It is not always easy to ask a taxi driver for directions, but in the case of Swayambhunath temple, it was: I could actually point to the towers rising above the trees on top of one of the hills dominating the skyline of Kathmandu when I asked for a ride in the early morning. Apart from driving up, you can also take a walk on the long stairway leading directly to the platform on which the great stupa of Swayambhunath sits, surrounded by two high, white towers: the Indian shikhara-style temples. The climb up is nothing enduring, but I saw some people struggling their way up very slowly, taking one step at a time; I can imagine it took them a long time to reach the top!
The legend of the origins of Swayambhunath temple is beautiful. It says that once upon a time, there was a huge lake in Kathmandu Valley (of which, by the way, scientists have found proof). Out of this lake grew a lotus. The name of the valley was Swayambhu, meaning "self created". A disciple of Shakyamuni, bodhisattva Manjusri, had a vision of the lotus and the lake and traveled here to worship it. Since the lake was not easily accessible by human pilgrims, he wanted to drain the lake: he cut a gorge through the surrounding mountains. After that, the lake dried up and created Kathmandu valley; the lotus turned into a hill, and the flower became Swayambhunath temple.
Whatever its history, Swayambhunath is one of the most oldest religious sites in Nepal: it was an important destination for Buddhist pilgrims already in the 5th century CE. The view from the top could be nice, but even in the morning, the haze over Kathmandu, caused by smog makes it much less interesting. Fortunately, there is enough going on on the temple platform. Although the temple is Buddhist, it is also revered by Hindus. In fact, you can find Hariti Temple here, which is a Hindu goddess, a sign of how Buddhism and Hinduism intertwine in Nepal. Apart from looking at pilgrims going around the stupa, swirling the prayer wheels in a display of bright colours and devout faces, you will inevitably see many monkeys here. They are very playful, slide down roofs of temples, jump from one temple to the other, steal food left just before for offering, and have a great time climbing over the stupa roof. Surprisingly, I did not see pilgrims chasing the respectless monkeys away from their holy sites. It is not surprising, however, that Swayambhunath temple is dubbed Monkey Temple.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Swayambhunath Temple (Nepal). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Swayambhunath Temple. Read more about this site.