The great Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath (admission Rs 75), on the top of a hill west of Kathmandu, is one of the most popular and instantly recognisable symbols of Nepal. The temple is known affectionately as the 'Monkey Temple', after the large troop of handsome monkeys that guards the hill and amuses visitors and devotees with tricks (including sliding gracefully down the banisters of the main stairway to the temple).
Legends relate that the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake (geologists agree on this point) and that the hill on which Swayambhunath stands was 'self-arisen' (swayambhu), much like a lotus leaf risen from the muddy waters of the lake. It is also said that Emperor Ashoka paid a visit to the site over 2000 years ago.
An inscription indicates that King Manadeva ordered work done here in AD 460 and certainly by the 13th century it was an important Buddhist centre. In 1346 Mughal invaders from Bengal broke open the stupa in the search for gold. King Pratap Malla added the stairway in the 17th century.
From its hilltop setting, Swayambhunath offers fine views over Kathmandu and the valley. It's particularly striking in the early evening when the city is illuminated, and the site is also very attractive under the soft glow of moonlight. There are several curio shops around the stupa, as well as a couple of reviving cafés.
Last updated: May 1, 2009
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