Swayambunath – The Monkey Temple – Kathmandu
Located atop a hill west of Kathmandu city, the Swayambhunath complex has been in use since the 5th century A.D. and consists of a magnificent domed stupa, as well as a variety of shrines and temples. Each temple is extremely ornate and richly decorated with gold and vibrant prayer flags, though it’s not only the spiritual décor that draws visitors.
Swayambhu is one of the holiest Buddhist stupas in Nepal. It is said to have evolved spontaneously when the valley was created out of a primordial lake more than 2,000 years ago. This stupa is the oldest of its kind in Nepal and has numerous shrines and monasteries on its premises.
Swayambhu literally means “self-existent one”. Believed to date back to 460 A.D., it was built by King Manadeva and by the 13th century, it had become an important center of Buddhism.
This sacred pilgrimage site is also home to hundreds of monkeys considered holy to Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus. According to legend, Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom, was in the process of raising the temple hill when the lice in his hair transformed into these monkeys. Swayambhunath means self-arisen and is derived from that legend.
The story alone provides enough inspiration for visitors to struggle through the climb to the temple, and the sights at the summit are worth the trek. From the top of the hill, visitors can see a panorama of the Kathmandu valley, along with playful monkeys swinging from trees and prayer flags hanging around the colorful temple.
Although the monkeys are somewhat active during the day, the stupa truly becomes a monkey temple at night when hundreds of monkeys frolic in the sacred area and even slide down the banister of the primary structure.