We sketched for an hour at the foot of the hill which holds Swayambhunath at its peak, competing for space with camera-happy, pushy tourists, mischievous macaques, murderous mosquitoes, and curious Nepalis. Children all but climbing on us, sweat beading down our faces, we reached a point of physical and mental exhaustion, and decided to shut our books to pull our bodies up the 365 steps toward the stupa. Buddha's wide eyes of compassion, watching our rib cages expand and squeeze heavily, watching little brown hands reach out toward the foreign, watching tika-marked brows and fingers clicking buttons on cameras and phones— watching over us all.
On our breathless 366th step, we moved clockwise past the enormous dorje, trying to make sense of the colour, the noise and movement, the scent of people and incense. It was all familiar to me, yet still like some overwhelming wave. I searched Pedro's face in an attempt to understand what he felt as he stood there. We leaned against a wall together, not saying much, watching the monsoon blanket the valley.