Swayambhunath stupa in Kathmandu

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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 dome to a gilded spire, from where four iconic faces of the Buddha stare out across the valley in the cardinal directions. The site was shaken severely by the 2015 earthquake, but the main stupa sustained only superficial damage.

The entire structure of the stupa is deeply symbolic: the white dome represents the earth, while the 13-tiered, tower-like structure at the top symbolises the 13 stages to nirvana. The nose-like squiggle below the piercing eyes is actually the Nepali number ek (one), signifying unity, and above is a third eye signifying the all-seeing insight of the Buddha.

The base of the central stupa is ringed by prayer wheels embossed with the sacred mantra om mani padme hum (‘hail to the jewel in the lotus’). Pilgrims circuiting the stupa spin each one as they pass by. Fluttering above the stupa are thousands of prayer flags, with similar mantras, which are said to be carried to heaven by the Wind Horse. Set in ornate plinths around the base of the stupa are statues representing the five Dhyani Buddhas – Vairocana, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi and Aksobhya – and their consorts. These deities represent the five qualities of Buddhist wisdom.

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Nearby Swayambhunath attractions

1. Stupa Platform

0.01 MILES

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. Great Thunderbolt

0.01 MILES

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…

3. Western Stupa

0.06 MILES

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


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

0.14 MILES

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

0.39 MILES

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

0.63 MILES

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

0.65 MILES

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