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Nuwakot & Yeshe Tsogyal

NEPAL | Saturday, 9 November 2013 | Views [969]

Nuwakot and Yeshe Tsogyal Chaitya

 We, (the driver. Manish my guide and Tribhuvan University Buddhist Studies colleague, and I) left fairly early in the morning as we weren’t sure if we could take a shortcut from Tanahue to Nuwakot and avoid having to go all the way back to Kathmandu, a trip that, with stops, took almost 6 hours the day before, and then head north towards the Langtang Region.  Luckily, we were able to find the cutoff and arrived at our destination, a lovely farmhouse high up in the hills, around noon. The farmhouse was first built about 95 years ago and overlooks the entire valley and the former palace of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the King who in the mid 18th C united the various smaller kingdoms into one country, modern day Nepal. About 8 years ago a couple bought the old farmhouse that had been left to wrack and ruin and renovated it into a nice hotel.  The rooms are still very rustic, but there is a shower hose (though not a shower stall), and a flush toilet.  The food is excellent and the location spectacular.  They have planted all kinds of flowering bushes, so that even now at the beginning of November I can walk through a garden of marigolds that grow up to my waist, red and white poinsettia trees, purple bougainvilleas vines, red hibiscus trees, and foot long hanging white trumpet flowers amid tree sized pink rose bushes. The rainbow colored blossoms are set against a background of spectacular mountains and a green valley with the Trisuli River swaying down the middle. The location is idyllic.

Just down the road from the farmhouse is a small four-headed Shiva shrine, the former royal palace, and a Bhirabi Temple.  The palace has seven levels and was the first “high-rise” in Nepal.  There isn’t much left in the building, just a few roof struts, the frame of the former king’s bed, which looks more like an open horizontal wooden fence with a gate than a bed, and an old palanquin that was used as a “chariot.” The view from the third floor balcony, however, is amazing.  The site was clearly selected for defensive purposes and has a 360 degree view.  This palace was one of nine strategically placed around the region, hence the name Nuwakot (Nine Fortresses).

A little further downhill is a Hindu shrine to Bhirabi. The temple itself was locked so I couldn’t get inside, but there were some old stone images around the outside and a few posters hanging in the building next door.  The posters had both Buddhist and Hindu images and we were told the site is revered by people of both faiths, although, like at Chhabdi Barahi, blood sacrifices still occur.  There was some confusion as to whether or not this was the site where Yeshe Tsogyal had hidden a terma, a religious text, but the site just didn’t seem right to me.  Manish asked some of the local people and they said that there was another shrine further up the mountain.  This sounded more likely, so we headed up. 

On the way we met a young boy, who I mistakenly thought was begging for money.  He was probably about 7 and didn’t speak, but brayed like a sheep and communicated through a simple form of sign language.  I realized that my jaded perspective of kids begging on the trails had colored my first impression when the child was thrilled with a bird in a tree and really wanted me to take a picture of it.  He wanted to show us the site simply because it was special to him, and he knew the way there. There was a genuine simple goodness about this child who reminded me that the sacred is all around us if we are open to it and aware of beauty in places and ways we don’t anticipate. It was a humbling to be taught a lesson by this young mute boy.  (I later learned that both is parents are also mute.)

He led us up the hill to an amazingly large tree that was originally two but had grown into one. The tree formed a protective barrier to a set of chaityas behind it.  This was the Yeshe Tsogyal site.  It felt right.  The local shepherds also confirmed that Tibetan lamas come to this place once a year to conduct ceremonies, so if I needed any other proof, this was it.  The site has a view of the palace hill, and the entire valley below.  It hangs on the side of the mountain as if suspended in air.  There are now a few ruined chaityas and some broken stone reliefs lying on the ground.  There is a fairly new looking statue of Ganesha off to the side by the ancient lion guarded pedestal with the main chaitya in the middle. There are rows of rusted barbed wire surrounding the chaityas and the tree with an opening where a non-existent gate would normally be. There is a sense of peace that pervades the place regardless of the rust and ruin. I have no idea whether Padmasambhava’s consort actually hid a sacred document here, but there is something special about the place.


Yeshe Tsogyal is one of the key women in Tibetan Buddhist history.  She and Mandarava were the two main consorts of Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, in the 8th C.  She was a princess who left her royal life to follow the seemingly crazy Yogi much to her father’s horror.  Her ‘biography’ reads like a J.K. Rowland tale, and it is impossible to separate fact from fiction, so though she is reputed to have come to Nepal on four separate occasions there isn’t really any way to verify this.  She is supposed to have buried the terma on her third trip, which would have probably been when she was in her thirties as the first was while she was still in her teens, and the second during her twenties. Interestingly, she is not part of Newari (Nepal’s form of) Buddhist history, but only Tibetan. Newari Buddhists who have not studied Tibetan Buddhism have not heard of her.


Newari Buddhism is different from all other forms.  It has elements of ancient Hinayana in some of the monastic rituals, such as not allowing the consumption of meat, only eating one meal and that before 1pm, cutting one’s hair, and not being allowed outside the monastery.  It also has a belief in the bodhisattvas from the Mahayana tradition, and a wealth of Vajrayana traits, including the use of mantra, mandala and yantra.  It differs from Tibetan Buddhism in some key ways, not the least of which is that Newari Buddhist priests are married householders and there are still a number of castes. The Shakyas (think Sakyamuni) and the Bajracharyas are the two priestly castes and people from these two can only marry within them. The other castes, of which there may be 14, may be allowed to marry within some of them and but not others; for an outsider, it is a fairly obtuse system but to those within it very clear.

There is a clear difference in architectural style between Newari and Tibetan Buddhist temples, chaitya and stupas.  The Newaris often have multiple roofs with intricate wood-carvings and wooden struts with tantric images. Many Newari Buddhist temples are structurally similar to traditional Newari Hindu temples, although the images are very different.  The images they do have are not painted throughout the inner walls as in Tibetan monasteries unless there has been considerable Tibetan influence as in the Great Vihara in Patan. The Newari chaitya are far more common in the Kathmandu Valley than stupas, although with the increasing number of Tibetan monasteries this is changing. Many if not most of the Newari temples (Buddhist and Hindu) and monasteries are in need of renovation, whereas the majority of the Tibetan monasteries and sites are either new or recently repaired. Almost all of the new sacred architecture in the Valley is oriented toward Tibetan Buddhism, with one major exception.  The renovation of Swayambhunath by Tarthang Tulku of the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center in Berkeley, California , who wanted to renovate Boudanath but the local leaders didn’t want to make some of the changes the donor wanted, so he donated a large bell there and sponsored the entire Swayambhu renovations, including a new bell with mantras on and in it. As Swayambhu is an ancient site, the renovations didn’t change the structure of the main stupa, but only the later sites around the stupa. It did nicely clean up the stupa itself and polish the shrines for the five Buddhas and four Taras, which are housed on the sides.

While architecturally the Tibetan style is becoming increasingly more prominent, the same is not necessarily true for the statuary. Hindu statues, specifically of Ganesha and Siva, continue to be built.  A new 143ft. Siva looks over the Kathmandu Valley from a hill well above Bhaktapur, the ancient capital city to the east of the new one. Ganeshas are not large, but they are everywhere.  The elephant god is honored both by Newari Hindus and Buddhists.  The Tibetans do have their counterpart to the large Siva in the form of a 100ft. Padmasambhava on a hill outside Pharping.  The Kathmandu Valley has been a place of sacred legend since before the birth of the Sakya Buddha and vibrantly remains the ‘Valley of the Gods’.



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