Welcome to Swayambhunath
Atop a hill in Kathmandu sits the sprawling temple grounds
inhabited by monkeys.
(I had originally toyed with the subject line, “Me and my monkey,” but since I don’t have a selfie of me with a monkey, I thought that might be a bit of a letdown for you.)
My plans for the next couple of weeks are set: Off to Pharping for a bit to check on the elders there and hug the caregiver who took such precious care of Kapitah in her final months, then out to Sindhuli Beltar and other remote Tamang villages to introduce some sustainable food practices to them.
Until I can update you on our progress in both those areas, I thought I’d share some bits about Nepal and life here.Since my last email ended with mention of a monkey bite happening at a local temple, it seems only fitting to begin again from there.
Swayambhunath seems a tongue-twister of a name on its surface, but it’s really quite easy to pronounce: SWAHM-boo-nath, or Swayambhu for short. In Sanskrit, Swayambhu is loosely translated into “self-created,” or “self-arisen.” One legend has it that the massive hill on which the temple sits arose on its own from the lake that once engulfed the Kathmandu Valley – hence the name, “self-arisen.” The term “nath”is short for “natha” in Sanskrit, which means “Lord.”
It’s nicknamed the Monkey Temple for obvious reasons: The grounds are inhabited by monkeys. Baby monkeys romp around and act cute, and teenage monkeys do what teenagers do: act reckless most of the time.They leap from the fence surrounding the grounds to the trees lining the street, and even climb around in the thin branches perched high above the road as cars and trucks pass underneath. Mamas and Papas eye the tourists carefully.
The stupa (the massive round, white dome) is one of the oldest in Nepal, dating back to the 5th century AD. Atop every stupa is a four-sided spire, with the eyes of Buddha peering down at you from every direction. Yes, they really do seem as if they are following you wherever you walk. Yes, it can be unnerving.
By the 13th century, more temples and shrines had begun to be added, and today the site is a sprawling maze of statues, temples, and shrines, both Buddhist and Hindu.
My first visit here was in 2017, in the evening. Everything glittered from the dozens of gold-covered statues and doorways, all lit by the overhead lights. Monkeys roamed around as if they were moving statues, their golden fur blending with their surroundings. At the time,the country was still reeling from the devastating earthquakes from 2015. Swayambhu sustained minimal damage, perhaps because of its position high above the city. That night, the few temples that had crumbled were covered with tarps or cloth, and some areas were cordoned off. When I visited last week, all was rebuilt, and it seems the tragedy of that day had been washed away.
In 1979, the temple was registered as one of seven UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
I hope you enjoy the photo journey below, and I’ll be back in touch soon.
Alicia Jean Demetropolis
The Global Humanity Initiative
Prayer wheels surround the base of the stupa, as well as the base of the entire ground below the complex. Each prayer wheel is inscribed with the prayer, “om mane padme hum,” which, at its core, encourages every person chanting the prayer to practice love and compassion. As Buddhists circumambulate the stupa (clockwise), many will turn each wheel while praying or chanting the om mane padme hum. It forces the practitioner to slow down and focus on their intention, while turning the wheels also is believed to send the person’s prayers to the heavens.
A statue of the Buddha at the base of the temple.
This is exactly what it appears to be: A room-sized prayer wheel.
Statue of the Buddha and pond created when Swayambhu was declared a World Heritage Site. See that covered bucket in front of the statue? People toss coins at the bucket; if your coin goes in, you have good luck. Not many coins make it! To the right on the wall in the photo is the English translation of the Nepali text on the wall to the left. It says, “May peace prevail on earth.”
These beautiful young women insisted I take their photo. This isn’t unusual in Nepal — many people want me to take their photo even though they’ll never see it. I obliged, but only on the condition that I could also take a photo of them from the phone of the young girl in blue so they could keep a memory of this moment as well.
All that glitters is usually gold. A photo from 2017.
A mama suckles her baby as they prepare to settle in for the night. Also from 2017.
“Don’t feed the monkeys” is good in theory, but when they’re this darned cute…
Also from 2017.
Along the 365 steep steps up to the stupa (yes, you read that number correctly), are disused shrines and buildings. This homeless elder was snoozing when I unabashedly tucked money into his hand. He awoke long enough to clutch the money and put his hands up in prayer position, before falling asleep again.
Teenagers doing what teenagers do: A teen monkey leaps from the lower fence of the temple to a tree above the sidewalk. From there, he’ll play with his teenage friends in the branches above the road.