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Photographer's Note

‘Kathmandu - Pashupatinath - In search of a real sadhu’


For Kasia

Recently, Kasia showed a photo of sadhus (Hindu holy men who have given up on all worldly possessions) in Varanasi, India.
I believe I saw sadhus on my first journeys to India in the 90's. Those men were not colourfully dressed then. On the contrary, they were barely clothed.

During my stay in Hampi, Karnataka in 2017, I met a multicoloured dressed man with painted forehead who bystanders told me he was a temple guard (he didn't speak English himself) but another photo on this site presented him as a sadhu.

When I was in Nepal on my last journey in 2019, the number of sadhus there seemed to be much greater than in the places I visited in India (However, I’ve never been in Varanasi).
At least in and around the Pashupatinath Temple, a Hindu temple in Kathmandu you could see many sadhus. Real or fake sadhus, that remains the question.

Since the Pashupatinath Temple is one of the oldest and most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal, I paid it a visit.

At the entrance I was approached by a man who proposed to guide me. Somehow he was able to convince me that he had a lot of interesting information about the temple and its numerous buildings in the quite large complex, while the amount asked for his tour was very reasonable.
I agreed and have not regretted it at all.

As soon as we entered I saw a very striking figure, a man in particularly colourful clothing, while two western visitors were taking pictures of him.
I asked my guide if this was a sadhu but he denied. The man was a fake sadhu who dressed like this in order to get money from westerners.

I then indicated that I would like to see a real sadhu and my guide assured me that before the end of the tour we would certainly have met real sadhus.

The tour was very interesting. I will show pictures of the Pashupatinath Temple later. Kasia certainly showed at least one of it. I seem to remember her photo of the cremations.
But as the tour progressed, I saw more and more men dressed in extremely coloured clothing and with forehead paintings. However, each time my guide warned that these were fake sadhus and not worth taking a photo of.

However, we saw so many of those sadhus who were always labeled as false sadhus. At least by my guide.
Moreover, these men turned out to be quite successful with the photographing visitors.
There were so many of them in various places of the large complex and I started to suspect that this temple was a meeting place for fake sadhus :)

The tour was very instructive but as it progressed, I regretted not taking a picture of one of those fake sadhus. However, at the end, my guide repeated his promise to show a real sadhu.
So we climbed up the hill again and passed some buildings. The man seemed clearly to be heading for a target. Arriving behind a certain building, he turned and proudly said 'Behold, two real sadhus' and I indeed saw two men with long hair, painted foreheads and clothes with which you would not walk unnoticed in the street.
I had asked my guide in time how much a tip would be for taking a photo. A tip that would not be excessive but also not too stingy. I don't remember the amount but it seemed very reasonable.

The man dressed in red appeared sympathetic and began a friendly conversation.
I took some pictures and paid the amount my guide told me in advance and the sadhu seemed to find it correct.
So far everything as expected.

But before leaving, the man dressed in yellow called to me, bent over, and whispered in my ear ‘fifty dollars’ …
Then I understand that a real sadhu is not just waiting somewhere for a tourist that might show up.
A man who has chosen for a life of religion and have given up on all worldly possessions doesn’t suddenly find US dollars important.
First of all, I would never pay that much to take a picture of someone. In addition, in Nepal fifty dollars is a considerable sum for many people who have little.

So I just smiled and walked away. A little disillusionment richer. Just a little one.
The search for a real sadhu turned out not to be so easy.
Were there real sadhus in the Pashupatinath Temple that was visited daily by so many people (and many foreigners)?
However, not far from these two ‘sadhus’ sat a third man with less clothes and he asked nothing at all.
Perhaps someone who has given up on all worldly possessions? See photo in the WS.
Best not to wonder too much.

Just to put it clear: If you ever go to Kathmandu, you should definitely visit the Pashupatinath Temple, but it’s best not to search too much for real sadhus.

Photo Information
  • Copyright: Paul VDV (PaulVDV) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6778 W: 24 N: 16016] (62770)
  • Genre: People
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 2019-11-06
  • Exposure: f/0.1, 30 seconds
  • Photo Version: Original Version, Workshop
  • Date Submitted: 2022-01-20 0:45
Viewed: 0
Points: 38
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Additional Photos by Paul VDV (PaulVDV) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6778 W: 24 N: 16016] (62770)
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