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Visiting Swayambhunath (The Monkey Temple) in Kathmandu, Nepal

Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

An arduous 30-hour journey brought my mother to Kathmandu.  What a relief and pleasure to see her!  A hundred days separated us.

We have lots to catch up on.

After a day of rest, we venture out with Kaji (Buddhist) and Krishna (Hindu), two guides with different strengths, to help us navigate the city.

Our first journey is to the Monkey Temple, the second most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the world and also a highly sacred spot to Hindus.

Let me preface this post, and all my posts about Nepal, by saying that the knowledge I can share just skims the surface.  It’s the best I can do.  The culture is so different, the history is so deep and so full of complex Buddhist and Hindu lore, that I know my understanding is minute.  I am unable to grasp much of what I see, much less explain it.

Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)

The Monkey Temple is 1500 years old, and as one would expect, it’s crawling with monkeys that are protected and considered holy.  They even have their own swimming pool!  Monkeys roam freely and seem to have no interest in interacting with humans unless those humans are carrying a snack, in which case they will rob you without guilt.

There is a fountain on the grounds and at it’s center is a vessel.  Legend says that if you toss a coin and it falls into the small vessel you can wish for anything and it will come true.  My mom threw one coin and it dropped into center of the vessel.  Kaji was in awe.  “Very lucky“.  That’s a good start.

The temple complex is sprawling and extends all over the mountain.  Buddhist and Hindu temples and statues are everywhere.  Thousands of prayer wheels, big and small, surround the area.  Thousands of prayer flags, wave in the wind.

At the center of the site and the top of the mountain is the stupa which is a solid structure that metaphorically represents the earth.  On top of the stupa are tiers which represent the various stages one must achieve before reaching nirvana.  Four sets of eyes, representing wisdom and compassion adorn the temple facing North, East, South and West.  The “nose” below the eyes is a Nepalese symbol representing unity.

There is simply too much to take in.  Gold and stone and colors and incense and bells and dogs and monkeys and people and vendors and flags and statues and…

Bad Luck and Good Luck

After circling the stupa in a clockwise direction (counter-clockwise brings bad luck), we begin descending the 365 steep steps down to street level.  Twenty steps down and we hear screaming, only to turn around and see two people tumbling down the stairs head over feet towards us.

Between myself, my mother, and Kaji we stopped their roll but it was a terrifying moment.  We were the only people on the steps.  Had we not been there, they would likely have rolled down another 300 stone steps. It seems they escaped without more injury than bloody noses and bruises.

“Very unlucky” said Kaji.

“But lucky that we were there to stop them or they could have died!” I said.

“Perhaps it was a warning”.

Krishna agreed with my analysis:


It seems that signs of good luck or bad luck are everywhere.  Everyone is working on turning their luck to the good.  Superstition abounds.

In Nepal, where every moment I feel like I’m on the brink of being involved in a disaster, luck is a friend I want on my side.

Photos of The Monkey Temple:

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