|Swayambhunath Temple complex consists of the Swayambhu Stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, as old as 5th century AD!|
There is probably no single backpacker who has never ever planned a trip to Kathmandu, the capital city of beautiful Nepal. The reason is quite explicit. Kathmandu is one of those unique places in the world where you can savor the ancient era charm to the ultramodern fast paced world under a same tourist-friendly roof. Yes, you can amaze yourself with extraordinary 2,000 years old wooden architecture and at the next moment you are free to pamper your deep dark chocolaty side with the warmth of a strip club! Sounds fascinating right? There are too many points of tourist interest in Kathmandu valley. What a pity, last year in April, a massive earthquake destroyed a lot of Nepal, including her capital city. Besides countless lives and unmeasurable human sufferings, many priceless monuments of Kathmandu were affected too. I do not know how the city looks now, but definitely I intend to visit soon and find out. I took all these photos when I had visited Kathmandu back in 2010. Let me first introduce you with the Swayambhunath Temple (a Buddhist temple complex), the oldest and most fascinating of all the holy places in Kathmandu valley and second most significant Buddhist pilgrimage site in Nepal.
|Prayer wheels waiting to be spun at the Swayambhunath temple complex.|
Swayambhunath Stupa is situated on the top of a hill in the Kathmandu valley, west of Kathmandu city but its mighty white dome with radiant golden spire are hard to ignore even from a long distance throughout the valley. Supposing you’re staying at Thamel, either you can avail a shared micro (actually you’ll have to visit Nepal to feel the versatility of ‘Micro’ in transport system of the whole country!) or reserve a cab to reach Swayambhunath Temple in 15 minutes. The main entrance with 365 stone steps will take you to the main temple complex. I know you’ll be huffing and puffing like a steam engine while climbing those 365 steps (I almost felt my heart inside my oral cavity and calf muscles had resigned totally!) unless you’re a non-sedentary traveler unlike me. In that case you’ve an alternative motorable road to the southwest entrance, i.e. your car will do the hard work of hiking. The Swayambhunath Temple complex consists of the Swayambhu Stupa, a variety of shrines (Vasupur, Vayupur, Nagapur, Agnipur etc) and temples (like Hariti temple), some of which dates back to the 5th century AD! The temple complex is inhabited by a large population of monkeys like many other Buddhist pilgrimage site, giving the name ‘Monkey temple’ to the Swayambhunath Temple.
|To reach the Swayambhunath Stupa I had to climb 365 steps and ironically, I didn't even have a bottle of water in my backpack!|
The Swayambhu Stupa, the center attraction of the Swayambhunath complex has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on it. You can visit the small temples and shrines around the Stupa or enjoy the magnificent vista of Kathmandu valley from one side of the temple. There are multiple souvenir stalls selling handicrafts at overinflated prices, so the choice is yours. If you’re a foreigner you have to pay for the entry ticket too but that’s never a problem when the sightseeing destination is so rewarding. Before I finish this Swayambhunath post I must tell you the interesting legend associated to it. It is said that Kathmandu valley was once a lake and the hill on which Swayambhunath temple rests was self-risen like a lotus leaf from the muddy water! Another myth relating to its name as ‘Monkey temple’ tells that, Majusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raised on that hill. Majusri grew long hair in which head lice grew and later those lice transformed into monkeys who became the permanent residents of Swayambhunath… quite fascinating right?
|The Buddha Park near Swayambhunath Temple complex presenting three massive golden statues of- Padmasambhava, Amitaba Buddha and Avalokiteshvara (from left to right).|
Now I’ll acquaint you with another Buddhist pilgrimage site which is enjoying the prestigious status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It’s the one and only Boudhanath Stupa, the prime hub of Tibetan Buddhism in Kathmandu and the largest stupa in entire Nepal. This 131 meters high, colossal Boudhanath stupa is located in the northeastern suburb of the city, and the main stupa gate is easily accessible from tourist-centered locations like Thamel, airport, Chabihill etc by cabs or shared vans.
|As of 1979, Boudhanath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the 2015 Nepal earthquake ruthlessly damaged Boudhanath Stupa, severely cracking the spire!|
The first thing which will probably catch your attention before you start circumambulating (well, remember to do it only in clockwise direction) the Boudhanath stupa are red, white and blue colored eyes on all four sides over the stupa and they will give you a feeling of being continuously watched! Apart from that, each and every different shape represents one of the five elements namely earth, water, fire, air and sphere, formed into a stupa to symbolize the working universe in unison. Nine levels of the Boudhanath stupa represent Meru, the World Mountain, seat of the Gods and center of the cosmos. Yea, I too admit that these divine concepts can’t be enjoyed or properly understood by the majority of normal travelers like me, so I’m not going into the details of stupa structure and the corresponding spiritual significances.
|Devotees inside a monastery at Boudhanath.|
The Boudhanath stupa area is large enough with surrounding 29 Tibetan gompas to keep you busy for a couple of hours, especially if you’re either religious or enthusiast photographer. As I mentioned earlier, get dissolved into the ambiance of Tibetan Buddhism by undertaking the circumambulation of the stupa in clockwise way while humming ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ along with hundred other devotees. Explore various monasteries, curio shops and satisfy your gastronomy hunt with local momo or thukpa. I’ve heard that the ambiance in Boudhanath stupa is quite different in full moon nights when it is veiled by the sweet fumes of incense sticks and butter lamps but yet to experience that. By the way, if you want to catch a glimpse of Boudhanath in real festive spirit then you must visit there in the time of Losar (Tibetan New Year) which is celebrated with great pomp and show!
|‘Om Mani Padme Hum’|