Swayambhunath Stupa “aka the Monkey Temple”, Kathmandu, Nepal
Located atop a forest hillside overlooking the Kathmandu Valley is one of the most ancient and revered religious sites in Kathmandu- Swayambhunath Stupa. The stupa is claimed to be over 2,000 years old and is a re-known pilgrimage site for many devout Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal.
Known more familiarly as The Monkey Temple, it is home to over a hundred resident monkeys which roam the area. Ever fantasized about having a pet monkey when you were a child? However, cute these monkeys are (especially the babies!) if they wander into your path, you should not touch them unless you’re willing to risk having to get a rabies shot! But they are adorable but they are tricksters and will attempt to steal anything you leave hanging from your bag.
A pilgrimage of 365 stairs to the top
If you want to experience the pilgrimage, then climbing the 365 stairs to the summit is the way to go. Along the way, you’ll find buddha statues, prayer wheels and flags and many vendors selling religious artwork and jewelry.
Otherwise, you can sip on a cup of chai and have your car drive you to the top and backside of the stupa, where your stair climbing is less. There is a standing buddha wishing fountain where you can toss a rupee into buddha’s begging bowl for your chance at getting your wish granted. You’ll find many coin attempts decorating the bottom of the fountain.
Either way you enter the stupa, you will need to pay an admission cost if you are not Nepalese.
The Swambhunath stupa grounds
Entering the stupa grounds you can’t help but be blown away by its size. A golden stupa stands erect before you. Walk counter clockwise around the stupa, you’ll be met by 200 prayer wheels surrounding its domed base, a few altars to say prayers and collect prassad (“blessing”) and a red tikka, and maybe a resident cow.
Towards the back near the gift shops, there’s a neighborhood of smaller attendant stupas.
The symbolic eyes painted on the stupas (which you will see repeated throughout Nepal) are a folk symbol of the Buddha’s all-seeing eyes.
The dot between Buddha’s eyes represent the mystical third eye. The question mark looking symbol (in the area of the nose) stands for the number one, which stands for unity.
The view from the top
The best view of Kathmandu is from Swayambhunath Stupa, which grants a panoramic landscape of Kathmandu that is not to be missed. You may have to compete with locals to get your selfie shot, but it will be worthwhile.
Getting to Swayambhunath Stupa
The stupa is approximately a 10 minute taxi drive from downtown Thamil. You can hire a taxi to take you there or hire a car for the day and do day trips to major Kathmandu sites (i.e. Pashupatinath, Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu Valley, Patan).
Walking might take you around 45 minutes from Thamil. The walk won’t be everyone’s cup of tea as the road to the stupa steepens as you get closer. But you’ll pass through streets lined with local shops, hotels and neighborhoods, which can be pleasant for some.
Hotels near Swayambhunath Stupa
Kantipur Temple House, Thamel, Kathmandu
This charming eco friendly boutique hotel honors the philosophy of allowing travelers to leave only a carbon footprint in their travels of Nepal. The owner’s goal is responsible tourism and organic, eco-friendly practices in the hotel. There is no TV or A/C but a fan, morning yoga at 8AM, organic food restaurant and architecture that will make you feel like you’re honoring yourself while honoring the world around you.
This is my favorite site in all of Kathmandu, as the stupa and its mountain height are impressive and
Entrance fee: 50 SARC countries, 200 Rs Foreigners