Monkeying Around at Swayambhunath

One of my favourite places in Kathmandu is the Swayambhunath Temple. It is a Tibetan Buddhist site of worship atop a substantial hill in the Kathmandu Valley, and is well known for its resident holy monkeys. After all, it’s not called the Monkey Temple for nothing!

I had a nervy taxi ride from my hotel in Thamel all the way to Swayambhunath. I approached one taxi and asked how much for a return trip to the temple and I was quoted at 1200 Rupees. This was too much for me, and I tried to haggle but the driver did not want to lower his price. So I walked up the road a little way and asked another driver, and he quoted me 750 Rupees, which was much closer to my original asking price of 500. I think my price was a bit hopeful, but in the end I was happy with what I got offered. 20 minutes later I had arrived at Swayambhunath Temple. My driver had taken me to the top of the temple, rather than drop me at the bottom so I could walk up the famous steps to the top. I don’t know why he did this, as for most people climbing the stairs is one of the most important parts of the visit. Oh well, at least I saved my energy! The taxi driver waited for me in the car park ready for when I needed the lift back to Thamel.

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The admission cost for an adult ticket for a ‘foreigner’ at Swayambhunath is 300 rupees. The first thing I noticed after paying for my tickets was a nice little pond with a golden Buddha in the middle. There were little buckets beneath this statue into which locals were trying to throw coins, presumably for good luck and well-wishing. I saw some rather large monkeys around this area, some of which were stalking around the pond, and others were hiding in trees grooming each other. After a short while, I headed eastward up the steps to the main part of the temple where the stupa and monasteries are situated. I noticed many lines of prayer flags as I was walking up these steps, and it really adds to the atmosphere of being in the Himalayas, in addition to my visit of the Boudhanath Stupa the previous day!

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There were many stray dogs at the top of these steps, but fortunately they were all sleeping around a giant red Buddha statue. I didn’t want to disturb them so I went on my way quickly. Up here at the pinnacle of the hill, in addition to the stupa and the monasteries, I saw so many little shops and the odd café or two. I didn’t buy anything, but it was nice to peruse a little as I circled the stupa, and contrary to my expectations, the Nepali merchants were not pushy at all in trying to obtain my rupees!

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The main stupa of the Swayambhunath Temple is actually a mini version of the Boudhanath Stupa. However, here at Swayambhunath, there are other little decorative statues and monuments that encircle the stupa, including a giant Vajra, which can be seen in my photo above being played with by a monkey. You will notice many of these pesky monkeys at this elevation at Swayambhunath, and although they didn’t bother me personally, it is claimed that they can attack you if you they are hungry and see that you have food in your bags, so it is always wise to be wary.

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After a good 45 minutes or so up at the Swayambhunath Temple stupa walking around getting some cool photos, and enjoying great views of the very polluted Kathmandu Valley down below, I decided it was time to head back down to the car park where my taxi driver was waiting for me. I allowed myself one last little look at the some of the monkeys congregating around the entrance near the wishing pond. I then had a little look at some of the items on sale in a market within the temple compounds, and was startled to find real Ghurkha swords on sale, which I didn’t think was very safe in an area which can be full of children. Still, I had a good time at Swayambhunath Temple, and I left with good memories of visiting yet another Tibetan Buddhist site.

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2 thoughts on “Monkeying Around at Swayambhunath

  1. For the Buddhist Newars in whose mythological history and origin myth as well as day-to-day religious practice, Swayambhunath occupies a central position. This is not necessarily a Tibetan monument. For Tibetans and followers of Tibetan Buddhism, it is second only to Boudhanath.

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