Monkey Temple is a site on a hill overlooking the city of Kathmandu with a large stupa and other Buddhist and Hindu iconography. One of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the country.
There are 350 steps to the top – the back route is less steep but the views on the way up are not as nice. Aside from the views over the city and the ancient carvings in every available space, it’s crowded with monkeys mingling with the visitors. As with the Boudha Stupa, are plenty of Buddhist and Tibetan-inspired trinkets for sale. There are also drinks for sale at the top, and at least one small restaurant selling momos.
For those that have their own transport or have difficulty climbing stairs there is a parking lot at the back entrance that significantly reduces the number of stairs that need to be climbed to gain access to the main compound. This is one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
How to get there
The base of the hill is a 30 minute walk from Thamel (make sure you have a map as there are several confusing intersections along the way), or take a taxi or rickshaw. If you just walk and ask to the locals again and again you will get to the temple for sure.
Foreigners: NPR750 for a multiple entry pass.
According to Swayambhu Purana, the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Swayambhu, meaning “Self-Created.” The name comes from an eternal self-existent flame (svyaṃbhu) over which a sūpa was later built.
Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple. They are holy because Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath Temple stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.
The Bodhisattva Manjusri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and traveled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, Manjusree cut a gorge at Chovar. The water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa.
Swayambhunath, is among the oldest religious sites in Nepal. According to the Gopālarājavaṃśāvalī Swayambhunath was founded by the great-grandfather of King Mānadeva (464-505 CE), King Vṛsadeva, about the beginning of the 5th century CE. This seems to be confirmed by a damaged stone inscription found at the site, which indicates that King Mānadeva ordered work done in 640 CE.
However, Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BCE and built a temple on the hill which was later destroyed.
Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous Hindu monarch followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful king of Kathmandu, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century.
The stupa was completely renovated in May 2010, its first major renovation since 1921 and its 15th in the nearly 1,500 years since it was built. The dome was re-gilded using 20 kg of gold.