The following is my personal account of visiting Boudhanath, do enjoy it! However if you are looking for information on how to get there, maps, entrance fees, highlights and much more do check out my full Boudhanath Stupa travel guide.
Buddha’s Birthday celebrations at Boudhanath Nepal (Buddha Purnima)
Buddha was born in Lumbini Nepal circa 563 BC give or take a hundred years depending on the historian you listen to. His birthday (Buddha Purnima) takes place over a month-long celebration based on a solar calendar. Generally speaking though it’s sometime in May.
I’m quite late in writing about it as to be honest I filed away the photographs and never got through processing them until backing them up the other day. My priority is always about backing things up to protect them. In this case I protected them so well I archived them before publishing!
Better late than ever join me in an evening of celebration in Boudhanath Kathmandu where I dragged some Nepalese friends along to witness one of Nepals great candle lit festivals.
Let’s all go to Boudhanath today?!
I was staring absolute detest in the face from my Nepalese friends. A mix of Buddhist and Hindu. Religion or ways of life meant nothing when it came to avoiding massive crowds that tend to gather at Nepalese celebrations.
I couldn’t blame them. I normally don’t like attending Nepalese festivals either. It’s a human train of skin to skin, bad breath beside your face, pick pocket loathing, please no one fart sandwich of humanity trying to see some strange deity. A deity in Hinduism that everyone has a different interpretation of or in this case a Buddha’s birthday that no one was quite sure was even happening until the last-minute.
Let’s all go to Boudhanath tonight?!
Somewhere along the line I got some festival of light in Thailand mixed up with another one in Nepal and I thought this was Buddha Purnima. Lot’s of candles being lit up and sent into the key via paper balloons. The more I said that this is why I wanted to go; the more people just nodded and smiled. I was on to something. How could they refuse with such mindless insight?
There were of course some conditions and demands.
“Only candle, no balloon. And I want to be back by 8pm”
“Only by taxi, no bus. Not like last time Mr. Dave. You made us all squashing into a micro van for too long. It’s not good you know.”
“You’re buying dinner. And no cheap momo’s either!”
Ahh, to have friends like this in Nepal. Anyway, I agreed to the demands to see their Buddhas celebrations in Boudhanath and we were off.
To be fair one of the things my friends, and I, don’t like about going to Boudhanath is the entrance fee. 20rps for locals, 200rps for foreigners. Luckily we all know the longest way around to avoid all fees. Shame the ticket desks were all closed and we could have just walked in after spending over an hour stuck in traffic.
Boudhanath by daylight can be really nice if there’s a brilliant blue sky. It’s a giant white stupa covered in colorful prayer flags bright brass ornaments and square golden steeple like structure with the eyes of buddha painted on all four sides. It is said to house one of Buddha’s bones (finger).
Boudhanath Stupa by candlelight
For Buddha Purnima the Boudhanath stupa was lit up with colorful old-fashioned light bulbs with thousands of wax candles surrounding it. Best of all the main crowds had already gone home. Yes, going to Boudhanath at night was a lot better than during the day. Maybe at long last I’ve discovered the key to Nepalese festivals. Go at night.
All along the streets were tables set up with tiny brass cups that are in fact small candle holders. Genuine yak candles giving off a distinctive heavy musty smell. They burn for a very long time due to the high concentration of oil. (you can read about yaks here or see some nice winter photos of yaks here)
Lighting candles at night during Buddha Purnima
Lighting candles has several purposes. One is in remembrance of those that had passed away. Another and more prevalent at Buddha Purnima is as a show of respect to the Buddha. Finally finding some peace in amongst all the golden glowing light and om mani padme hum chanting my Nepalese friends went into the monastery opposite the stupa.
A giant prayer wheel is spun once in a clockwise direction and a candle lit upstairs in one of the large prayer rooms. There’s a balcony overlooking the stupa which was quite spectacularly lit up by now.
The crowds had thinned. The colorful lights blended with candles and a few lone monks still paid tribute by circling the stupa. In the night sky distant lightning flashed and a low rumble of thunder told us it was time to head back.
Visiting Boudhanath stupa during Buddha Purnima
I’ve visited Boudhanath several times during the day. If the sun is shining it’s really quite beautiful. I’ve not been during the day when it’s Buddha’s birthday. It certainly would not be as peaceful. I have been at night during Buddha’s birthday and found the crowds surprisingly manageable. The simple spectacle of witnessing thousands of candles alight is beautiful and highly recommended.
Meanwhile in true Nepalese tradition we all bundled into a mini van and made our way back to Kathmandu. For all the grumbling at the start it ended up being a very good evening what was rounded off with several plates of momo.
Due south to the jungle (Welcome to the Jungle … tourist town … we got fun and tours only)
Looking for more information? Do check out my full travel guide to Boudhanath