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Soaring high above the red-tiled roofs and ramshackle lines of gompas (monasteries) that have magnetised to the streets of Boudha on the eastern fringes of the Nepali capital, the Buddhanat Stupa has long been hailed as one of the greatest religious sites in Kathmandu. Its origins are steeped in mystery, with many experts taking the structure right the way back to the time of the Licchavi kings of the 5th century, and others making it a later, 14th century addition to the skyline, raised in the wake of the great Mughal invasions.
The site I remember seeing for the first time was beautiful; formed from a series of stepped rectangular walls, inlaid with mysterious carvings and filigrees that depicted the various incarnations of the eternal Buddha Amitabha, eventually rising to a whopping height of 36 meters, topped with nine stone levels representing the mythical peaks of Mount Meru. I was drawn to the gazing eyes of the Buddha, painted in stark ochres and cerulean on the tower, forever fringed with billowing lines of colourful prayer flags that twisted and turned in the Himalayan breezes.
Rebuilding Buddhanat in Kathmandu
As the largest mandala (representation of the universe) in the country, and one of the most revered pilgrimage destinations for Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhists alike, the destruction wreaked on the UNESCO World Heritage Site during the tumultuous earthquake of April 2015 was particularly catastrophic. When I visited in the wake of the disaster, I remember seeing a crack right down the central spine of the great stone spire. I learned from the locals that things were worse than they looked. It was a heart-rending thought: that this mighty bronze-stone, bronze-gilded relic might have to be entirely dismantled and rebuilt atop its domed spherical base once again.
Today, a year on from the quake, I discover the stupa of Buddhanat is on the mend. A central pole has been set to guide the construction and provide the all-important central trunk to the Tree of Life that the spire represents. I mingle with crowds of locals around the spot, all of whom still come to both wonder at the site and pass bricks and bamboo scaffolds in an effort to return their revered religious monument to its former glory.
Buddhanat rises again.