It’s believed that Kathmandu valley started its journey to glory and prominence right from this point - Syambhunath Stupa, also commonly known as the monkey temple of Kathmandu. That makes the place one of the oldest in the valley and one of the most significant for anyone who wishes to explore the origins of the region.
The stupa is also often referred to as Monkey Temple, as many monkeys have made it their home. The origin of the temple, however, lies in geography, and not religion and I find the mix of two simply fascinating.
If you translate the word Syambhu, it literally means “created spontaneously on its own”, and if we look back at the history of Kathmandu valley it might just be true. About 2000 years back the valley evolved out of a primordial lake and the hillock where the stupa is located today was created spontaneously during the process.
Over the last two thousand years Syambhunath has become one of the best places to observe religious harmony that Nepal is often known for. The oldest inscriptions at the site are from the 5th century though it was during the 14th century that it became an important Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Over the last few centuries many additions have been made at the site, and today the complex is adorned with numerous small and big Hindu and Buddhist shrines. Though primarily a Buddhist site, people of all faiths visit here through the day.
Just like I always like to do, I started my day early in the morning - just before dawn. I had already called for a cab and my cabbie was already waiting for me when I stepped out of the hotel. 30 minutes later he dropped me to climb up the rest of the journey.
It was still dark when I reached up, and I chose to simply relax and enjoy the morning rituals. Camera was mostly at rest, except a few times when I felt almost compelled to capture the beauty of the place.
Similar to many Hindu temples, there were men and women singing bhajans on the loudspeaker in one corner. The music was soulful and not at all jarring to the ear.
The place is also full of monkeys, and that’s the reason it’s also often called the Monkey Stupa. There are many but they don’t attack the tourists or pilgrims. Some people do offer them food and that often causes a bit of fight with the numerous dogs who also live there. Oh, and how can I forget the pigeons who fill up the sky beautifully every few minutes at sunrise.
The place is open to people of all faiths, and is as important to the Hindus of the city as it is to the Buddhists.
1. To reach: Book a cab in advance - either from outside or from your hotel itself.
There are actually two different ways to approach the stupa - a tough one and an easy one. The tough one requires you to climb up rather steep steps to reach the top, and it’s very exhausting. The easy route, also the one I took, requires you to drive almost all the way up to a parking lot and then within ten minutes of easy walking you are at the stupa. Pick the one you want based on availability of time and your strength.
2. Entry fee: the entry to the stupa is free and so is photography. A few places don’t allow pictures to be taken and it’s a good practice to respect that.
3. Toilets: there are toilets near the stupa and they are relatively clean. Alternatively, you can visit a cafe and use their toilet once they open (usually around 9am).
4. To stay: well, you can stay in the city, like I did, or also stay next to the stupa. There are a few simple guest houses, and I think it would be absolutely charming to stay here. It might actually be a good idea to just come here with your bags and look for a place to stay.
5. To eat: I didn’t eat anything here so have no personal recommendations. However, I think it would be a great place to eat your breakfast after paying respect at the stupa. There are numerous cafes and simple restaurants in the area.
6. To shop: there are often crafts shop near tourist places, and this stupa was no different. You can buy local crafts, including paintings of Buddhist Mandala by artists who make it right there.