When I learned that in Kathmandu there was a place called the Monkey Temple, I assumed it was a Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman, the god with the monkey head. But I was wrong.
The Monkey Temple, which is actually called the Swayambhu Stupa is a Buddhist Temple. There are no sculptures of Hanuman anywhere about. That's not why it's called the monkey temple.
Kathmandu is in a valley cleverly named the Kathmandu Valley. It is surrounded by mountains, some huge, some still big but not huge. But in the midst of the city of Kathmandu, there is a hill. I suppose it doesn't quite qualify as a mountain, but it's pretty tall. And on this hill is the Swayambhu Stupa.
The hill is largely undeveloped and covered in trees. The entire hill is home to monkeys, many, many monkeys.
We took a trip, on foot, to the Swayambhu Stupa. And it was an adventure.
Some streets in Kathmandu are the paved, flat roads you expect to see in any city. But many of the roads are unpaved, bumpy, hilly, and far from level. But these are roads with homes on either side. Many people here walk or use motorcycles as cars would be difficult on these roads. But they were interesting to walk along, to see how many people live. And boy was there a lot of up and down.
At one point we had to cross the Bishnumati River. This river isn't too wide, but the water is unpleasantly gray, with the kind of polluted smell to match its unnatural color.
|You know the Blue Danube? This is the Gray Bishnumati|
As you near the Swayambhu Stupa, you can see it from afar. It is above the rest of the city.
|A golden vision on the hill|
But you don't have to go to a recognized temple to see stupas. They are all around Kathmandu, along sidewalks, at the edge of streets, and in small squares.
|Maybe for drive-in service?|
When we reached the great hill, our climb began. After a short climb, we got to a level area in which there were several Buddha sculptures to greet us.
|The background matches the hair|
Already here one would see monkeys as well as stray dogs. In fact, we saw one woman pouring water for the dogs and monkeys to drink.
Then you climb another long set of stairs up the hill. Along the way, there are vendors selling small pieces of art, fruit, and some metal jewelry. One reaches another level. Here again, there are Buddha sculptures.
|Is it much farther now, Papa Smurf?|
Once you pass this, there is no going back. You now climb the long staircase to the Stupa.
|Up, up, up|
Along the side of the staircase there are animal sculptures. We saw a happy horse, an elephant, a fierce bird, and this peacock.
|With furrowed brow, like Sam the American Eagle|
At the top we got to see the great golden stupa. Below the golden spire are painted the Eyes of Buddha. I wasn't allowed to take pictures of it.
Buddhists walk around it in a clockwise direction and they spin mantra wheels as they go. At various points, they can stop and light incense sticks. And there are bells they ring. It was an interesting ritual.
Though I couldn't take a picture of the mantra wheels at the top, there was a large mantra wheel at the bottom of the hill which I was allowed to photograph. This gives you an idea of what I mean by a mantra wheel, though the ones at the top are much smaller.
In this top area, there are again plenty of monkeys. Of those I was allowed to take a picture.
|They seem to think the stupa is for them|
The top also afforded a magnificent view of Kathmandu below. But note the smoky haze. That's smoke. It's always there. Nepal, much like India, is a constant haze of pollution. People burn their garbage. You see small fires near the road all the time. So there is continual smoke in the air.
|The city in all it's haze|
So at the top one can see monkeys. But the monkeys looking down are very limited in what they can see. Around here it isn't monkey see, monkey do. It's more like monkey can't see, monkey Kathmandu.