Swayambhu , also known to tourists as The Monkey Temple, is my favourite temple area and stupa in Kathmandu, and for a whole range of reasons. It was my first temple visited in Kathmandu 35 years ago, my daughter was married here, the complex contains icons and monuments to a variety of religions, and it has a long detailed history that, in theory, goes back to Noah’s Flood! It’s a great place for mindful travel!
Let’s start with that last bit: Buddhist “history/mythology” in Nepal asserts that there was a great flood encompassing Nepal and that the waters only receded when Manjushree used his mighty sword to cleave the earth to allow the water to drain away. This is Chobar Gorge, a few miles away from Swayambhu. As the water receded the first land revealed was a hill on which a Lotus Flower was growing, the hill henceforth named as Swayambhu, meaning …….. The Jewel in the Lotus!
The main entrance from the city is via a large gateway at the bottom of the hill and you must now run the gauntlet of women selling beads, bangles and bags, then the craftsmen/merchants with their stalls selling Buddhist trinkets such as carved slate, coloured stones, prayer beads etc. You will need the “1000 yards stare” and a steady determined pace as you ascend the first layer of steps, otherwise it will take a very long time to reach your goal. Steadily climbing the steps you will see lots of smaller stupa around you, and some small wooden shelters for “pilgrims” to shelter from heat or rain. One of these is owned by my family who mostly use it on Buddha’s birthday when they buy and hand out 1000s of bottles of water to the worshippers who ascend the hill to mark the day.
Passing through the pair of large Buddhas you are now confronted by the steepest section, take it slowly, hold the rail, ignore the countless beggars. Focus on the large brass vajra you will see at the top of the steps, God’s Thunderbolt.
On the left now, pay your small fee, and you are rewarded with an amazing complex of stupa, a monastery, a full circle of prayer wheels, a pagoda temple to the goddess Ajima, shelters from the sun, merchants selling incense in different forms, and the obligatory trinket sellers around the perimeter. Relax, slow down, get your breath back and enjoy the place. But remember Swayambhu is a very religious place in Kathmandu, show respect, as you would expect visitors to do in YOUR church, Cathedral, mosque, be mindful!