Any self-respecting traveller will see at least one or two “touristy” things when they visit a new country, even if your plan is to stay off the beaten path it’s always interesting to see what all the hype is about at certain attractions.
Case in hand is Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, better know as Monkey Temple as there are monkeys everywhere. MT is an ancient religious complex atop a hill just west of Kathmandu city, easily reached by a 300rs taxi fare from Thamel (don’t forget your motion sickness tabs for any travel that is not on foot in Nepal, seriously!).
At first glance, Swayambhunath is a fantastic complex with its crown jewel being the Stupa at the top of what looks like a never-ending stone staircase, which is no doubt one of the oldest staircases in Nepal at about 1500 years!
This is not only a temple people come to pray day-to-day, but this is also one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, only second to Boudhanath, (my personal favorite). That being said you can buy an enormous variety of Nepali souvenirs, not only pray flags and singing bowls, but even some kind Anime key chains for the Japanese tourists, I found this quite sad but expected.
As we began our first ascent in Nepal we were approached by Sadhu’s, they will give you a blessing by pressing some colored rice to your forehead, in turn you are expected to provide them with a few rupees for the privilege. As we continued up the stone stairway there is a plethora of monkeys everywhere and people feeding them. We were told to keep our distance as they can be quite aggressive, the babies are absolutely adorable!
As we came to the top of the staircase we were face to face with the Stupa it was a beautiful, peaceful feeling, although again all the tourist’s and the selling of souvenirs put a bit of a damper on my first visit to a sacred Nepali site. However, it was a great experience, and I would recommend visiting Swayambhunath if you are staying in Kathmandu, just keep in mind the poverty here and don’t hold your expectation too high.