Swayambunath - The Mountaintop Monkey Temple
Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
75Trip End Ongoing
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So when one goes to a “monkey temple” does one worship the monkeys or worship with the monkeys? That’s the question that kept coming to my mind as I walked toward the mountaintop shrine named Swayambhunath visible from many miles around in the Kathmandu Valley. When I first heard about the monkey temple I assumed it must be a Hindu one since Hindus consider monkeys sacred because one of their gods, Hanuman, is in the form of a monkey. Swayambhunath, though, is in fact Buddhist but like many of the religious sites in the Kathmandu Valley displays some of the iconography of the region’s other major religion. I find it interesting how Hindus and Buddhists mix aspects of the two religions in Nepal much the way Buddhists and Taoists do in China. If only Christians and Muslims could do the same in the western world
Swayambhunath is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley and is full of Buddhist symbolism, one if which is the 365 steps up to the temple from its eastern approach, one step for each day of the year. Fortunately, though, there are lots of places to rest and watch the Rhesus monkeys on the way up. But whatever you do, don’t display any food or the little hoodlums will suddenly take great interest in you and try to steal your breakfast.
At the top is a mystical atmosphere with the tourists significantly outnumbered by true pilgrims wandering around the big gilded spire painted with the eyes of the Buddha, always in clockwise direction, spinning the prayer wheels, praying, chanting “Om mani padme hum”. I wonder what the monkeys are thinking.