If you are looking for something to do in Kathmandu before heading out trekking the Monkey Temple is a good way to spend a few hours. Laying just to the west of Kathmandu it’s only a 30 minute walk from Thamel. To reach the Monkey Temple it’s a steep climb up a series of 365 stairs. It’s one of the highest points in Kathmandu and offers expansive views across the city. The site itself is situated on a small hill top and consists of a large central stupa surrounded by a myriad of shrines, temples and small shops that specializes in paintings, singing bowls and a variety of religious artifacts. Also known as Swayambhunath the site is a popular pilgrimage spot for Buddhists. If you get up before dawn you might catch a glimpse of the many Buddhists and Hindus alike who climb to the top to make homage.
It might be tempting to play with or feed the many monkeys lounging about on the stairs, but while appearing tame they can be quite dangerous so it’s recommended to avoid getting at all close. Although you can get some great monkey pictures! Some of the numerous monkeys around the temple are thought to be holy. The story goes that the monkeys actually transformed from the head lice of Manjushri, a bodhisattva (a Buddhist who has reached enlightment), who was said to be in the act of manifesting the very hill.
Once you reach the top of the stairs and before you can enter the complex of temples you need to pay a 200Rs entrance fee. It’s easy to spend an hour on the top enjoying the birds-eye view of Kathmandu and wandering around the central stupa, various carved statues and small shops.
The stupa itself is domed shaped and capped by a square brick structure that has the eyes of Buddha painted on it. You will see similar eyes of Buddha if you also make a visit to Boudhanath. The typical stupa dome itself represents the entire world whereas the eyes at the top signfy enlighment that comes with compassion and wisdom. Thirteen pinnacles are also seen on the top signifying the steps required of a Buddhist to reach enlightenment.
A circle of prayer wheels surround the central stupa that devotees will set into motion as they traverse round the stupa. Feel free to set these in motion but be advised they should always spin in a clockwise direction so as to correspond in the direction with which the prayers are written and its also the same direction as the movement of the sun through the skies. Buddhist doing this will hum the mantra – “Om Mani Padme Hum.”
If you’re walking from Thamel it is best to get a map and some instructions from your hotel. It only takes about 30 minutes and it’s a bit boring. You can get a firsthand look at some of the environmental issues facing Nepal when you cross the Bagmati River before getting to the steps at the base of the temple. Don’t be afraid to ask a local for directions as they will gladly point you in the right way. If you want to take a taxi directly from Thamel it should be no more than a few hundred Nepali Rupees (ask your hotel about the going taxi rates before you start bargaining).
One last word of caution is that the local guides around the temples are likely to overcharge. If you are approached for guiding services just decline the offer. If you really want to get a guide we can arrange a good one at a reasonable price. Himalayanwonders offer a day tour package that includes Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath and Monkey Temple (See Kathmandu Day Tour). Alternatively, we can customize a day tour as per your requirements if you have a specific agenda, just drop us an inquiry.