My Yellow Suitcase

Redesign your life. Travel the world.

Wandering Around The Monkey Temple: Kathmandu Nepal

monkey temple7

Designated as UNESCO World Heritage site, Swayambhunath Temple is probably the most sacred among Tibetan Buddhist sites in Nepal and the main destination of pilgrims here.  The temple is popularly known as the ‘Monkey Temple’ because of the hundreds of free-roaming sacred monkeys that traipse along the grounds.  They dominate the place and oblivious of the people around them.  The Temple is also the most instantly recognizable symbols of Nepal. Ask any local about places to visit in the city and the Monkey Temple will be the first one they will mention.

monkey temple 13

grinning monkey at one the mini stupas 

You might be wondering why monkeys are considered sacred in Nepal, I do too.  Well, it is believed  that monkeys are regarded sacred here because Manjushri,  the ancient bodhisattva (holy man), was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long which got infested with head lice. It is said that the head lice eventually transformed into monkeys – hence the veneration of the monkeys till now.  It is quite interesting to see that for the more westernized cultures the monkeys might be associated with our distant evolutionary cousins, but for the Buddhist and Hindu population here the monkeys are revered for very different reasons.

SAM_0607

adorable mother and child monkey 

It took me a while to get over the eerie ‘lice-into-monkey’ transformation story but I guess that’s what it means to be open to new cultural experiences – it requires not only lots of conceptual adjustments but sometimes also a strong stomach.

My local friend offered to be my guide and was kind enough to teach me some facts about the iconic stupa.   After about half an hour of hiking uphill and talking about our very different lives, we reached the foot of the Eastern Stairway and then had to climb the 365 stone steps all the way up to the Temple. The exhausting climb to the hilltop was made interesting by the stories we  shared  and the hissing monkeys perched along the stairway, which can be a bit scary! They were  looking firmly on passing visitors,  examining  each and everyone with utmost scrutiny and shocking them with their utter lack of manners.

monkey temple - stairs

on my way up to the main stupa

SAM_0622

monkeys scattered around the west gate entrance

IMG_8528

some of the souvenir items  that can be bought inside the complex

We saw groups of teenagers stood at the various landing of the steps playing happily.  Then the moment we get close to them, they stop to beg  – collecting donations from visitors for various causes.   There’s also fortune tellers and souvenir sellers sat or squatted all along the way, calling out to me as I stopped to catch my breath.   We reach the apex, though not without a struggle. I keep telling myself I’m breathing heavily because of the high elevation, and not because I’m  not fit for such activity  hehehe 😉

TIP #1: If you’re not into hiking and stair climbing, there’s a car road to the top of the hill from the South leading to the South-West entrance.  From there it’s only a short walk to the Temple grounds.

Once we reached the top of the stairs, we paid a small ticket price of 200 RPS ($3.26 USD as of this writing) to enter the temple. On top is a platform filled with shrines, relics, and people  covered in flowers and colored dyes. There is a song, and incense in the air and yak butter candles shine in every darkened corner of this elaborate plaza.  And of course, Monkeys!!!

SAM_0582

yak candle

burning or yak candles

IMG_20141230_173257

monkey temple 2

IMG_20141228_190734

IMG_20141230_175342

playing chess is one of  the favorite  pastimes of locals living within the complex

There are suddenly monkeys everywhere!  They emerge from the shrines, from the trees, from the entrails of the mountain.  They are terrifyingly brazen, not afraid to walk right up to anyone.  The locals just ignored them, and the monkey, in turn, excluded them from their ‘target list’.  It was a clear display of ’monkey discrimination’ at its finest.  Unfortunately, I was the outsider and soon I discovered that my name was also on their target list.

monkey temple 17

all senses alert! …. in search for food

Before I knew what was happening, a young monkey rocketed past me snatching a box of mango juice from my hand.  Looking in shock at the dark reddish smear on my hand where my box of mango juice had been just a moment ago, I become terribly worried, thinking that I might be now infected with rabies.  I didn’t feel any pain but I knew that in a state of shock one can be badly wounded without realizing it right away. I washed the multi-colored dirt off my hand and examined it anxiously for any scratches or bites.  Fortunately, the ‘monkey attack’ left my skin unbroken and required no visit to a doctor for a preventive injection.

TIP #2:  Avoid feeding and touching the monkeys or provoking them in any way. Even though these are not enforced rules and the monkeys are accustomed to humans, they are still wild animals, and it is best to enjoy them from a distance.

 

IMG_20141228_190330

the main stupa

The stupa itself is something to behold.   It consists of a lofty whitewashed dome with a gilded spire, from where four faces of the Buddha stare out across the valley in the cardinal directions.  The nose like squiggle below the piercing eyes is actually the Nepali number ek (one), signifying unity, and above is a third eye signifying the all-seeing insight of the Buddha. The 13 tiered structure signifies the stages that humans must experience to achieve nirvana.  Historical records found on a stone inscription give evidence that the stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination by the 5th century A.D. i.e. before the official coming of Buddhism into the valley.

IMG_20141228_190652

Spinning the prayer wheels around, sometimes offering prostrations as they chant. 

IMG_1671


One of the unique features of every Tibetan Buddhist temple is the rows of colorful prayer flags strung along wires, fluttering in the breeze.  This pre-Buddhist shamanic tradition has been incorporated only into the Tibetan version of Buddhism and is not found in any other Buddhist traditions.  The flags are made of cloth and are in five specific colors: blue, white, red, green and yellow, representing the five oriental elements. The written contents of the prayers are believed to be carried away to the heavens by the winds.

monkeys and flags

little monkeys playing with the prayer flags

IMG_20141228_190219

stunning city views from the top

It is worth noting here that unlike in other countries, here in Nepal, Buddhism and Hinduism co-exist in a perfect harmony and it’s often even hard to distinguish one from the other.  The temples are typically used for worship by devotees from both religions without any strive even though they are not equally represented in the society where Hindus accounts for 80% and Buddhists just for 10% of the total population of Nepal.


monket temple - city view

As we continue to explore the place, we saw a small cafe at the top sitting alongside the Stupa itself with a spectacular view of the valley and the City as well as the surrounding rainforest. Even if it’s cloudy, this vantage point is a beautiful spot to gaze out into the valley. I can just simply sit here and let the time stood still. Even with all the minor noises and tourist activity, the place still emulates  peace and tranquility. There’s really something special about the energy of the place, perhaps rendered stronger by its location high above the city 🙂

TIP #3: Go in the afternoon for a better view of the city.

monkey temple 3

SAM_6190

At the end of the tour, I took in one last final view of the main golden stupa and have this photo taken! Then I made my way down the stairs feeling happy and pleased with the entire experience. Visiting the magnificent Swayambhunath Temple was definitely worth the climb for me.

TIP #4: If you decide to visit the Swayambhunath Temple one day, just remember, this is indeed a Monkey Temple in a full sense of the word.  Keep a watchful eye on them.

TRAVELLER’s NOTE

  • The  Monkey Temple is located about a 50-minute walk west of Thamel in Kathmandu. If not too hot, you can walk your way up to the hill. There are a few stores and a small museum along the way,  so you could turn this into a full day activity.

Photo credits:

  • grinning monkey at one of the mini stupas Photo from jonistravelling.com
  • burning of yak candles Photo from holeinthedonut.com 
  • little monkeys playing with the prayer flags Photo from urbanadventures.com 
  • mother and child monkey on stairs Photo from paul-d-holmes.blogspot.com

Have you been to the Monkey Temple? What is your favorite part of the tour? Share your experiences by commenting below 🙂

Advertisements

43 comments on “Wandering Around The Monkey Temple: Kathmandu Nepal

  1. konviktion
    November 2, 2015

    Reblogged this on konviktion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ynah CA
    November 2, 2015

    Thank you Konviktion for sharing! Hope I was able to take you to the Monkey Temple through my blog.

    happy travels 🙂

    Like

  3. marycharietwomonkeystravel
    November 8, 2015

    These monkeys are so cute! Nepal is on my list, I always heard great comments about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 8, 2015

      Yeah they are, but can be very naughty too! Nepal is a great place to explore I am sure you will love it! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  4. majestazea
    November 9, 2015

    How cool! I love monkeys! I have to visit this place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Hi Majestazea! Good to know that you love monkeys, but you have to be careful in dealing with the monkeys at the Monkey Temple for they tend to be quite naughty and aggressive 🙂

      Hope you’ll able to see the temple someday! Happy travels 🙂

      Like

  5. evankristine
    November 9, 2015

    Interesting read. I agree when you mentioned about the Buddist point of view on why monkeys are sacred for them. “lies-to-monkeys” may sound weird for us who didn’t came from the same culture but this is for surely the main reason why we travel 🙂 to see and experience new experiences! Love it!

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 9, 2015

      Thank you Evankristine, I’m glad you like it! I agree, we do learn alot and understand things better from travelling, than just simply reading info from the books. If i didnt go to the monkey temple, I would probably still be wondering why monkeys in Nepal are considered sacred. The answer can be hard to digest at first, but atleast now I know why 😉

      Like

  6. Sabine
    November 10, 2015

    I have never been to the monkey temple, but it looks nice, especially the view from the top. In the golden hour light this must be stunning. And I guess you have to watch out for the monkey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 10, 2015

      Yes Sabine, the view from the top is beautiful – worth the climb! Those monkeys can be cute and terrifying at the same time, they sure know how to trick the visitors hehehe 🙂

      Like

  7. crizkis
    November 10, 2015

    I love to see those monkeys too in the wild! Nepal has many things to offer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 10, 2015

      Indeed Crizkis! Those monkeys look so adorable right? But you have to take necessary precautions in dealing with them. They are unpredictable 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. NYC JetSetter
    November 11, 2015

    So cool!!! Although when they are running all around, it makes me a bit nervous! haha

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 12, 2015

      Same here, feels like they are going to attack anytime! they are so sneaky 🙂

      Like

  9. Prianka | Map Halves
    November 11, 2015

    Great tips and the monkeys are so cute! Do they warn you about the monkeys stealing stuff? You had to really be on your toes around them in Bali!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 12, 2015

      Unfortunately we were not warned! But here are some posters saying ” do not feed the monkeys” I am guessing that should be it? hehehe 🙂

      Like

  10. Lexi
    November 12, 2015

    So many monkeys! I always love seeing them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 12, 2015

      Yes Lexi, there are hundreds of them or even more 🙂

      Like

  11. Carol Colborn
    November 12, 2015

    Very interesting! Where in Nepal is this? Is it near Kathmandu? How easy is it to get there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 12, 2015

      Hi carol, its within Kathmandu. It’s about 10-15 minutes by taxi from Thamel in non-rush hour. Are you in Nepal right now?

      Like

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience. It looks a wonderful place to visit, unless you have a fear of monkeys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 13, 2015

      The pleasure is mine Dean. Glad you like it! OH yeah if you are not into monkeys then this place is definitely not for you. There’s just so many of them! But its worth giving it a try 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  13. Claudia
    November 13, 2015

    This is a place I would love to visit. For as naughty as they are, I can’t help loving monkeys. One stole my sunglasses at Ulu Watu in Bali (I managed to get them back!) and yet… I thought it was so funny!

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 14, 2015

      Hi Claudia, the monkeys in Bali are more notorious;) hehheh can be fun too… But i was actually terrified, my brain jumped into thinking about “rabbies alert” … Nonetheless the monkey temple is a wonderful place to visit 🙂

      Like

  14. mcgooie
    November 14, 2015

    This Temple looks beautiful. I assume the monkeys can be a bit playful and mischievous at times?

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 14, 2015

      Yes Macgooie they are very playful and naughty. When you look at them, as if they are saying “hey you, this is my territoty!. But they are adorable especially the little ones.

      Like

  15. nibblesipwander
    November 14, 2015

    I love your last sentence: keep a watchful eye on them. NO PROBLEM. haha.

    Like

    • Ynah CA
      November 15, 2015

      Haha… Coming from my own experience of sudden monkey attack!

      Like

  16. Natasha
    November 14, 2015

    Aww the monkeys are so cute! I’ve heard before they can be aggressive but you got a couple of really awesome shots of them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 15, 2015

      Yes Natasha, they can be very agressive! And sneaky! Especially when you make an eye contact with them – they feel that they are being threatened. But in some occassions they can be just playful 🙂

      Like

  17. Elizabeth
    November 15, 2015

    Wow on the monkeys. I can’t believe how many of them there are! I am sure they are well fed and that is what makes them so aggressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 16, 2015

      Yeah, they are quite spoiled Elizabeth hehehe and can be very sneaky too!

      Like

  18. Grietje | TravelGretl
    November 15, 2015

    Beautiful place! Really looks like a must visit 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 16, 2015

      Hello Grietje, thanks a bunch you like it! Hope the monkey temple make it to your bucket list. 🙂

      Like

  19. Nic Hilditch-Short
    November 15, 2015

    This is on our list for sure! Absolutely stunning place and then with the added monkeys…doesn’t get much better than that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 16, 2015

      Hi Nic, that’s good to hear! Wishing you a happy and great travels ahead 🙂

      Like

  20. Alli Blair
    November 16, 2015

    I have not heard of this yet!! I love the look of the temple, reminds me of the one in Thailand but it’s difference is… the monkeys!! Love monkeys 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 17, 2015

      Yes Alli quite the same as in Thailand! Hope you make it there someday, just be careful with the monkeys though 🙂

      Like

  21. Alexis
    November 16, 2015

    GREAT photos!! The baby monkeys playing with the prayer flags are so cute!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Katharina Parsons
    November 16, 2015

    Wow. Tibet is definitely on my Bucketlist. On day! You got some great snapshots! I almost feel like I was there with you. The monkeys are so cute hihi Thank you for sharing x Kat I http://www.beautiullytravelled.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ynah CA
      November 17, 2015

      I am glad you like it Katharina. Happy travels!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on November 2, 2015 by in Nepal and tagged , , .
%d bloggers like this: