On your way to Everest Base Camp(5380 m) Trek, you are likely to see different kinds of interesting sites amidst those innocently adventurous trails in the lap of Himalayas. It is always better to know a few things before heading to a new place, so that you can relate to the culture, lifestyle, and faith of people in Nepal. There are some common sites that you will see in many places while trekking in the Everest Base Camp region that unique and may leave you puzzled.
Don't be surprised if you see skulls of dead animals on the door of houses on the trail.
Know what they are and what their significance is!
1. Guru Padmashambhava:
You can see the image, idol or painting of this great figure in several monasteries on Everest Base Camp Trek. As a person, Padmasambhava was an Indian yogi who helped in the construction of Samye Monastery in Tibet and translated many Buddhist doctrines from Sanskrit to Tibetan. As a legend, he was the lotus born (that is what the name Padmasambhava means) who couldn’t be burnt, who could cure epidemics, who pacified demons and who was single-handedly responsible for making Buddhism the dominant religion in Tibet. Whatever the facts and fictions, the one thing that is true today is that he is immensely revered by all followers of Buddhism and landmarks associated with his travels are found throughout the stretch of the Himalayas and Tibet.
2. Prayer wheels:
Prayer wheels are the easiest way to recite the mantra without actually learning it. The metal exterior is carved with the sacred “Om Mani Padme Hum” and there are scrolls of the sacred texts inside. Turning the wheel once in a clockwise direction is equivalent to reciting the hymn and the text. It sure is an easier way to earn merit than actually chanting the mantras.
They come in various sizes as you will no doubt see along the trail. You can also find multi-lingual prayer wheels. Make sure to earn some merit when you see one.
3. Prayer flags:
Prayer flags are variously used to mark religious sites, mountain passes, landslides, and avalanches. Their purpose and use can be traced back to Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet and Himalayas. The followers of this ancient religion used colored flags to propitiate local deities. While it isn't entirely clear whether the local deities get the message, the flags do serve the practical purpose of marking passes and landslide prone areas in addition to their aesthetic value.
Under Buddhism the five colors of prayer flags symbolise the five elements: yellow for earth, green for water, red for fire, white for air and blue for space. Various texts and figures are also printed on the flags. The most popular ones being the wind-horse, vajra and the eight auspicious symbols.
Kani is basically a gateway to a village, sometimes adorned with a chorten on the top. People believe that a kani stops bad energy from entering a village and to that purpose the ceiling and the walls are adorned with religious motifs. The ceiling usually has a colorful mandala, stretch your neck a little while you are passing underneath one of these.
5. Mani wall:
A Mani wall is the reflection of Buddhist faith in stone. Mani means jewel and the act of inscribing sacred hymns (mantras) on stones transform them into jewels that radiate the Buddhist faith. The walls aren’t always walls and sometime come in mounds as in Khumjung. Whatever the shape, they consist of small stone tablets inscribed with mantras. And more likely than not, it is the “Om Mani Padme Hum” that is inscribed. Some maintain esoteric meanings of this mantra while others believe that it the sound and not the meaning that is important. On more earthly planes, the mani walls serve a purpose as trail dividers and trail markers. As such they aid in the flow of pack animals and reassure travellers of the route. It has also been suggested that mani walls function as landslide markers.
For Buddhists, the Kalachakra is the universe in a nutshell. It shows the path of existence open to all sentient beings and the actual path taken by one is determined by one’s own actions. This Wheel of Existence is held by Mara, the Lord of Death because it is death that keeps the Wheel of Existence spinning. Once one conquers death, one goes beyond existence into the realm of nothingness, the state of enlightenment or nirvana.
The way you deal with the forces of desire, anger and ignorance dictates the path your existence will take. If you embrace these forces, you will be pulled down to unhappy rebirths. However, if you go beyond these forces, you will get that much closer to enlightenment through happier rebirths.
7. Yak Skull:
The basic idea behind the skulls of various animals outside a building is to ward off evil spirits. This is the case with yak skulls as well. The skulls are said to be apotropaic, which means they (are believed to) have the power to avert evil influences or bad luck. When a yak dies the villagers divide the meat among all the members of the village. The head would not be eaten and so would be cleaned and hanged on the walls with the belief of fending off bad spirits. Basically, any skull hung on the entrance gates are to fend off bad spirits, doesn’t matter if the skull is a Yak’s, a blue sheep’s or even your’s.