Swayambunath

Penultimate day in Nepal, I got my dimpled ass out of bed early, and made the one-hour walk to the Monkey Temple. At the bottom, a pretty good street band, rakin’ in the cash.

The temple itself is at the top of a mountain, up about a gazillion steps — Nepalis really love you make to climb up stairs to see the good cool sights! These ones were the worst, though, because the individual steps were inclined. You wouldn’t think that that would make it so much more difficult, but in fact, it does do.

Plus which, it was actually my second time making this climb. The first time, about a week earlier, I’d clumb all the god damned way up there, and at the very top there’s a ticket-seller booth, charging a 200 Rupee entrance fee. I’m still wanting to maintain my pretty strict policy of not paying to enter temples, so I elected to turn around and head back down. Seeing this, the dude frantically tried to wave me through without my paying; and another guest stopped me and pleaded, “Sir…you’d better go!”

But I said I didn’t want to upset the Apple Cart, and continued on back down. But then, practically every day, over the course of the next week, somebody at the hostel told me they’d gone to the Monkey Temple that day, and had just loved the shit out of it. And over that week, I’d fallen in love with Kathmandu’s temples more generally. So, up I went again, this time forking over the 200 Rupees without even trying to call their bluff and get in for free.

Right when you get in, there’s a performance space there, which at the moment had a choir busting a move. The second clip here is actually a the conclusion of the first clip’s song. Had stopped recording ‘cause it seemed it was going on for a while, but when the dude opened up upon the conch shell, I felt compelled to record some more…

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When one is walking around in Kathmandu, it feels more like a medium-sized city. But from up here top of the mountain, you can see that it’s truly massive. Seems to go on for ever and ever.

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The temple complex here sprawls over a huge area as well; with religious sites and shoppes and guest houses and restaurants and those selling materials for offerings all jammed into nooks and corners around and about. There’s plenty of open space as well.

The main attractions, in addition to the monkeys, always watching, waiting…

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…are the big stupa right at the entrance, with its million-and-one Prayer Wheels the pilgrims must each set spinning during their circumambulations…

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…and this one small Buddha image locked away in a cage. Late in the morning, they opened it up for viewing, and a huge long line formed. At the head of the line were required not one but two security guards to keep people from camping out in front of the Buddha all the day long. …And also, to make sure there weren’t any jackassed tourists taking photos.

I got busted for attempting the latter (only noticed the signs afterward); but, really, this Buddha wasn’t so special anyway. But, here to tell you, this place is a treasure trove of sublime imagery.

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Every time you turn around, there’s something like the above to set your eyes reeling. The ears, however, received the gyp-off:

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How long you think that room’s been closed to the public? Fifty years? (Fucking would have loved to hear that, too.) Well, this Buddha image…

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…dates from the seventh century.

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And you just walk around for hours and hours, just marveling at all the cool shit to see.

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And if this next shot looks exactly like out of Norman Rockwell, know that there are no photo-processing effects here: this is exactly how it looked to the naked eye.

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And always the monkeys are watching, waiting…

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People-watching is great, too, natch. From the ladies in their wicked-cool outfits…

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…to the goofy faux-Holy Men camped out right next to the Ice Cream Cone salesmen…

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…to the dudes rushing by holding aloft big flaming bowls (believe me, this looked amazing from up close – but they were going too fast to get a good camera-angle of)…

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…to the little girl in her Sunday Best, checking out this fine string band that had taken up residence near the stupa.

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Many of the Buddhas are locked away behind cages or plexiglass. This can be frustrating; but also, it can lead to some great photo-ops, set up, for examples, by unexpectedly gorgeous framings…

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…or cool, multiple-exposure-esque reflections.

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This same Buddha from above offered the ultimate, most appropriate (presumably unintentional) commentary upon the nature of religion that one is ever gonna see.

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Cut, print, wrap. That’s all you need to know, right there.

Oh, and also: you need to know that wherever you go up here, the monkeys will be there, too. Watching…

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Waiting…

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Verdict: the Monkey Temple is not only worth the entrance fee, it’s almost certainly the most awesomest place in a city chock to the frigging block full of fucking awesome places.

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On my last day in Nepal, I figured I’d get my dimpled ass out of bed about 6:00 in the AM, and hoof it over to Boudhanath, which was about an hour’s walk in the opposite direction as the Monkey Temple. But an Israeli hostel-mate name of “Yael” asked me to share a cab with her, ‘cause there was a ceremony there every day, beginning at 6:00 AM.

I said okay. But then, there were like six people, all from the same dorm, making plans to go there the next day as well. And they had heard that the ceremony ends at 6:00 in the AM, so if you wanna see it, you needs must arrive at 5:00 in the AM. Which, they were all planning to get their dimpled asses out of bed at 4:30 in the AM, and cab it on over there. There was a Dutchwoman very keen on doing so, and she promised to make sure that nobody in the dorm pansied out and slept their lazy ass in instead.

Anyways, so Yael and myself both had our dimpled asses up out of bed at 4:30 in the AM, and got a cab over to Boudanath. We were surprised not to have seen any of the peeps from the other dorm. So, we got dropped off, paid the fare, and had been there for a half-hour or so, and we bumped into one of them, an Israeli name of “Nitzan”.

He related that he’d set his alarm, and that he’d gone and woken up the Dutchwoman, whom, he said, had told him to go ahead and go fuck himself. As, apparently, had all his other dormmates. So, he’d gotten a cab out there by himself. Too bad we’d missed him – could’ve saved us 100 Rupees off the fare, and saved him 500 Rupees off the fare.

Anyhow, so Boudhanath is the largest stupa in South Asia, and another World Heritage site. Let’s see if one can get a feel of the enormity of this sucker, just from some measly photos?

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Well, probably not. But it is. Also, you can see that there are an assload of pigeons here as well.

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That’s ‘cause, just like at Dhurbar Square, people are feeding them as though their lives depend up on it. (According to Yael’s guidebook, Hindus believe that feeding animals is pious behaviour. This is a Buddhist site; but there seems to be a fair amount of cross-pollination between the two religions, here.)

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But guess what? Apart from maybe lighting a few candles…

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…there was no fuckin’ ceremony! Loads of people there, to be sure. Like, already when we arrived at 5:00 in the AM, there were plenty. But an hour or so later, they were swarming the place.

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It takes about ten minutes’ time to make one circumambulation; and you’ve gotta do three per day, I think. So, but, we never needed to get our dimpled asses up at 4:30 in the AM in the first fuckin’ place. Well, whatever. It was still pretty cool.

After, we went down to Pashupatinath, yet another World Heritage site, about half an hour’s walk away. There’re a couple of nice, small temples there.

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And there are some wooded and grassy areas to walk around in. But the restricted area is a thousand Rupees to enter. It’s two very important Hindu temples – but non-Hindus are refused entrance, even having paid the 1,000 Rupees. Also, the cremation ceremonies happen inside the gates.

Yael and Nitzan ponied up the entrance fee – the former only after much convincing by the latter. I refused to pay, and walked back into town. Yael later said that she’d found the cremations disturbing – like barging in upon somebody’s private business. But Nitzan said that he’d found them quite interesting. If you’re curious, here’s a video somebody shot,  with an explanation of the ceremony.

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And that’s it for Nepal. So much more that I want to see there, even apart from doing more trekking. Super excited to get my dimpled ass right back. Can’t possibly recommend it highly enough.

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1 Response to Swayambunath

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Nice monkey,” said Lorenzo.

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