Great Thunderbolt


At the top of the eastern stairway is an enormous, brass-plated dorje (thunderbolt), one of the core symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. Known as a vajra in Sanskrit, the thunderbolt is a Tantric symbol of the power of enlightenment, which destroys ignorance but is itself indestructible. In rituals the dorje is used to indicate male power, while female power is represented by a ceremonial bell.

Around the pedestal supporting the symbol are the animals of the Tibetan calendar. The plinth was formerly flanked by the Anantapura and Pratapura temples, two slender, Indian-style shikhara towers built by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century, but sadly the Anantapura temple collapsed in the 2015 earthquake (it's currently being rebuilt). Nearby is a viewpoint and a raised area with telescopes for hire.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Swayambhunath attractions

1. Stupa Platform

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The great stupa is surrounded on all sides by a veritable sculpture garden of religious monuments. Several buildings were destroyed by the earthquake and…

2. Swayambhunath Stupa

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The Swayambhunath Stupa is one of the crowning glories of Kathmandu Valley architecture. This perfectly proportioned monument rises through a whitewashed…

3. Western Stupa

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If you follow either path leading west from the main stupa, you will reach a smaller stupa near the tourist parking. Just behind is a gompa surrounded by…

4. Eastern Stairway

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There are two ways to approach Swayambhunath Temple, but by far the most atmospheric is the stone pilgrim stairway that climbs the eastern end of the hill…

5. Natural History Museum

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Below Swayambhunath, on the road to the tourist parking, this neglected museum offers a faded but quirky collection of exhibits, including varnished…

6. Buddha Amideva Park


This compound frequented by Tibetan pilgrims contains three enormous shining golden statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, a four-armed Chenresig and Guru Rinpoche,…

7. Military Museum

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Opposite the National Museum in an army compound, this will likely appeal only to fans of military history. Lined up on parade outside the museum are a…

8. Bijeshwari Temple

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This minor courtyard temple can be visited on the walk from Kathmandu to Swayambhunath but it's not worth a specific visit.