Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Last revision: August 27, 2022.

Previous Post: Swayambhunath – Buddha Eyes Over the Kathmandu Valley

Update: The Boudhanath Stupa did not suffer any severe damage from the earthquakes of early 2015.  However, the part of the stupa above the dome was later removed because of a significant crack. An article from The Guardian (Nov. 22, 2016) describes the reopening of the stupa after the rebuilding of the spire.

See the end of the post for more information and links to videos.


A short tuk-tuk ride from Thamel – the “tourist ghetto” of Kathmandu – and we were at the ticket booth and the short street leading north to the Great Stupa at Boudhanath (also spelled Bodhnath).

One main physical focus – The Great Chorten or Stupa – is in this once-small village called Boudha to the east of Kathmandu. Hundreds of years ago, it became a stopping point on the great yak caravan route from this valley to Lhasa, a shrine to leave offerings or petitions at the journey’s start or end.

These days, however, it is the heart of the growing Tibetan Buddhist community in the Kathmandu valley. It has attracted all around it both refugees who fled their homeland when the Chinese invaded in 1959 and the Sherpas who have branched out from their traditional heartland in the Khumbu. We spent a few memorable mornings at Boudhanath, walking around and taking in the stupa from various vantage points.

From above, the stupa looks like a 3D mandala

All around the Stupa are multi-storey homes, guesthouses, gompas, meditation centers, thangka shops, cafés, and restaurants…it is teeming with life.  In fact, on my next visit to Kathmandu, I will make Boudhanath my base camp.  Being there early in the morning or later at night after the tourist/pilgrim ratio changes would make the experience even more special.

Bodhnath - entrance to the complex

Boudhanath – entrance to the complex

You walk through the archway and down the narrow street pictured above from the main road.  First up is a stop at the ticket booth, where you pay a nominal entrance fee. Then you walk into a sea of Tibetan prayer flags, all imprinted with mantras whose positive energy the wind is said to blow into the world. Around the stupa, prayer wheels spin, turned by pilgrims who walk by in a clockwise direction.

Bodhnath prayer flags

Boudhanath prayer flags at the north end of the square

Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism are everywhere; so are signs of a living faith exhibited by the total gamut of pilgrims – from well-heeled city dwellers to rough-clad peasants to young and old monks in their maroon, yellow, and red robes.

Boudhanath double dorje

Boudhanath double Dorje (thunderbolt) on top of Ajima’s shrine

Boudhanath stone sculpture

Boudhanath sculpture of a seated multi-armed goddess

We made our way to buildings on the front (i.e. north)  side of the Stupa. A fantastic view can be had from the fourth-floor terrace of the Stupa View Cafe and Restaurant. In the pic below, you can see the top of the shrine dedicated to Ajima (aka Hariti), the demoness of smallpox.

It seems that an encounter with the Buddha convinced her that infecting children with the disease was not a Buddhist thing to do (the Buddha had converted her), so she agreed to stop – with one proviso.  She would stay within the confines of the shrine as long as she received offerings and prayers there.  And so they come, kneeling between the two lion figures on the outside and looking into the shrine at the Ajima statue with their petitions and prayers.

Bodhnath - looking up the north steps

Bodhnath – looking up the north steps.

Behind the shrine are the steps leading up to the three levels of the platform to the very base of the stupa.  The steps take you past the two riders on elephants.

Bodhnath - north entrance to stupa

Bodhnath – the bottom of the north steps  to the stupa base

Bodhnath north end elephant close up

Bodhnath’s north end looking up at the elephant and rider

Bodhnath rider on north steps

Boudhanath rider on north steps

Bodhnath with 108 buddha niches around base

Boudhanath stupa with 108 buddha niches around the base

The Stupa is about 40 meters high and 100 meters in diameter.  While it may be Nepal’s largest, the current Lonely Planet guide is wrong to call it Asia’s “largest stupa.” Sri

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

Lanka’s Anuradhapura, for example,  has two much higher stupas – the Jetavanaramaya at 122 meters and the Ruwanwelisaya at 92 – and with larger diameters. Beyond all the measurements, however, the scene around the stupa at Boudhanath was much more atmospheric and vibrant than what I found with the Sri Lankan stupas (dagobas in Sinhala) since they are in an archaeological zone away from the modern city.

Bodhnath - to the Stupa View Restaurant

looking from the base of the Boudhanath Stupa to the Stupa View Restaurant

Each of the five flag colours signifies a different essential element, with yellow representing earth, green water, red fire, white air, and blue space.

A walk around the two levels of the stupa platform provides a different perspective. Looking back at the Stupa View Restaurant in the photo above, you can see the restaurant sign if you zoom in on the image!

Bodhnath stupa peak

Bodhnath stupa peak

Like the Swayambhu Stupa, this one has all the classic elements – the dome, the square box (the harmika)  on top, and the 13 receding steps of the spire leading up to the elaborate umbrella.  The different elements also correspond to the symbolism of the prayer flags, with the base being earth, the dome water, the square box fire, the spire air, and the umbrella space. Having grown up as a Roman Catholic, I can appreciate how Tibetan Buddhists revel in their highly visual approach to faith!

chorten symbolism

Visualizing the stupa as a three-dimensional mandala  – not a big stretch – would also reveal more profound levels of meaning in the structure.  Consider the following –

See here for internet- source of image

See here for the internet source of the image

mandala with the five colours of the prayer flag

mandala with the 5 colours of the prayer flag

Google 3-D model of Boudhanath Stupa

Google Earth 3-D model of Boudhanath Stupa

The stupa as a religious structure began as a relic mound supposedly containing some bone remains of the Buddha salvaged after his cremation. Some stupas, especially those in Myanmar, claim to have strands of hair that the Buddha gave to Burmese travellers while he was alive.

The Boudhanath stupa, some believe, holds the  Buddha’s collar bone, but the most fantastic story is this one retold by Keith Dowman in his The Power Places Of the Kathmandu Valley.

When the stupa  was consecrated 100 million Buddhas dissolved into it, and it has the glory of being filled with their sacred relics.  Whatever prayer is offered to it is fulfilled, and if you meditate upon your personal deity here, at the time of your death you will be reborn in Sukhavati.

Boudhanath - the view from the Stupa View Terrace

Boudhanath – the view from the Stupa View Terrace

Around the stupa base are 108 niches, each with a seated Buddha figure in the Dhyani (meditation), “touching the earth” or other mudras. The dome itself gets its stain thanks to saffron-coloured water, which they toss on the dome, supposedly to create the look of lotus leaves. Here is a Youtube video showing how it is done –

The Walk From Boudhanath Stupa to Pashupatinath

The Walk From Boudhanath Stupa to Pashupatinath

After we visited the Great Stupa, we walked towards the Bagmati River and headed towards the Hindu temple complex. If Boudhanath is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley, then Pashupatinath plays the same role for Hindus.

Next Post –  Pashupatinath – Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple


Boudhanath After The Earthquakes of April-May 2015:

Click here for a report on the state of the UNESCO sites in the Kathmandu Valley as of May 11th and 12th. You can find the blogger’s profile here.

As the above blog mentions, the stupa itself escaped any serious damage. He reported some bricks having been dislodged from the spire.  At the base, one of the mini-stupas has crumbled apart.

According to a Nepali Times news article, the site and Pashupatinath were declared safe to visit on May 26. Click here.

This brief Youtube video of the stupa area filmed on May 9th is worth watching –

So is this Youtube video from mid-November of 2015. It shows the stupa without the box and the spire on top of the dome.  You can see all the bricks on the platform as workers reconstruct it. Click here to access it.


Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley

Nepal google map

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

Pashupatinath: Shiva’s Kathmandu Valley Temple 

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

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1 Response to Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

  1. Anonymous says:

    Such a informative site!

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