want to keep returning to!
Boudha Travel Guide:
Best Things to Do Boudhanath Stupa
Located six miles from Thamel, the stupa’s complex is surrounded by over 50 gompas (aka Tibetan monasteries), Tibetan-Nepali cafes, parks and a strong Buddhist community. From the outside, the streets of Boudha feel like a string of shops, homeless street bulls and dogs, clothing stores, a mall, laced with dusty air from the roads. It doesn’t appear very attractive. But exploring this area may be of interest of travelers looking for deeper finds.
If you’re wondering how to explore the neighborhood, start from the stupa and take any one of the side alley streets leading out and it will take you into something different. There’s many things to do at Bodhanath Stupa:
Originally part of a trading route between Llhasa and Kathmandu, Boudhanath Stupa was a popular stop for Tibetans to make for prayer. Today, it’s the largest stupa in all of Asia, a UNESCO site and a popular pilgrimmage spot where Tibetan Buddhists in Kathmandu come to worship. Boudhanath is among the largest in the world and serves as a center of pilgrimage for Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhists. Viewed from above, the stupa creates a mandala. More on the size and layout here.
The stupa is circled by devotees at all times of the day, with the all-seeing eyes of the stupa following 360 degrees. Monks and devotees circle the stupa, doing occasional prostrations on their stroll. Walking the perimeter is like walking a race track. Heaviest times of activity are around 4-6 pm. Towards the evening, the stupa lights up and you’ll find Tibetan yak wax candles come out in memory of loved ones past. You’ll find souvenir shops and restaurants in the perimeter area for exploration. Meanwhile, explore the side streets to find more restaurants, monks dwellings and parks.
Admission : SAARC: 100Rs, Foreign travelers: 400 Rs
Turn the Giant Prayer Wheels
It won’t be far from after entering the stupa grounds, you’ll come upon an quiet worship area where you see devotees step into the stupa for a prayer, ringing of bells and tikka self-annointment. Off to the side, is a room with two giant prayer wheels where you can follow the flow and push the wheel so it keeps turning. Incidentally, this area is also the entrance onto the stupa’s terrace and to the inner lining around the stupa where devotees may choose to do prostration rituals.
Tamang Gompa monastery
An easy and beautiful monastery to visit at Bodhanath Stupa is the a two story monastery, Tamang Gompa monastery (you can see it in my video). The tamang are an indigenous mountain tribe of Nepal and is one of the populations that live and influence Boudha. Step past the monastery gate, you’ll find a Giant Prayer Wheel located off to the side. Remove your shoes before entering the main monastery. The main room houses chanting seats, giant Buddha with a photo of the Dalai Lama, butter lamps and an inspirational interior design. It’s hard to keep your jaw from dropping. I’m not sure if the second level is open to the public , but I always see monks up there hanging out. The temple is more visible from the viewing terrace of Bodhanath Stupa. More information here.
Location: The monastery is located to the left of the main entrance and it’s easy to miss if you’re just walking by, as it’s tucked in through an archway.
Ghyoilisang Peace Park & Pond
Ghyoilisang Peace Park sits tucked in the neighborhood around Bodhanath Stupa. It is said the pond is a holy pond and its soil was used to make Bodhanath Stupa. Today it’s a tranquil and small park, with a giant statue of Guru Rinpoche in the middle of a pond filled with orange carp. You’ll find monks and elderly visit for a rest.
Kopan Monastery is a famous Tibetan Buddhist Gelug monastery which houses Buddhist teachings, courses, retreats and inexpensive temple stays (you can reserve anything from a dorm bed to a private room). The monastery was founded in 1969 and bought from an astrologer. Hours: Open to public on Saturdays, the gate of the monastery is closed from 5 pm onwards, so if you are staying there, check in earlier.
Getting to Kopan Monastery: It takes 45 minute walk from Boudhanath Stupa or you can take a taxi to Kopan Gompa for 300-350 ruppees.
Monasteries & Temple Stores
There are over 50 gompas (aka monasteries) in this neighborhood and you can easily visit some of the temples and appreciate them. As a result you’ll find many interesting Tibetan Buddhist shops in the neighborhood, selling all types of curiosities, from incense to singing bowls, horns, photos of the Dalai Lama to temple instruments necessary for carrying out rituals
Phulbari or Fulbari Street
Phulbari Street (or Fulbari Street) initially appears like a quaint rustic streets reminiscent of the old West. But proceed a little further and the rustic buildings turn to normal buildings and a small alley street which is an endearing foodie street lined with street food snack vendors, shops and restaurants. You’ll find a lot of laphing shops and the recommended restaurants listed below. Location: From the main entrance, turn right and it’s the first off-shoot alley street . However, you might not want to walk counter to the counter clockwise flow of devotees circumnabulating the stupa.
Thangkas are intricate artwork hand-painted upon a canvas. they can be anything from mandalas, the Wheel of Life, depictions of Buddha’s life or deities.
One thing I’ve long taken for granted are the colorful prayer flags blowing in the wind in religious spots. The colors have a meaning and represent the five Earth elements of water, earth , fire, air and wind. It’s said that the more faded and blowing the flags are the better, as it signifies the wind is taking the prayers to the heavens.
Statues with colored powder
Around the stupa and certainly closer to the temple and worship area, you might see statues generously dusted with colored powder. This is tikka powder is used by devotees after worship, for self annointment and receiving blessings.
Occasionally while circumnambulating the stupa, you’ll find some folks doing full-body prostrations in the open in a surrender and show reverence to the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community, and dissolving negativity and bad karma. Behind the stupa’s walled surroundings devotees will also prostrate before it. A devotee may choose to undertake anywhere from 100 to 100,000 prostrations as part of their ritual cleansing (see how it’s done).
Homeless street dogs and bulls in need of care | Call Sneha’s Care
You’ll notice a lot homeless street dogs and bulls (male cows) in the area and if you’re an animal lover, it can be a bit heartbreaking. Being that Nepal is a country that does not believe in killing cows, the cows are kept for their usefulness and the bulls are discarded to find their own survival in the streets. But aside from the dangerous threat of busy street traffic (some of these animals get hit), the prayer wheels and monasteries of Boudha might be the best place for them due to the monks and devotees’ occasional practice of dharma. Still, while many of the animals appear peaceful here, some may get wounded or grow sick from disease. If you see one of these animals needing help, please contact Sneha’s Care. The non-profit does amazing work saving these animals from some of the most tragic cases of human violence to disease. Some of the miracle stories are truly worthwhile a look and if you are inspired.
Volunteer or Visit Sneha’s Care: You may visit the organization to see their work and volunteer some of your vacation to help out with their of adopted street animals (those who are too handicapped to find homes, they adopt- like wheelchair dogs). I have donated; please consider donating too.
Watch the Boudha Travel Guide video
To get a better idea of what it’s like around Boudha, watch my experiential version of the Boudha Travel Guide video.
Must Try Foods of Boudha
There’s many must try foods in Kathmandu. But due to its Buddhist neighborhood community, Boudha foods have a distinct Tibetan Buddhist influence, which has roots in Northern China. Thus, one of the best things to do in Boudha is to eat. You will find flavored dishes you’ve never tasted in Kathmandu or other parts of Nepal. Most of my recommendations of Boudha foods are noodle-based, but do not underestimate the flavor. The simple flavors of these must try foods of Boudha will floor you, before can even process itu. Personally, these flavors are some of the best I’ve tasted in all of Asia.
Phulbari, one of the offshoot streets not far from the entrance of the main gate to the stupa.
Laphing is one of the best must try foods of Boudha. Laphing is originally a Northern Chinese cuisine known as Liangfen, translating to cold noodle. This dish travelled to Nepal with Tibetan and Chinese people who later settled in Boudha.
It is a light and super tasty savory cold noodle dish flavored with spices, such as onions, coriander and sesame oil. Nepali folks like to eat in summer and you will find this surprisingly addicting. You can order it dry or as soup. Laphing noodles are distinct noodles, they come in a round mound like stacked rice paper, in either yellow or white. The cook spreads red chili paste, soy sauce, Szechuan pepper, a squeeze of vinegar , before rolling it up and cutting them. When Laphni noodles are made, they are seasoned by being dipped in a sauce of vinegar and dried chillies.
Location: Tibetan Top Tasty Laphing Center, Fulbari (map– located across of Khawa Kharpo Noodles Factory)
Thukpa (or Chowmein)
Thukpa is a Tibetan or Sherpa dish and is a social experience. It is similar to Sichuan Dan Dan noodles in appearance and you can buy it in half or full dish , but either way it comes in a heap, which is why it often takes two or more people to finish it. I’ve seen as much as three girls working on one plate. I tried this at Khawa Karpo Noodles Factory in Fulbari (located across the street from Tibetan Top Tasty Laphing), where noodles are made fresh in the back room and this place is a must.The noodle dish comes sprinkled with meat (or vegetables) with a sauce base of soy, chili paste and garlic. In order to activate it, you need to mix the sauces into the noodles, as if mixing a spring salad. The noodles are super long and stretchy. As a solo traveler, initially I felt uncomfortable ordering alone (watch my video to understand why). But the experience and flavors are highly worthwhile.
Thenduk is made from hand-pulled noodles that can be eaten traditionally, as a soup or just dry noodles. The noodles are popular during winter/fall seasons. I had the best thenduk at Sky Cafe ( right off Fulbari street), where they serve deep fried dry Thenduk as one of their house specialties (the other is a giant momo which comes with a dipping sauce). My thenduk was fried with onions, chili pepper, carrots, and I could not stop eating it. They have a meat and vegetarian versions; the vegetarian thenduk is made with a soy meat product.
Getting there: Sky Cafe, Kalimpong Street (not far from Khawa Karpo Noodles Factory and the Tibetan Top Tasty Laphing Center. Turn left into a street alley going towards a residential sector. When you get to the base of the slope, take a left. Sky Cafe will be on the left in a walled residential area (or watch my video for directions).
Where to Stay in Boudha
Planning to visit Boudha? Despite the dusty streets the neighborhoods is quite peaceful and safe, with monasteries and a huge central stupa where folks are chanting Om mane padme Om trillions of times throughout the day. You can’t get more elevated than that.
There are small budget guesthouses surrounding Bodhanath Stupa as well as hotels outside the stupa.
Tibet International. Boudha, luxury. Read review. Big sister to Hotel Tibet, this four to five-star business luxury hotel is like the Nepali version of a Sheraton. It is conveniently located about a half a block from Bodhanath Stupa’s main entrance. Its rooms have an international feel to it with little flourishes of Tibetan influence and craft. The hotel lobby and building is always air conditioned which will keep you feeling pampered from the heat.
Getting to Boudha from Thamel
Boudha is actually closer to the airport than Thamel and is about a 10-15 minute taxi drive to Thamel. Taking a taxi by day may set you back around 500 Rs one way, but in the evening expect taxi costs to bump closer to 600Rs and higher.
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