Nearly every afternoon for the past three summers, I could rely upon a certain cloud of white smoke following the crowd around the Stupa. Often, it was the scent of juniper branches that it carried with each dissipating puff, and because Kathmandu is home to a variety of offensive stenches, I breathed its whiteness in deeply, feeling the juniper sweep my head clean.
We called him 'Juniper Man', the man who swung the censer like a pendulum, muttering mantras through lips barely parted. He wore a turmeric jacket and a pointed beard, his hair neatly tied back in a bun. I have never drawn him because every time I see him, I find myself caught up in his wake, mesmerized by the movement, by the scent. This year, we came to the point of mutual recognition— I would place my hands together in greeting, and he would nod with a slight smile, never breaking his swing or a syllable of his prayer.
On the night of the full moon, I followed him for several circumambulations, camera in hand. Knowing precisely what I wanted, he slowed down and kindly paused until I got a few blurry shots, smiled and continued on. I asked the older kids at school who he was, but no one knew.
Seeing him was always uplifting. It's funny how a perfect stranger can have such an effect on you.
Thank you, Juniper Man.