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Odyssey us confess: Bodnath, opium eaters, a scorpion & the birthplace of Buddha


Bodnath Stupa

Dear Internet,                                                             Kathmandu—July 7, 2013

J had yesterday off so we went to Bodnath with the same little perverted guide i had in last post (he was on better behavior in the presence of a lady). Bodnath is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Nepal ... not too far outside of Kathmandu. Here be footage & visual impressions:


prayer flags

prayer flags


pilgrim bell

2-toned pilgrim



used candles being burned to recycle the wax


golden reindeer

golden reindeer & the stupa


incense smoldering

incense smoldering



lighting incense


big buddha wheel

giant prayer wheel


mural switch

mural detail & light socket


praying man

praying man


tibetan woman

Tibetan pilgrim spinning prayer wheels


nepal bhasa

Nepalese script


wheelsprayer wheels (with inscriptions in Ranjana script, which is 1 variation (of 9) of Nepalese script


white hairs

wish we could get our hair this shade


offering bowl

reflection of lotus flower lamp


stupa flags


After Bodnath, we got dropped off at Patan because j hadn't seen it. Explored some different sidestreets than last week, and since it was saturday there seemed to be a lot of activity at a local temple complex (not in the tourist area).


fire offerings


water hole

kids in the bathing pool



priests preparing some sort of offering


patan stoop

storefront in Patan


line of men

men chilling out in Patan's Durbar square


woody shrine

altar on a porch


patan shrine

dirty shrine



another janky shrine


cobra stupa

stupa, cobra & hanging laundry & garlic

Been working on a massive spreadsheet to organize our thoughts (in regards to the new project we've embarked on, which we are now calling 'SSES" 'SSES" 'SSEY") based on the Linati & Gilbert schemata for mapping Ulysses to The Odyssey ... consolidating the two & adding notes from our brother & our own associations. Maybe we'll post it up here (with our notes stripped out) as there doesn't seem to be a place that has these combined schema along with concise episode summaries & how they relate to the schema categories.

Speaking of classification, James Wagner sent me this interesting article on Rethinking the Authorship Principle. So, for example, how would you classify Buddhist texts? Where subject & 'author' become one & the same ... & how do you classify authorless texts in a scheme organized first & foremost by author? Good thing you, the Internet, are helping to change such thinking.

Had Japanese food (udon & kappa maki) last night which was pretty decent. Can't remember the name of the place ... felt like it was in someone's house ... in good company with this hip young Nepalese couple & their well-behaved baby. Washed down with raspberry (yellow) & barberry Hinwa wine that sounds scary, but was actually pretty good (not too sweet). They also drink an interesting "rice wine" here, that is more like sake or vodka than wine. For the most part the food here is far from spectacular. Ate at a place in Patan that was memorable & had a nice view of the temples & street actions. Ate twice at Bhojan Griha which was pretty good. Nepalese food is similar to Indian, but there's a few unique dishes, of course momos, which is their dumpling (doesn't every culture in the world have a dumpling of some sort?) dipped in a spicy sauce. And some sort of Sherpa noodle soup which is good.

Been raining non-stop ... not the dramatic afternoon downpours you might expect, but day-long drizzle & it's almost always clouded over (in case you couldn't tell by the washed out photos).

Tomorrow we go to Lumbini ... which just happens to be the birthplace of Buddha.

marigold stoopa

hanging marigold chains

                                                                            Lumbini, Nepal—July 9, 2013

Finished reading Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey waiting for the plane here to Lumbini (on Yeti Air!). We've read it before, or at least seem to remember having a book of the same title that seemed more abbreviated but with marvelous woodcuts (in retrospect it might have been just the first part which he published separately). It's somewhat serendipitous we're reading this book now in light of our recent dwellings on our brother & his heroin use (pretty much the focus of his journals & 'SSES" 'SSES" 'SSEY").

Confessions of an Englis Opium Eater

As the title would imply, Confessions of an English Opium Eater is essentially De Quincey unabashedly chronicling his lifelong use of opium. He is quite lucid & scientific in his documenting of the affects of opium & how it changed his life ... which is not to say the book is all about opium & its immediate affects, but the general haze of opium is the filter by which he recalls his life & philosophy. In particular, it's the longterm affects which he recounts in vivid clarity, how it altered his life, for better or worse.

«... I saw that I must die if I continued the opium; I determined, therefore, if that should be required, to die in throwing it off.»

Since he had already gone down this opium road, he figured he may as well document his experience for the rest of us. It's like his body chemistry physically changed & through it all he has the presence of mind to use himself as an experimental  guinea pig. Opium has a reputation of being a drug of pure pleasure, but what's interesting are the wild & elaborate dreams it induces in De Quincey & opium's power to bring forth lost memories & weave together otherwise buried thought. Memories are always there, but opium acts a catalyst to dissolve the veils obscuring what we've forgotten or suppressed. In fact, on a few occasions De Quincey brings into question this notion of forgetting (as does Cesar Aira in the recently read Seamstress and The Wind):

«Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscriptions remains for ever; just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of the day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil—and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.»

And through repeated use, it's like his otherwise forgotten childhood comes streaming back to him:

« ... and now first the agitations of my childhood reopened with strength, now first they swept in upon the brain with power and the grandeur of recovered life, under the separate and the concurring inspirations of opium.»

This was definitely true of my brother, in that he was far more affected by the "agitations" of our childhood. Who's to say if it wouldn't have had the same affect on me.

Drug-writing's tricky, because some might say it advocates or encourages its use. But it just as much advocates for not using it ... for why bother when there's books such as De Quincey's? It's like travel writing ... do we all need to travel to say, Nepal, and suffer the side-effects (the cost, hassles, danger, contribution to the continued corruption of culture & the environment by our being here) or can we just read a book?

It's not just all about opium though ... he talks about philosophy, consciousness & writing with an interesting perspective.

«What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain? Such a palimpsest is my brain; such a palimpsest, O reader! is yours. Everlasting layers of ideas, images, feelings, have fallen upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that went before. And yet in reality not one has been extinguished. And if, in the vellum palimpsest, lying amongst the other diplomata of human archives or libraries, there is any thing fantastic or which moves to laughter, as oftentimes there is in the grotesque collisions of those successive themes, having no natural connexion, which by pure accident have consecutively occupied the roll, yet, in our own heaven-created palimpsest, the deep memorial palimpsest of the brain, there are not and cannot be such incoherencies. The fleeing accidents of a man's life, and its external shows, may indeed be irrelated and incongruous; but the organizing principles which fuse into harmony, and gather about fixed predetermined centres, whatever heterogeneous elements life may have accumulated from without, will not permit the grandeur of human unity greatly to be violated, or its ultimate repose to be troubled in the retrospect from dying moments, or from other great convulsions.»

Doesn't get much more lucid than that. Thank you De Quincey, for the suffering opium caused you to enable you to bring us such words (this is 1821, by the way, when he wrote this).  And he continues on:

«Yes, reader, countless are the mysterious handwritings of grief or joy which have inscribed themselves successively upon the palimpsest of your brain; and, like the annual leaves of aboriginal forests, or the undissolving snows on the Himalayas, or light falling upon light, the endless strata have covered up each other in forgetfulness. But by the hour of death, but by fever, but by the searchings of opium, all these can revive in strength. They are not dead, but sleeping.»

De Quincey is not dead, but sleeping. Our brother is not dead, but sleeping.

Things gets weird in the last part of the book, he obsesses over velocity of mail-coaches & whatnot, but does say things here & there, including this passage about sudden death which resonated with us, in regards to both our father & brother.

«If a man dies, for instance, by some sudden death when he happens to be intoxicated, such a death is falsely regarded with peculiar horror; as though the intoxication were suddenly exalted into a blasphemy. But that is unphilosophic. The man was, or he was not, habitually a drunkard. If not, if his intoxication were a solitary accident, there can be no reason at all for allowing special emphasis to this act, simply because through misfortune it became his final act. Nor, on the other hand, if it were no accident, but one of his habitual transgressions, will it be the more habitual or the more a transgression, because some sudden calamity, surprising him, has caused this habitual transgression to be also a final one? Could the man have had any reason even dimly to foresee his own sudden death, there would have been a new feature in his act of intemperance—a feature of presumption and irreverence, as in one that by possibility felt himself drawing near to the presence of God. But this is not part of the case supposed. And the only new element in the man's act is not any element of extra immorality, but simply of extra misfortune.»

Either way, there should be no shame in habitual drug use or suicide. Suicide, whether intentional or accidental (through suicidal habits) is unfortunate, & should not carry the stigma currently placed on it.

Sorry to be grim ... & here we are now in a 'happy' place ... Lumbini, near the birthplace of Buddha. In fact, where we are sleeping is some 500 meters from the exact spot. As a tourist attraction, there's not much to write home about ... it's more the idea of it than anything. Only recently has it been verified to be the spot ... not sure exactly how you prove such a thing ... & it seems of course the Indians don't agree as they'd rather have the spot in India (even though they are even more Hindu than Nepal ... go figure).

buddha birthplace

Mayadevi temple & the pond in the foreground

While j & her colleague were off to Kapilvastu (where Buddha spent the first 29 years of his life) ... we got a bike & rode in the rain to the Lumbini site. First stop was Mayadevi temple & pond where Buddha's mom (Queen Mayadevi) took her last bath & gave birth to Buddha. Besides a few monks on pilgrimage, we had the site pretty much to ourself. Wandered around the gardens & into the makeshift building where excavation is still sort of taking place (was reading just yesterday in a Nepalese newspaper of a new discovery). When we got to where the actual stone is marking where baby Buddha was born (poorly lit beneath bullet-proof glass) the first thing we saw was a black scorpion scamper across the stone chasing a cricket. It disappeared into a crack ... & then a few minutes later it resurfaced chasing another cricket. While the monks on the the perimeter meditated, we considered the significance of this scorpion.

ashoka pillar

monk posing at Ashokan pillar

After that we just rode around the Lumbini park on our shitty bike. It was really muddy & wet & at one point the front tire slid out from under us on the mossy bricks near a canal. We must have looked a site covered with sweat, mud & blood.


after seeing a real scorpion on Buddha's birth spot, the first thing we saw walknig out was this


cambodian inscription

Cambodian inscription

Rode around the sprawling grounds. Surrounding Mayadevi there are all these tacky buildings ... more contemporary meditation centers, monasteries & palatial temples ... that all the various countries have built or are in the process of building ... Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, China, Japan ... & even non-Buddhist countries like France & Austria. It's like each country is trying to outdo the next in gaudy ugliness. They are usually behind walls & seem more administrative or tactical ... we're not sure how to describe it ... suffice to say Buddha would roll over under his Bodhi tree (which is across the border in India).

thai tacky

Thai royal monastery


vietnamese monastery

Vietnamese monastery/temple


tacky buddha palace

not even sure which ugly "temple" this is ... maybe France


buddhist meditation centre

meditation centre?

Rode around more in the countryside outside Lumbini park .. endless rice paddies extending to the horizon. Saw a pair of jackals & a wild boar ... too far away to get on camera.



buffalo sick of work



landscape between airport & Lumbini


three goats gruff

three goats gruff


lumbini country

Telar river


buffalo woman

hanging on the roadside



king of the road






goat scape


busstop goat

waiting at the busstop (with very swollen udders)

Now just hanging out in the this hot, bug & snake infested place for another day until we return to Kathmandu.

  >> NEXT: Shedding all that's worldly: काठमाडौं, Submergence, Swayanmbhu & plush penguins

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