One of the many must see places to visit in Kathmandu valley is definitely Swayambhunath, or as it’s also called: Swayambhu, Swoyambhunath and Monkey Temple. Nath means temple in Nepalese language. That’s why many famous sightseeing place names end with Nath. Swayambhunath, Boudhanath and Pashupatinath. The nickname Monkey Temple is because of the many monkeys inhabiting the hill on which the temple is located.
How to get to Swayambhunath
Swayambhunath is located quite near Thamel. You can take a taxi, but in Kathmandu most taxi’s simply refuse to drive on meter price and charge you up to 300 rupees for a max 30 min walk. When you walk, go out of Thamel at the Poknajol side. It can be confusing though which way to walk if you don’t have google maps with you. You will arrive at Monkey Temple at the side with the 365 steps. The ticket box used to be on the top of those steps, but as the earthquake damaged and destroyed a lot on the top, they moved it down the steps.
The price is 200 rupees. You can try one of the few other entrances if you’re not willing to pay. Just walk either left, or right around. Left is clockwise and therefore preferred by the local Buddhists. Monkey Temple is both a Buddhist and a Hindu temple. At the side left and right are ways too to get up. I do know that the way left of the hill has a ticket boot too. Sometimes staff walks around checking tourists for having a ticket.
There is a road for buses and cars at the left side which brings you up without having to take the 365 steps. If walking the stairs is difficult for you, it’s best to take a taxi and ask to drop you at the top. Ask this very clearly, because taxi drivers don’t like driving to the top, so they will try to drop you at the bottom main entrance.
Lots to see
At the top is a small stupa in comparison with the Boudhanath stupa. Monkeys are all over the place, so beware of your bag and belongings and especially when you eat an icecream or something else. You will be their target and they won’t give up easily. More at the top of Swayambhunath are hindu relics, temples and traditional old buildings as per the Newar caste. There is a monastery too. Many of the old buildings, houses and temples got destroyed by the earthquake of 2015. Monkey Temple was hit hard by it.
What many tourists don’t see, which is unfortunate, is the other side of Monkey temple. Along the main road are the three huge statues as can be seen in pic. It’s free to look around there. I advice people to walk a full circle around the complete Monkey Temple hill. It’s not as short as the 315 meter at Boudhanath, but well worth it. Along the walls with prayer wheels and… monkeys. A full circle walk will take you easily 30 minutes. Lots of trees, peace and…. monkeys 🙂
There are plenty of souvenir shops at the top where you can buy prayer flags with the colors of the five elements. Singing bowls, Buddha statues, wooden carved masks, prayer wheels and many more souvenirs. The prices depend a bit on how good you can bargain. Another wonderful thing to see are the devoted Tibetans and other Buddhists who circle the Swayambhunath hill each morning between 4.30 am and 8.30 am.
Differences between Swayambhunath and Boudhanath
Keep in mind that Monkey Temple cannot be compared to Boudhanath. At Boudhanath circle there are plenty of good, clean places to eat or sit. Monkey temple area has none. There you can find only local places which are not really clean and usually for most tourists not recommendable. That’s why the tourists who have package deals always eat at Patan Durbar Square or Boudhanath and never at Monkey Temple.
Another difference between the two places is that in Boudhanath beggars aren’t allowed by security (except 2 days a month, new and full moon). At Monkey Temple there is no security and beggars are all over the place. They can be quite bothering, although you don’t have to be afraid for beggars. Maybe except for glue sniffing streetkids. A nicer part on Swayambhunath can be the monkeys.
Most special days around both Monkey temple and Boudhanath are the new moon, half moon and full moon days. The most special day is full moon in May, which is called Buddha Jayanthi or Sakadawa. Thousands of people will walk circles around Monkey temple, the whole night and day. Candles can be lit everywhere.
Swoyambhunath, or Monkey Temple, is a must see place and can easily be combined with another sightseeing place at the same day.
For an impression video, take a look here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3T5Hh_68_PM