Saturday, 17 May 2014

Kathmandu Monkey Temple, Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath in Kathmandu ©Solange Hando

Ready to climb 365 steps?
If you can't, don't worry, there's a road to the top but you'll miss out on the company, pilgrims, stall holders selling sun hats, silk scarves and flower garlands, and a monkey or two.

Up there, on a lofty hill top west of the city, the eyes of the Buddha look in all directions under a golden spire, showing the way to heaven. Myriad shrines and statues gleam around the white dome, said to represent the world, and along the ridge.This is one of the most sacred compounds in Kathmandu and a place where Buddhists and Hindus worship side by side. For Tibetans in Kathmandu, it is second only to Bodhnath.

Stone Carver in the Monkey Temple ©Solange Hando

Worshipping here takes many forms, praying, prostrating, lighting candles, offering garlands of marigolds or rice for the pigeons swooping over the complex from dawn to dusk.

But for local artists, creating religious objects is also a way to earn merits while for visitors, it's a brilliant opportunity to browse quality craft imbued with a special meaning.

Buddhist Flags along the Ridge ©Solange Hando

Many pilgrims make their way up the hill in the early morning while tourists follow later, keen to tick off another World Heritage site on the list.

Few of them however venture beyond the main stupa but if you walk a short distance along the ridge, you reach a lovely area where prayer flags flutter in the breeze and nuns leave their retreat now and then to come and chat in the sun. It's a great place to reflect and savour the peace but beware: this isn't called the Monkey Temple for nothing.

That's mine...©Solange Hando

Sweet tooth? 
This greedy chap got away with the candy floss but I managed to save the coke. And don't worry about the wrapper, he won't eat it...

 There's whole colony of them frolicking on the ridge, claiming the trees as their own and the offerings left by worshippers. No one minds for these are holy monkeys, cheeky rather then aggressive unless you threaten their young.

View of Kathmandu from Swayambhunath ©Solange Hando

So just hold on to your belongings when you admire the view... Up there, Kathmandu is at your feet, an all round panorama framed by the hills and by clear weather, the snowy peaks of the Langtang range.

It's as good a reason as any to visit the temple. You can walk it from Thamel in 30 minutes but on a hot day, that may prove too much if you intend to tackle the steps. Unlike the monkeys below, you won't get the chance to cool down...

Swayambhunath ©Solange Hando

What more could you ask for if you were a monkey?

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