Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple

Kathmandu, Nepal – Woke up, used my hot shower, then checked out of my hotel and moved to the hotel Potala around to the corner across from KC’s Restaurant, a little cheaper with a better view and a roof deck. Once I got and settled in, I grabbed my camera and water bottle and embarked on the 2-kilometer journey out of the city to the Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple. It was a nice walk through the Kathmandu back streets, save the hell climb up a flight of stairs virtually straight up.

Finally reached the temple and stupa itself. The temple consists of the main stupa, which is a solid white concrete dome with a very tall gold block type structure on top of it. The block has the Buddha’s all seeing eyes painted on each side of it along with the teeka or third eye symbolized as a dot above the other two regular eyes. The teeka symbolizes the Buddha’s clairvoyant powers. Below the eyes is a squiggle mark, which is actually the symbol for a Nepalese numeral one its significance being unity. Up above the block with the eyes are the 13 gold rings, each getting smaller, making the top of the structure looks similar to a church steeple. Each of the rings signifies one of the 13 degrees of knowledge and 13 steps that must be taken to reach Nirvana. Nirvana is represented by the umbrella at the top of the steeple.

Around the base of the stupa are what seemed to be a couple of hundred prayer wheels encircling the entire structure. As the worshippers would come up the stairs, they would pray at this huge brassed colored Dorje or symbol for the great thunderbolt, then ring this huge bell next to it, which was supposed to symbolize the sound of thunder. They would then move forward and walk always clockwise around the stupa, spinning each and every prayer wheel. I mentioned earlier I thought the prayer wheels were Tibetan, actually that they are just part of the Buddhist religion, each with the words Om Mani Padme Hum inscribed on it plus to add to the day core, there were streams of what appear to be different colored flags tied to the spire of the stupa flowing down and out over the whole of the complex.

Upon further inspection, the flags were actually painted with the words and symbols of different Buddhist prayers called Mantras. The people here believe that when the prayer wheel is spinning or the flag fluttering in the wind, the prayer is being said. I wandered around the Swayambhunath complex for a while looking at the smaller temples and taking almost a roll of photos. The alternate name of this place is the Monkey Temple and with just cause for there are literally tons of monkeys crawling all over the stupa and smaller statues surrounding plus the locals bring food to feed them so whenever there is people around, there are tons of monkeys.

After spending a while at the stupa, I thought it was time to move on. I went by a nearby Gompa or Tibetan Buddhist monastery to have a look around and came across a prayer wheel that must have been about 10 feet high, not one of the more notable sites around Kathmandu. Headed back to the city to grab a bite to eat and have a wander around the Durbar Square again, as I do not think I did it justice the first time.  Lunched on Freak Street, then looked at the temples in the Square more closely this time. As I was looking up into the eves at some carvings, I noticed the face of a tourist peering out of the uppermost window of the temple looking tower behind. I had a walk around this Square looking for an entrance to this place and eventually found it in the Nasal Chowk, the dancing courtyard of the old royal palace.

The courtyard had a statue of a dancing Shiva in it, hence the name, and the courtyard was surrounded by a very European looking white building of the old palace, which is now a museum holding artifacts from the previous king’s reign. In each corner of the courtyard was a huge tower, the largest one the Basantapur being the one accessible to the tourists.

I had a wander through the king’s museum, which was really boring since it is an exhibit for Nepalese people and nothing is in English. Then headed over to the tower and climbed the narrow staircases to the top to get a good view of the Kathmandu. After my view, I wandered around the Square some more looking at the Tibetan crafts when I remembered I needed to change money. Since this was Saturday, the Nepalese equivalent of Sunday in Britain, everything was closed. I started walking where I knew there were black-market money changers, but to my surprise they all had the day off. The previous day I could have used a baseball bat to beat the buggers off, but during my 20-minute walk back to Thamel, not one money changer approached me. Of course I could not find one when I needed one.

Dropped off a note for Rich at the Kathmandu Guest House and priced some duffel bags to hold all the crap I had purchased so far before heading to the hotel to crash out.


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